Native Plants – or not?

A topic I’d like to talk about this month involves yet another popular trend that “native plants” are the best (or indeed only ) plants for our local environment. While it’s true that the locally evolved plants are well adapted to our extreme wet/dry, cold/hot central Ohio climate…………….these aren’t the only plants that will perform well here. There are many “exotic” plants that don’t become invasive and make great ornamentals. Some examples include the many viburnums (some are native), hydrangeas, spireas, junipers and taxus. We like to see some evergreen color around the landscape in the winter but there aren’t very many evergreen species which occur naturally in Ohio. Also, some local natives don’t make great ornamentals. Consider the thorny honeylocust, the thorny osage orange, the short lived elms, poplars, willows and messy box elder maple……………………… poison ivy anyone? Some native species are coarse rooted and difficult to transplant (sassafras, hickory and elms come to mind). Yes there are many non-native plants that have become invasive in our environment. Some of the worst offenders are honeysuckle, autumn olive, dandelion and ornamental pears.

Pears? Yes the ever popular callery pear tree is one of the worst invasive plants. It is extremely popular and requested by many homeowners for its glossy foliage, spring flowers and fall color. But this tree has escaped from our gardens and quickly fills open fields around the suburbs. Not to mention that its dense headed habit causes it to be “top heavy” and split with age.

Hickory Farms 1

Hickory Farms 2

As you can see, like many other topics, it’s not as simple as it might seem. As regards natives versus exotics, I like to say, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Let’s not outlaw a plant just because it’s not native to the area. If we were to do that, how would you define the “area” ……… county, state, continent? Another thought I’ve had regarding eradication of nuisance species is…………… physically can’t be done! Dandelions are exotic invasives, brought over by the Europeans for a garden plant……………….they are here to stay. Unfortunately, so are the wild honeysuckles and the weed pears.

Gardening is commonly accepted as “America’s favorite pastime”. Gardening, by definition, involves bringing different plants from around the world into our local gardens. Of course this can create problems. As does importing manufactured products, and inadvertently, pests and diseases from around the world which is how we lost our native ash trees recently when a bug was imported from China on a wooden pallet.

At Hickory Lane Farms, we grow and promote “natives and unusual nursery stock”. After many years of experience in the field, we know what works and what doesn’t. We can save you a lot of money and headaches by helping with plant selection for your projects. It’s all about getting the right plant in the right place!