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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 24, 2018 1:00 am

Go native plants when you landscape

Ricky Kemery

Question: A friend of ours recently chastised us for having non-native plants in our landscape. In her opinion, all of the non-native plants in our landscape should be removed and destroyed.

Answer: Not everyone agrees on what the definition of a native plant should be, and how landscapes should be planted. According to the Indiana Plant and Native Wildflower society (INPAWS), a native plant species is one that occurred in natural communities – natural plant associations and habitats – within state/regional boundaries prior to European contact.

In recent years, Douglas Tallamy and researchers at the University of Delaware have conducted experiments on native plants vs. non-native plants in an ecosystem.

Their research has shown that native plants do a better job of hosting and supporting local insect communities than their non-native counterparts. Their research also shows that non-native plants are compounding the problem of declining species diversity by supporting fewer herbivores across landscapes.

So there is evidence based on research that native plants are the preferred species to plant.

This is especially true considering the loss of habitat in the United States. We have turned 54 percent of the lower 48 states into cities and suburbs, and 41 percent more into various forms of agriculture.

This spring when you go to a nursery or garden center, ask if they have native plants for the landscape. Some nurseries now have “Grow Native” display that showcase native trees, shrubs, and perennials for our area.

INPAWS has great information on their website about native plants useful for the landscape (

Not every native plant is useful in a common home landscape.

For instance, silver maple, a native tree of wetland and poorly drained areas, is a terrible choice for a street tree and a front lawn because of its weak wood, poor branching habit and aggressive root system.

Poison Ivy is also native to the United States. While the berries might be useful for wildlife, the plant is certainly not welcome in a traditional home landscape.

I do think that homeowners should plant native plants in their landscapes.

The problem with non-natives is that one can never be sure when they might spread out of control. Such is the case with flowering pear, Norway maple, burning bush, English Ivy, periwinkle, and a host of other species which are now spreading out of control and taking over what little natural areas we have left.

Consult with your nursery and garden center personnel and experts to determine what native plants might be best for your home landscape.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.