Have you ever returned from a trip to find your beautiful perennials beds in a pitiful wilted mess? It can be tricky to have a love of both gardening and traveling. Incorporating easy native plants into your landscape is part of the solution. In this article, you’ll learn more about easy native plants that virtually take care of themselves while you’re away.
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CONTENTS: In this article, you will discover:
- What are Native Plants?
- 3 Important Benefits of Native Plants
- Why Native Plants are At Risk of Extinction
- Where to Find Native Plants
- Native Plants in the Northeastern US
What are Native Plants?
Native plants are any kind of wildflower, shrub, tree, herb, fern, ground cover, moss, or grass present in a region at the time of the European settlement of North America. As a result, they thrive in the climate and soil conditions of a specific region.
Although they are seldom as showy is today’s fussy hybrids in botanical gardens, easy native plants offer many benefits.
Important Benefits of Native Plants
You’ll discover there are many benefits of introducing native plants to your garden design. Below are a few to consider.
1. Reduced Garden Maintenance & Cost
One of the biggest incentives for gardeners who love to travel to choose native plants is that they are better adapted to thrive where you live. As a result, they will be lower maintenance while you’re home and away.
Wouldn’t you want to return to happy, healthy plants when you return from a trip?
Plus native plants offer a distinct beauty of their own.
Once established, native plants are typically drought tolerant, easily multiply, and are more resilient to regional plant diseases and pests.
That also means reduced gardening costs, since native plants will require less water, fertilizer, soil amendments, and pest controls. And as they spread, that saves you money from buying more plants, too.
2. Good for the Ecosystem
Native plants supply food for a more diverse range of native wildlife species, estimated at 10 to 15 times more than their non-native counterparts. These supplies are a great natural alternative to artificial hummingbird feeders used by most people.
When varieties of native plants are grouped together, it forms a mini-ecosystem. This can help restore the natural balance of insects that keep each other in check.
This has a beneficial effect on birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects, too.
Related: Read more about attracting hummingbirds to your yard here.
3. May Hold the Key to Future Medicines
For centuries, herbal remedies have been based on plant life.
For instance, some people may use Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) to treat cold symptoms, or Valerian tea or Lavender oil for anxiety.
But did you know that many of today’s mainstream medicines are derived from plants?
You might find it interesting to learn the life-saving heart medicine, digitalis, comes from the digitalis or Foxglove plant. Even common aspirin has its origins in the willow tree.
So, choosing native plants helps to preserve the gene pool that may provide future medicine all treatments for today’s ailments.
You can even enjoy tea made from violets gathered from your own garden.
Why Native Plants Are at Risk of Extinction
Incredibly, of the 20,000 native plants of North America, one quarter of them are at risk of extinction. Since the settlement of North America, non-native plants, also known as “exotics,” have been replacing the native plant population.
As with anything that becomes extinct, these irreplaceable native plants will be erased from our environment forever.
Already, more than 200 native plants have disappeared. With them has gone some form of a food source for wildlife species, the biodiversity of a region, and perhaps even the source of life-saving medicine.
Human hands and nature alike spread non-native plants.
Although most non-native plants are well-behaved, many or not. Species native to one part of the country can be invasive to another, as in the case of English Ivy (Hedera helix). This Northeastern US staple is invading the Northwest.
Another invasive non-native affecting North America in general is Purple Loosestrife (Lutheran salicaria). While drifts of spiky purple blooms along the highway are admittedly stunning, it’s destroying the native plants and waterways.
Other invasive non-native plants include Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).
Be wary of any non-native that matures quickly and spreads rapidly and aggressively. You’ll want to take steps to eradicate it before regional native plants are displaced.
However, bear in mind that not all non-native plants are bad.
In fact, many home gardens feature well-behaved Daylilies (Hemerocallis) and Daffodils (Narcissus). They are non-native plants brought over by early settlers to remind them of home.
Where to Get Native Plants for Your Garden
Native plants do not transplant well when removed from the wild. Plus, state and federal law protect those endangered or at risk of becoming so. One well-known example is the Lady Slipper (Cypripedium).
Local Nurseries & Garden Centers
One of the best ways to obtain native plants and their cultivars for your garden is to buy commercially propagated plants from local nurseries.
Mail Order / Online Sources
Depending on where your garden is, you can likely find easy native plants and seeds through mail order and online.
From Other Gardeners
If you happen to belong to a gardening community, such as a Facebook garden swap group or a garden club in your town, even better. Many gardeners are happy to share their plant stock when they are dividing and transplanting their own.
Wherever you decide to aquire native plants, be sure to confirm that they have not been uprooted from the wild. You don’t want to perpetuate the problem of their diminishing numbers.
And, “buyer beware,” confirm that they are native to your particular region before you plant them.
Native Plants of the Northeastern US
If you happen to live in the Northeastern US, here are some of the best native plants to incorporate into your garden for easy maintenance.
Herbaceous Plants (Northeastern Natives)
- Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)
- Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
- Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
- Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia)
- Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
- Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
- Northern Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
- Bluets (Hedyotis coerulea)
- Lanceleaf Violet (Viola lanceolata)
- Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
- Foam Flower (Acordes Folia)
- Meadow Rue (Thalictrum pubescens)
- False Solomon Seal (Smilacina racemosa)
Trees and Shrubs (Native to the Northeast)
- Oreo Tall Shadbush (Amazon cherub)
- Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
- Red Oak (Wirkus rubrum)
- Tulip Tree (Iriodendron tulipifera)
- Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
- White Dogwood (Cornus X Rutgers Celestial hybrid)
- Heritage River Birch (Betula nigra)
- Winter King Green Hawthorn (Credit Aegis viridis)
- Larch (Loris species)
- Sweet Shrub
- Sweet Pepperbush
- Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscous)
- Rosebay Rhododendron (R. maximum)
- Pink Shell Azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi a)
- New England or shining Rose (Rosa nitida)
- Highbush cranberry (Hebrew name trilobatum)
- Mountain Laurel (Call Mia latifolia)
- Winterberry (Ilex reticulata)
- Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major)
Ferns (Northeastern Natives)
- Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
- Ostrich Fern (Muchacha struthiopteris)
- Cinnamon Fern (Ousmane de cinnamomea)
- Creeping Moss (Embla segeum serpens)
- Fern Moss (Whoidiom dellavedova)
Ground Covers (Natives to the Northeast)
- Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
- Barren strawberry (waldsteinia fragarioides)
- Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
- Common Juniper (Juniperus)
- American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
- lowbush blueberry (Vecuronium angustifolia)
Final Thoughts on Easy Native Plants for the Traveler
Using native plants in your garden makes good sense.
Not only does it make your gardening lower-maintenance and more likely to sustain itself while you’re away, but it is one small step towards their preservation in the continuance of the unique and natural character of a region.
As you’re surveying your landscape, don’t scowl at the delicate violets in your lawn, or at that velvety expanse of green moss. Instead, think about replacing patches in that high maintenance lawn with larger drifts and purple violets in wispy bluets rather than fighting them.
Envision a meadow of native wildflowers.
Or simply choose a few native plants in place of high-maintenance non-natives.
Above all, consider the native plants already thriving on your property and opportunity to work in concert with Mother Nature toward making easy native plants an integral—sustainable—part of your landscape design.
This article is may contain affiliate links. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure. It originally appeared in print in The Country Gazette newspaper titled, “Native plants are favorites of local gardeners” by Jackie Gately.
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