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5 Myths about Native Plants

This is part 2 of my summary of landscape architect Thomas Rainer’s talk about native plants at the Lahr Native Plant Symposium.  Don’t miss Part 1 – Designing with Native Plants.

Thomas’s myths about native plants

1. That native plants are drought-tolerant, requiring less supplemental watering, a notion Thomas calls total ‘hogwash”.  Au contraire.  In this region the most popular native plants are actually from the wetter habitats, so they’re decidedly NOT drought-tolerant, for good reason.  (An example of this would be planting Itea along highways.  Native-plant advocate Rick Darke calls this type of placement “native plant abuse”).

2. That natives are weedy or messy.  Well, they don’t have to be.  Read that design link above, or just notice how gorgeous Prairie Dropseed and Baptisia look at Chanticleer Garden near Philadelphia (below).

Prairie Dropseed and Baptisia at Chanticleer Garden near Philadelphia

3. That natives MUST be naturalistically arranged.  The ultra-modern and anything-but-naturalistic array of horsetail in Andrea Cochran’s design pictured here is an example to ponder.

4. That they shouldn’t be planted in large masses.  But why not?  There’s great drama in monocultures, and masses DO happen in nature.  (Thomas showed us some photos taken in the wild as proof.)

5. That native plants are not as vigorous as exotics, that they’re wimpy – a myth that exists concurrently with its opposite, number 1. And this one is sadly true IF the natives are planted in the wrong spots, when the soil has been changed by development, for example.

On the East Coast poor performance frequently results when woodland ephemerals are chosen for sunny, developed sites, where plants like Hibiscus and switchgrass should be used.

Proof that native plants perform well when they’re sited correctly are found in the wild, where native plants are seen thriving in even such brutal sites as granite rock out-croppings.  And at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center they’re finding that native grasses are outperforming succulents on green roofs.

Photo and text by Susan Harris.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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