Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Natives are Resting (but not for long)

A glance at the surrounding landscape can still be pretty bleak this time of year. Except for the evergreens, most of the trees and plants are stripped down to their bark, and are various shades of brown and gray. Not for long though. Spring is less than a week away, and in a few particularly sunny areas, bulbs have already begun peeking up through the ground.

If you have an expansive garden or planting containers or even just some greenery on your windowsill, you might be contemplating what you're going to add to them this spring, summer, and fall.

Let me make the case for native plants. Native plants are plants that are indigenous to this region, and that have evolved here over thousands of years. As such, they are particularly well suited to the climate. They tend to be more drought resistant, so they can be watered less (good for your aquifer and reducing your water bill). They tend to be more resistent to pests, since they've evolved alongside the insects, fungi, and bacteria of the area, so you can use little (or no) pesticides on them. Good for the Bay, and good for native beneficial insects, like ladybugs. Natives also provide much needed habitat for local insects, birds, and wildlife. Take for example one extreme case. Did you realize that white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is the only host for the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (the Maryland State Insect)?

Great resources for native plants include the Maryland Native Plant Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' "Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping [pdf].

Plants to stay away from include invasives such as: tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), English ivy (Hedera helix), and vinca, periwinkle (Vinca minor). A full listing is available at the link.

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