Interest in native plants is increasing rapidly among gardeners. Sales have increased by as much as 30 percent at regular nurseries, as well as at nurseries specializing in native plants and through groups like Maine Audubon, which sell native plants every year. The soon to be published “Northeast Native Plant Primer” is designed to promote that growing interest and provide gardeners with useful information.
The author, Uli Lorimer, horticultural director for the Massachusetts-based Native Plant Trust, discussed the book and the trend toward native gardening at a recent online meeting. What’s behind the trend? People are increasingly aware that pollinators are in trouble, the climate is changing and many species of wildlife are threatened, he said, and gardeners want to help. As new home development moves more and more into wildlife habitat, some homeowners are trying to replace the native plants displaced by the construction.
They should keep in mind that native plants are not all created equal. It is important to read the labels carefully. If a plant you are considering for your garden is labeled “native to the US,” or is even native to eastern Mississippi, it may not thrive in your yard. “Our political boundaries aren’t really important in terms of plants,” Lorimer said.
Instead, when selecting native plants, people should consider ecoregions, he said. A map from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that Maine is made up of parts of three ecoregions. The Northeast Coastal Zone extends from Casco Bay to the southern tip of New York State. The Acadian Plains and Hills comprise the eastern half of the rest of the state and extend into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Northern Highlands include the rest of Maine, offshore New Hampshire, most of Vermont, and parts of Quebec. Not all Maine native plants grow in all three ecoregions.
Lorimer’s mention of these regions was reminiscent of Maine Audubon’s decision last summer to sell plants at native plant sales that are not actually native to Maine — or, in the case of the northern blazing star (Liatris scariosa) — are native. in southern Maine. tip. Others in the same category were lanceleaf coreopsis and scarlet bee balm. They are native just south of Maine, but as the climate warms, they are sure to become comfortable in the state as well.
Lorimer said plant biodiversity — meaning a wide variety of native plants — is crucial. Even more important, he said, is bioproportionality, which he defined as having enough native species to support native wildlife. Achieving bio-proportionality, he said, will take a lot more than a few environmentally conscious gardeners. All homeowners should be encouraged to reduce the size of their lawn and prioritize environmental benefits, not just plant attractiveness. In addition to individual households, he added, when solar parks intermingle native plants among the solar panels, and when municipalities, colleges, public gardens like the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, and state parks like Watkins Glen in New York switch to native plants, their actions bring the world to life. one step closer to bioproportionality.
Not all native plants follow every spot, of course. Goldenrod, for example, is a very useful plant, but it is a bit of a bully, growing quickly and grabbing space from other plants; many gardeners consider it a weed. Lorimer usually suggests goldenrod for fields, where it can spread without encroaching on other plants.
So the next time you’re in the market for new garden plants, don’t automatically reach for peonies (originating in Asia), lavender (the Mediterranean), or any other equally beautiful foreigner who has felt at home in our gardens. Instead, consider natives from your own eco-region. “Native plants,” Lorimer said, “have the power to heal our landscapes, welcome wildlife to our gardens — and inspire us.”
Tom Atwell is a freelance gardening writer in Cape Elizabeth. He can be reached at: [email protected]