|Cardinal flowers in the garden.|
You may have heard the term "native plants." What is a native plant? It's a plant that's indigenous to the area in which you live. It evolved alongside other plants, animals, insects, birds and organisms in the local area. Because of this, it serves a unique purpose in the ecosystem. Many native plants, for example, provide food for local song birds, butterflies, insects and other wildlife, or provide nesting or hatching sites for others.
Native plants are also great for the garden. Because natives evolved in the local climate, they aren't as fussy about things as imported plants. Most natives come with a long list of wonderful attributes include natural disease resistance, less need for supplemental fertilizer and water than other plants, and more. Not only are they great to grow, but they're beautiful, too!
Anytime you can incorporate native plants into your garden, you're doing both your garden and the local environment a favor. Many animals, insects and birds are losing their natural habitat to development. Roads, parking lots, strip malls, houses...everywhere you see these signs of modern life, that's a little less ground available for native plants to live.
People have always brought plants with them wherever they went in this big world of ours. When the colonists came over from Europe, they took daylily tubers in their packs along with them. And while the ubiquitous ditch lily isn't harmful, some non-native species become invasive species if given the right conditions. Kudzu, anyone? Introduced as an ornamental vine, kudzu quickly became "the vine that ate the south" as it smothered entire fields and forests under its relentless march, all because someone thought it a good idea to import it into an environment in which it has no natural predators.
Nature has a unique way of making checks and balances part of her grand scheme throughout all aspects of life, plants include. Native plants have their own system of checks and balances in place so that they don't get out of hand. If you're looking for terrific native plants, look no further than your local nursery and garden center, which probably stocks some terrific natives now.
For lists of native plants to include in your ornamental plantings this year, see:
- Virginia Native Plant Society
- Red, White and Blue Native Plants - Virginia Cooperative Extension
- Problem-Free Shrubs for Virginia Gardens - Virginia Tech