The Power of Not Doing

I have discovered the native plants. They are everywhere along the creeks, not far from my garden. They’re hidden among English ivy, honeysuckle and celandine. Sometimes they pop up in groves, other times there are only a smattering. Some are trees, usually somewhat young as far as trees go. Most are far from ostentatious with small easy to miss flowers. But they are unique to these places and for that reason alone, I want to protect them.

On a beautiful day when I should be out trimming branches that are hitting the roof or some such productive activity, I’m sitting here contemplating whether or not the plants in my garden are negatively impacting these local native plant communities. And it’s really getting me down.

This subject first came to my attention from an article published last year about wildflower seed packs and their possible impact on remnant native plant communities. Upon digesting its significance to my gardening methods, I unloaded my devastation in a post and swore to let it go as just one of those many things we gardeners must contend with. And I pretty much did until I recently ran into another troubling reiteration of this very subject on my favorite Facebook group, The Maryland Native Plant Society Discussion Group. The discussion was about whether or not to remove seed pods of butterfly weed in order to prevent it from spreading. The answer came from a member who is extremely knowledgeable about local native plants stating that plants in a garden should be of local genome within no more than 50 miles. It was an answer that sent me reeling.

And so now I’m back in the same boat, wondering how I’m possibly going to achieve that. I decided to write a post in the The Maryland Native Plant Society Discussion Group. It goes as follows:

This is regarding a comment made earlier regarding the propagation of butterfly weed. It stated, “I believe that a plant should be a local genome, as close as possible, within 25 miles if possible and no more than 50 miles. I feel this is especially important with species that have a large range like Butterfly Weed.”

In addition, I’ve recently read a disturbing article about how wildflower seed packs, containing many of the plants I have in my garden, can negatively impact local native plants.

As a gardener who appreciates the value of native plants, I am concerned my gardening practices may be or have the potential to impact local native plants as many of the plants in my garden have been grown from seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota or from Ernst Seeds in Pennsylvania.

I know this isn’t a gardening group, but as gardens have such great potential to impact local native plant communities, this seems a legitimate topic for discussion. It would seem integral to the prevention of new invasive plant species (or as I’m now learning, subspecies).

As there seems to be so many native plant experts here who specialize in local native plants, it would be a great help to know how to decipher what plants we should absolutely avoid and what plants might not be so bad. While it would be great if we could replace our lawns with plants of a local genome within 25 to 50 miles, for some, it would be unrealistic.

I will also add I am in the process of trying to replace my non local genome native plants and I’m happy to say, many local genome native plants (I’m guessing they are local), such as violets, snakeroot, Virginia creeper, nimblewill, fleabane, asters and others are not only volunteering on their own but covering large areas of space. They just may be the solution, even if for some, a little weedy looking.

Needless to say, I ended up chickening out of posting my letter. I figured it would be useless and only initiate conversation about why any plant outside of this range is bad and will lead to the same old advice to buy plants of local genome at native plant sales. Or suggest I could collect my own seeds (with permission). I’m guessing these are the kind of answers I’m going to get, I know, but I just don’t think I can handle any more of that kind of advice to be honest.

I guess I have a very hard time taking things with a grain of salt. But I still want to do the right thing. I need a plan. It will be called:

Devastation Recovery Part 2

And goes as follows:

  • Let the volunteer native plants that I’m fairly certain are of local genome, do as they please (within reason).
  • Remove seed heads from flowering non local genome natives. (Sorry birds)
  • Buy as many aggressive local genome native plants that I can afford and that are easy to propagate from local nurseries.
  • Collect seeds on my own (with permission).
  • Continue to allow some non-native and not so local genome plants that have a good track record for not being invasive or weedy to grow. This would include a fig tree, magnolia, azaleas, some garden herbs and vegetables, etc. These are the plants I’m pretty sure will not become invasive or harmful to local native plant communities.
  • Let this process happen over time while controlling seed and pollen dispersal. Unfortunately I think these are what cause the problems. It will prevent soil disturbance and give the local genome natives an edge. (Sorry pollinators and wildlife)

Maybe all this obsessing is ridiculous, but I think it shows just how complex nature is, how easy it is to alter and how hard it is to undo the alteration. Which is why it seems so imperative to think hard before doing. That said, I think I’ve thought hard enough. It’s time to start undoing.