Native Plants Only…Diversity or Adversity?
It’s hard to know where to begin after reading the September 11, 2018 N&O article about new Wake County properties being restricted to using only native plants in landscaping. The article mentioned diversity, yet the entire focus was about restricting diversity.
We believe that diversity is not only desirable, but critical, since it brings together individuals which have unique traits that create a more robust and vital collective population. We find it fascinating that our society promotes diversity when it comes to humans and edible plants, but decries the absolute need to restrict diversity when it comes to ornamental plants.
City, county, and state borders are geopolitical…they have absolutely nothing to do with plant nativity or adaptability. Secondly, plant nativity is not a place, but a place in time. To call a plant native, you must consider nature as static (never changing), and then pick a random set of dates that you consider to be “ideal”. Most of the plants currently considered native to Wake County today, actually speciated tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years ago. The current conditions are nothing like the conditions then.
Having been born in Wake County 60+ years ago with a passion for “native plants”, I spent my childhood roaming the woods, where houses now stand. As an adult, I have taken over 60 botanizing trips throughout the US, searching for great new garden plants.
Over the last 30 years, we have grown over 60,000 different plants from around the world in our Southern Wake County Botanic Garden, which currently houses, most likely, the most diverse collection of Southeast US native plants in the USA. Our unique perspective comes from a mix of professional experience, observation, and on-site research.
The News & Observer article advocates the concept of a horticultural ethnic superiority, ethnic isolation, and ethnic cleansing. This starts with an assumption that “native plants” are superior to non-natives, and that non-natives should be excluded in landscape situations.
If we were having this conversation about the species Homo sapiens instead of ornamental plants, we’d be laughed out of the town. Also, if “native” plants were actually better adapted and preferred by wildlife, they would take over any site in the county where they were planted, meaning we could then have neither endangered native plants nor invasive exotic plants.
As for the superiority of native plants for both adaptability and for supporting pollinators, that is another great myth, which despite its popularity in the media has no basis in good research. A new book in the works detailing extensive research and pollinator counts from the South Carolina Botanic Garden will show that plants native to a specific region are neither favored by or required by native pollinators.
If you disregard all of the above, and just take the idea as presented in the paper to have all natives at County facilities, then to be consistent, all turfgrasses must also be banned…no lawns or athletic fields. Bermudagrass (Africa), Tall Fescue (Europe), Zoysia (Asia), and Centipede (China), must never be allowed on county facilities using the same reasoning…or lack, thereof.
To keep this non-native ban consistent, Wake County must also ban the planting of most fruits and vegetables, since almost none are US natives. That would leave only sunflowers, a single Texas native pepper, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, persimmon, and paw paws. Of course, Wake County Extension Agents should no longer plant or recommend planting any non-native fruits or vegetables.
Then there are those pesky honeybees (Africa by way of Europe) and earthworms (mostly Europe) that must also be banned from all county properties, since they both radically alter what grows and gets pollinated. Pretty much all of our domesticated animals, both food and pets would need to be banned…all except for turkeys.
Wait…there are still those non-native Homo sapiens, who got here via Africa. So, let me understand this….we clear land to build buildings and parks, creating non-native ecosystems for non-native Humans, and then require them to be planted with ornamental plants native only to the human-created county borders. Please excuse the excessive use of logic.
It’s disappointing that many in our country lack the ability to distinguish valid research from poorly constructed research, designed to support a pre-determined agenda. Indeed, it seems that if we hear anything enough times, read it in print, or see it in the media, it automatically becomes a fact.
How about let’s embrace all diversity and create a better habitat for all, and for goodness sakes include plants that are currently “native” in our region.
Till next time…happy gardening