Native Plant Month

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardeners

     This month is officially National Native Plant Month.  Last month, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii co-authored a bill creating that designation.  It sailed through the U.S. Senate with no opposition, so April became the 2022 National Native Plant month.  Since it was a Senate resolution, it did not require any action from the House of Representatives.  It is a resolution only, and not a law, so to have a National Native Plant Month in 2023 will require another resolution next year and every year thereafter.  Frankly, with the way things happen in Washington D.C., I am surprised that the House did not offer their own resolution, designating a different month.  At any rate, here we are almost in the middle of National Native Plant Month 2022, and I have not begun shopping, let alone gift-wrapping.
     I have not been totally void of action.  After all, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the invasive callery pear trees and offered my opinion that the native serviceberry makes a great alternative in the landscape.  In fact, one of the purposes of the resolution was to alert the populace of the dangers of invasive plants and the effects they can have on the environment.
     The big question for a native plant month is native to where?  We may say that a plant is native to North America or the United States, but that does not mean that it will grow in your garden.  Many plants native to the South will not withstand the winters of Indiana.  Even a regional designation does not ensure you will be able to grow a plant.  Mayapple will not grow unless you have a shady spot and coneflowers will not grow in deep shade.  
     Sometimes, native is defined as the plants that were growing in an area before the advent of European-descended settlers.  Even that does not guarantee you can grow those plants today.  It would be virtually impossible to determine what was growing in your yard more than two centuries ago, and even if that were possible, the terrain has changed dramatically during that era.  Cities have grown up where rolling prairies once stretched for miles.  Virgin forests have been replaced by farms.
     Do not misunderstand me.  I am in favor of planting native plants and certainly do not want to encourage the growth of invasive plants.  I just point out the folly of certain purists who think everyone should rip out all of the so-called exotic plants from our gardens and replace them with natives.  Not all of the plants our ancestors brought with them when they came to this area have proven to be invasive.  Most have behaved well and have brought joy to the gardeners and guests who have worked and visited the gardens.  To me, it is fine that native bluebells and bloodroot share the shade gardens with hostas and hellebores.  It is fine if I choose to plant some gladioli among the coneflowers and field daisies.  
     I also plant a fair number of Nativars.  Nativars are cultivated forms of native plants.  Purists argue that the breeders have sought pretty flowers at the expense of pollen and nectar.  I agree that Nativars are not always the best choice to help the bees and other pollinators, but I do not see that it is a problem to mix in some specimens if I find them pleasing. 


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