Native Plant Primer for the Uninitiated, 1.

We’ve been hearing about native plants for a while, especially in my garden club, where a whole committee set about cataloguing the native plants that are growing in member’s gardens last year. Despite being this year’s president I sat this popular effort out because I didn’t know which plants in my garden are native and which aren’t.   I had the mistaken idea that natives are only plants like ferns, buttercups, milkweed, skunk cabbage, and violets–the things you see everywhere and that no one planted. Those things are native, yes, but I’ve since learned that so are purple coneflower, black-eyed susans, phlox, asters, and a host of other fun and interesting lovelies.

Being environmentally minded, it matters to me that birds have food to eat in my garden and that I am supporting the local ecosystem rather than challenging it. Native plants provide shelter and food for local wildlife and support our ever-important and ever-disappearing pollinators. It’s also worth noting that some non-native plants actually negatively impact the environments they are imported to–so native plants help to balance the negative effects of some non-native species.

A not so fun fact: I learned last year that spring peepers are being negatively impacted by the dying off of ash trees. North American frogs rely on ash trees because the leaves ash trees drop are suitable for tadpoles to eat.  Other kinds of trees, like maple trees, have more tannins, and are much less suitable for the frogs. A recent decline of ash trees in our forests has meant a lower survival rate for frogs. I love peepers. So that’s really bad news.

So with all of that in mind, I checked in with Trista Ashok, an experienced member of the Holliston Garden Club, co-chair of the native plants initiative, and blogger at redhousegarden.com. She provided me a list of ten natives off the top of her brilliant head for me to look into and write about for the garden club. 

The first of them: Purple Coneflower – Also called echinacea, purple coneflower is a fun, popular plant with long-lasting flowers.  Drought and heat resistant, echinacea will spread if the seedheads are not pruned off. Echinacea attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, is a nectar source, has special value to native bees. Leaving the seedheads on the plants provides food for birds in the fall and winter.

Interestingly, echinacea has medicinal uses. It is a mild natural antibiotic. Extracts of echinacea are also thought to help fight infection and improve white blood counts because echinacin stops bacteria from forming hyaluronidase enzyme, which makes cells more susceptible to infection (see https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ecpu). You can find echinacea supplements in health food stores.

Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, says that excellent drainage is a must for these plants, that they like full sun, and that planting in spring rather than fall is better because it allows them to establish sturdy roots before cold weather arrives.  She also says that some of the newer hybrids featuring a range of beautiful colors can be shorter-lived and hard to overwinter. 

I grew them in my garden before learning they are native because they are colorful, not fussy to care for, and have a kind of simple elegance.

I can hardly wait for them to pop up this spring so that I can tell them I now understand they aren’t just another pretty face in the garden–they’re working flowers!

#plants #nature #flowers #environment #garden #gardening #nativeplants

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