A garden containing native American plants is both beautiful and useful. Native plants — whether grown from seed or young plants — are naturally at home in the garden, far less susceptible to pests and diseases and easier to grow than many non-native varieties. They are usually well-adapted to climate and soil conditions, too. And desirable wildlife from butterflies to honeybees and birds feast on the nectar, seeds, and fruit of many native plants, making their home in your garden.
So what is a native plant,
exactly? Some are the pure species, with no cultivar name attached. Joe-Pye Weed, for instance, is Eupatorium purpureum. When a plant has no cultivar name, chances are it will “come true” from seed. This means that you can save the seeds produced by your plant each year, sow them, and you will grow new plants that look just like the old one.
Native plants that have a variety name after their species name are often referred to as “selections.” They have more than one parent; they have been bred by crossing several, often hundreds or thousands, of similar plants to achieve desirable effects such as larger
flowers, a more compact size, or improved disease resistance. Consider the popular prairie wildflower Rudbeckia hirta, known as Black-eyed Susan. The native species will bring you masses of small, charming blooms, plus lots of big leaves on tall plants. But if you want other traits in your Black-eyed Susan, there are varieties to choose from: Denver Daisy, with its enormous blooms; Cappuccino, with a whole new color pattern; even Cherokee Sunset, with double and semi-double blooms in a wide range of shades. All were bred from the native species to bring out different merits.
When you consider growing a native American garden, the varieties you choose depend on what you want and how you garden. For a self-maintaining wildflower garden, rely on pure species. They will self-sow, and you will have almost no maintenance to keep new plants coming spring after spring. The garden will have a “wilder” look, with more foliage and fewer (or smaller) flowers, perhaps, and a shorter season of bloom. But such a garden has its own beauty, and it is a magnet for bees, butterflies, and birds. The advantages are many.