What is a Native American Plant, Anyway?

By April 17, 2015 Featured No Comments
Giant Hyssop is a native species, meaning that its seeds will grow a plant identical to its parent.

Giant Hyssop is a native species, meaning that its seeds will grow a plant identical to its parent.

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,

Up to 7 feet high and covered in blooms, native Joe-Pye is the glory of the autumn garden!

Up to 7 feet high and covered in blooms, native Joe-Pye is the glory of the autumn garden!

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

Bred for enormous flower size on compact plants, Denver Daisy takes Black-eyed Susan to a whole new pop-eyed level!

Bred for enormous flower size on compact plants, Denver Daisy takes Black-eyed Susan to a whole new pop-eyed level!

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.

Forget the black eyes of this Susan -- Cherokee Sunset is all about layers of gorgeous many-colored petals!

Forget the black eyes of this Susan — Cherokee Sunset is all about layers of gorgeous many-colored petals!

 

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.

 

Chocolate Flower is a southwestern native with a rich cocoa scent. Add it to both the flower and the vegetable garden for perennial beauty and pollinator attraction!

Chocolate Flower is a southwestern native with a rich cocoa scent. Add it to both the flower and the vegetable garden for perennial beauty and pollinator attraction!

For a more tailored native garden with larger flowers over a longer season (often on compact plants with better disease-fighting capability), choose selections of the native species. You will definitely have to replace annuals each spring and perennials after a number of seasons, but the advantages are numerous. Most of us, of course, wind up with a mixture of both, setting our own species favorites among the cultivars, and celebrating the beauty of nature in all its endless forms!

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