The concept of planting native species continues to grow in popularity in the landscape industry. I understand the theory that if you plant something that grows naturally in your area, it should perform better. The fact is; that concept is true in some cases and not in others. Ruppert Nurseries grows many native plants however you should not limit your plant selection by using only native plants. They are not always the best choice. As professionals we have to be able to look past the broad concept and analyze each situation. The native movement is rooted in the broader desire to be “green” and produce sustainable projects. Both ideas should be embraced by members of the horticulture industry but often the use of native plants can work against these initiatives.
Let’s remember that many of the cultivars that the native purists do not consider native are simply selections of, or bred from, a native plant. In the case of a selection, these are plants that have naturally produced desirable characteristics and were then propagated to duplicate those characteristics. For example, these characteristics may include a more uniform shape or prove to be more disease resistant. Therefore the use of non-cultivars may necessitate more trimming and spraying, clearly less green or sustainable.
Non-Native being a better choice over the Native
One of the recent movements is to encourage or mandate the use of American Planetree or Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) over the much more available Bloodgood London Planetree (Platanus x acerifolia ‘Bloodgood’) which is a cross between Platanus orientalis and Platanus occidentalis. The American Planetree can be a beautiful tree. It is more often found in nature along the banks of rivers and streams or bottomlands. Like many of you, I too consider Michael Dirr to be the leading expert on all things trees. Here is what Dirr has to say about the American Planetree, “the tree is simply too large and constantly dropping leaves, twigs and fruits; if people only considered all the factors regarding each tree they plant perhaps much maintenance and trouble could be avoided.” He also lists 10 diseases and insects connected to the American Planetree. I will not say that Bloodgood Planetrees are without problems, but they are more tolerant to many of the natural conditions in areas where these trees are planted and are often a much better option.
So I urge you to enter the dialog with customers when they request or mandate native plants on their projects. Look at the situation and analyze which plants are truly more sustainable. I think you will find there is room for natives, improved cultivars of natives and non-natives.
Written By Kelly Lewis