You've been told to plant native plants. But what exactly is a native? And why do we need to plant native plants anyway?
Native plants are straight-species plants that make their home in the place you call home. They are indigenous, naturally-occurring to the area. There's a bit of an ongoing argument on the exact qualifying timeline on this, but for now---that definition should suffice. Another point to consider is that native plants have not been altered. Cultivars and navitars have been selectively bred for appearance. They do not come from true seed.
Why plant native?
Birds, bees, butterflies and other insects and bugs have evolved alongside specific plants that provide their specific nutritional needs since time immemorial. Planting cultivars and other hybrids that have undergone a lot of modifications, is akin to giving your children a choice of junk food and a well-balanced meal. Both will fill you up, but eventually, the body is affected and will be starved of nutrients.
Cultivars and navitars have changes in petal shape, color, bloom time, fruit size or color, etc. These changes were made for humans and therefore may not be as attractive, or as easily identified, nor offer adequate food to pollinators and other wildlife. For example, blooms may have inadequate nectar, berries may be too big for songbirds to handle, or a chance in berry color may make them unrecognizable to birds as food.
From October's "Native Plants and Pollinators Conference" at UConn, land managers, land trusts, landscape professionals and educators learned a great deal about native plants, including how to plant native and why from an amazing line-up of speakers. Those presenting included Dr. Annie White, adjunct professor at the University of Vermont. Dr. White's research affirmed that unmodified native plants are best suited to support pollinators. However, the whole argument of cultivar vs. native is as Dr. White said, "complicated."
This does not even begin to touch the "discussion" on non-natives, which we'll save for another day. In the meantime, check out the link to Dr. White's articles.
The Cheshire Land Trust will a Pollinator Pathway garden this spring. The Pollinator Pathway is part of a network of native plant waystations (no pesticides) on the greenway (Rails to Trails). More than 75 groups, including our friends at Hamden and Southington Land Conservation Trusts, other non-profits and individuals are part of this grassroots movement to give pollinators a helping hand.
You can plant for pollinators, too. Show your support by putting a Pollinator Pathway medallion sign in your garden, and pledge not to use pesticides.
How to get started? Here's a few links to native plants growers.
In our next post, we'll feature a few of our favorites you might want to "test drive" in your garden next spring and summer.
Native Plant Resources:
Earth Tones in Woodbury, CT http://www.earthtonesnatives.com/
NATIVE in Fairfield, CT https://www.anativeplantnursery.com/
Prairie Moon Nursery https://www.prairiemoon.com/
The Native Plant Finder https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
Native Plant Trust, MA http://nativeplanttrust.org