Garden with Natives
Right Plant, Right Place
It is common in the gardening world to hear that successful planting is all about “right plant, right place.” While this is true, the Preserve also highly recommends focusing on the benefits of using native plants of local origin.
“Right plant, right place” means that as long as you meet the conditions for that plant’s particular growing needs, such as light, moisture level, pH and soil type, the plant will probably be successful—no matter where within its known growing range that particular plant is growing.
But there is something else you should consider. Individual plants within a given population of a species evolved together in a specific locale, and therefore share history. In other words, the plants share specific adaptations that make them the most optimally adapted population of that species for the environmental conditions found in that particular locale. Plants that share such adaptions are known as an ecotype of their species. Compared to other members of their species that grow elsewhere, they may have a slightly different height, leaf size or disease resistance, among other adaptations, many of which may not even be readily apparent.
According to the National Park Service, “Taking plant species that are of one ecotype and moving them to an area with different environmental conditions, such as different freezing stress or different moisture levels, can result in poor growth or death.” The reverse can also be true: a native species from the wrong region can, in some cases, have an advantage over the local population, even becoming aggressive and out-competing the local ecotype. There are some cultivars of switch grass (Panicum virgatum), for example, that show this tendency.
Furthermore, while a particular plant may appear to be successful no matter where it is planted within its known growing range, it is simply impossible to know exactly where that plant falls short in fulfilling other ecosystem and foodweb contributions.
For example, plants of a more southern origin that are transported to this area may grow, flower, set fruit and begin to deteriorate on an earlier life cycle schedule than plants of more local origin. If the pollinating insects for that species appear on schedule for that ecoregion, it is very possible that the flowering may have already occurred in that particular plant and the time for pollination will have passed.
You may wonder why your plant never sets fruit or goes to seed. And if the plant doesn’t set fruit or produce seed, its value as a food source in the food web is lost. This is especially important in shrubs that produce high lipid fruits that serve as an essential energy source in autumn for migrating birds.
Given the genetic variability inherent in transported nursery stock, instead of thinking, “right plant, right place,” we should instead think “right plant, right place, right genes."
Following this philosophy not only leads to plants that have evolved to thrive in our local environmental conditions but also leads to plants whose life cycles best sync with the birds and insects that depend upon them.
The best way to ensure this is by using native plants of locale origin—the kind of plants available at the Preserve’s Native Plant Nursery.
- Sun-loving Native Perennials
- Shade-loving Native Perennials
- Native Trees and Shrubs
- Native Plants to Attract Birds
- Native Plants for Meadows - Wet
- Native Plants for Meadows - Dry
- Native Perennials for Wet Sites
- Native Perennials for Dry Sites
- Deer Tolerant/Resistant Plants
- Black Walnut Tolerant/Resistant Plants