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Native Plants versus Invasive Plants

Guest Blog by John Peter Thompson
            Invasive plants, as well as insects, diseases and animals, are organisms that did not evolve in the landscape but were recently introduced either intentionally or accidently. Non-native aggressive colonizing species are altering the natural history and landscapes of our communities and country. These plants, all of which are weeds either of gardens landscapes or natural areas are disrupting the ecology of natural ecosystems, displacing native plant and animal species, and degrading our nation's unique and diverse biological resources. 
            Non-native, aggressive plant species reduce the amount of light, water, nutrients, and space available to native species, alter hydrological patterns, soil chemistry, moisture-holding capacity, and erodibility, and change fire regimes. Some alien exotics can hybridizing with native plant relatives, resulting in modifications to a plant's genetic makeup; others have been found to harbor plant pathogens that can affect both native and non-native plants, including favorite, cherished garden ornamentals.  
            Mid-Atlantic native plants, those that existed here before European colonization, are disappearing at an alarming rate due to human activities, such as urban development, and the accompanying introduction of invasive species. Unlike many non-native plants, native plants introduced into landscape plantings are hardy, less susceptible to pests and diseases and unlikely to escape and cause permanent alterations to local ecosystems.. The great variety of plants native to any region give gardeners options that work well in any type of garden design and reflect the uniqueness of the community. Natives are said to require less work, but actually they require different work, much of which is considered less taxing on time and resources.

            Planting natives does not mean giving up on beauty; there is almost always a native alternative to an exotic introduction. For example, Japanese wisteria, with its showy flowers has an American original, Wisteria frutescens. Japanese honeysuckle can be replaced by the native trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens. The pervasive, invasive English ivy has great substitutes in plantain-leaved sedge, Carex plantaginea; marginal woodfern, Dryopteris marginalis; alumroot, Heuchera villosa; Allegheny spurge, Pachysandra procumbens; creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera; Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum; and the evergreen Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.

            A native plant is a species that originates or occurs naturally in a particular region. This means the plants comes ready to work with you to create a dynamic place of beauty and function. Planting natives restores the character of our personal and local landscapes. Gardening with natives requires the same gardening tools and sense as exotic plantings; for any plant to thrive, it must be planted under the proper growing condition for that species (i.e., correct moisture, light, soil). But with these needs addressed, gardening success will be yours.
About the Guest Blogger: John Peter Thompson is a lecturer, researcher and policy consultant working on Horticulture, Agriculture and Bioeconomic issues working in North America and Africa. He is on Twitter @InvasiveNotes; blogging at www.ipetrus.blogspot.com "Invasive Notes" His website is: EcoSystemServices: https://sites.google.com/site/sustainablepolicies/.
Posted: 4/4/2012 by Kathy Jentz | with 9 comment(s)
Wild dogwoods tend to be more disease resistant than the cultivated ones sold in nurseries. They're not as dense and showy, and not always easy to come by. Our yard backs to woods and is wooded around the edges. We often get get "volunteers". I've had good luck transplanting them.
4/12/2012 8:22:43 AM

It would also be helpful if nurseries like Meadows Farms minimized the sale of invasive species like heavenly bamboo and barberry or at least steers shoppers to the native alternatives.
4/11/2012 9:59:38 AM

Excellent article. I definitely want to plant native species--to feed our native bunnies and birds and other creatures.
4/10/2012 11:22:06 PM

Meadows has a good selection of Virginia native plants - they are tagged as native
4/10/2012 10:00:57 PM

Dogwoods are among the most difficult natives to transplant and grow. They have sensitive roots and are prone to a host of disease problems. As natives go, they are cherished but difficult. In similar areas, requiring shade to part sun, try Eastern Redbud, or in full sun for a small ornamental, try Sweetbay Magnolia. These are available at Meadows Farms, as well as many cultivated forms of the native dogwoods like Cherokee Princess for white, and Cherokee Brave for red/pink.
4/10/2012 9:28:32 PM

Are there good dogwoods available? I didnt have much luck with some plants earlier. Dogwoods are native to VA and wonder why the plants I bought from the nurseries do not survive!
4/10/2012 7:15:59 PM

Ben Alexandro
Great article. It would be great if all nurseries had a focus on native plants. Planting some natives can actually do huge benefits in helping migrating wildlife. I hope to see more like this and am looking to ordering some native plants from you!
4/10/2012 4:48:07 PM

Dick Kennedy
Good timing, as we just heard a talk by Doug Tallamy, Entomology Chair at U. of Delaware and author of "Bringing Nature Home"--a great book which is all about why we need native plants--mainly so that native birds, animals, and insects will have something to eat.
4/10/2012 10:07:56 AM

So which native plants will we find at Meadow Farms? Great article, if you can find the plants.
4/10/2012 9:54:35 AM