Whenever the topic of native perennial plants comes up there almost always follows a discussion on where to obtain them. Do we go to a field and locate wild populations to dig? What, then, are we to do? It may come as no surprise but many great native perennials are available from The Perennial Farm. We have brought many native perennials into cultivation, successfully propagated, and made them available for sale.
In fact we have just written a book on the subject. Our What's Native Catalog contains details on popular natives and native cultivars. These are the ones that have been chosen by landscape professionals as the best for today’s landscapes.
You might also be surprised to find that a garden consisting solely of natives isn't as limiting as you might imagine. Some areas of North America have a breathtaking diversity of plant life. It has been estimated that in the temperate world, the eastern United States is second only to China in botanical diversity. Native plants offer a vast array of colors, shapes and textures. With beautiful displays of flowers and foliage, native perennials, ornamental grasses and hardy ferns make great additions to any garden, but beauty and variety aren't the only reasons why.
Low maintenance - Aside from regular watering during their first season, most native perennials require little maintenance. In general they're resistant to disease and insects and do not require fertilization or protection in the winter. Adaptable - Because soil types, light conditions and temperatures change so rapidly and vary so much throughout this region, many native perennials are able to survive in wide range of conditions. Hardy - They are naturally occurring in the local environment so they actually thrive even after the harshest Mid Atlantic or New England winter. Good for local ecology - By planting native plants, you are restoring part of the natural ecology.
North American gardeners, on the whole, are embracing their native plant heritage. A good part of the change has to do with the fact that native plants have become such obvious, sensible choices for today’s more ecologically focused garden. Appropriately sited native plants require no watering, no fertilizer, and no pesticides. Many natives offer so much in addition to their showy blooms. Locally native plants are known as local ecotypes, and are well adapted to the soils, animals, and climate of the immediate area.
What do the experts say? Yes...there are a lot of diverse opinions.
A Native plant is one that develops, occurs naturally, or has existed for many years in an area. These can be trees, flowers, grasses perennials or other plants. Some of them may have adapted to a very limited range. They may have adjusted to living in unusual environments or under very harsh climates or exceptional soil conditions. Although some types of plants for these reasons exist only within a very limited range, others can live in diverse areas or by adaptation to different surroundings.
Native plants form part of a cooperative environment, or plant community, where several species or environments have developed to support them. This could be a case where a plant exists because a certain animal pollinates the plant and that animal exists because it relies on the pollen as a source of food. Some native plants rely on natural conditions, such as occasional wildfires, to release their seeds or to provide a fertile environment where their seedlings can become established. They may adapt well where they originated, but people who find them very pretty or useful may introduce them elsewhere. However, the notion that the introduction of exotic species by humans is a potent threat to biodiversity is generally fallacious except in the very near term. In longer time frames, this sort of introduction has been shown to increase biological diversity and can be beneficial.
The rich diversity of unique species across many parts of the world exists only because bioregions are separated by barriers, particularly large rivers, seas, oceans, mountains and deserts. Humans, migratory birds, ocean currents, etc. can introduce species that have never met in their evolutionary history, on varying time scales ranging from days to decades. Some have suggested that humans are moving species at an unprecedented rate that is unnatural, unsustainable, and/or harmful, even causing "impossible" migrations that could never occur in nature, causing a potential disruption of the world's ecosystems, which could become dominated by a relatively few, aggressive, cosmopolitan "super-species". However, anthropogenic (human-assisted) dispersal can in no way be distinguished from natural dispersal, and in fact, this "increased rate of anthropogenic dispersal is a natural corollary of increased anthropogenic disturbance, and is not a harmful process, but a beneficial mitigation.