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Thoughts on the "plant native" and other eco-movements PART 1

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

As of late I have noticed there are a number of campaigns, usually spearheaded by some environmental group, relating to gardening/pollinators/ leaf removal, or not mowing the lawn.

This post is just some brief thoughts I have considering these, and I'll focus on one in particular. I want to preface first by saying these are just my opinions and I hold no animus towards anyone who differs in theirs.

Let's first start with the "plant native" garden movement that has gained traction lately. The concept is simple enough - to chose to garden native plants and trees over foreign species which don't have a natural presence in your region. When I read in some FB groups and forums some people seem appear to have gone a bit...over zealous, with the message and have decided if it hasn't been here for a millenia that it should be removed posthaste. Native = good, non-native = evil seems to be the dichotomy for some and is an overly simplistic way to view the subject.

I have seen FB posts disparaging people for having day lily and Russian sage in their gardens rather than "native plants." These individuals have made statements suggesting that since wildlife didn't evolve for a millenia alongside these species they can't make any use of then. This notion is patently absurd - Russian sage is an important source of nectar to many bees and other pollinators before winter. In the case of day lilies, in addition to providing nectar for foraging pollinators, they also play an important role in stabilizing the banks along streams and creeks. Rather than recognizing that planting a garden of any kind is better than simply having a patch of grass or concrete these people felt it was more appropriate to discourage others because they weren't gardening with the latest trend.

As can be seen in this short video clip this rose-of-Sharon is being enjoyed by a variety of native bees ranging from sweat to carpenter. Rose-of-Sharon are native to China and India, and yet are frequently planted in many places in North America due to their large ornate flowers, long blooming time, hardiness, and reasonable size. In my garden no native plant attracts as many pollinators as the Rose-of-Sharon and I can't think of a native plant which could offer an equal or greater amount of pollen and nectar if it were removed.

The thought that wildlife, outside of very narrowly adapted specialist species, can't learn to make use of new resources or wouldn't recognize them is a bit silly when given some thought since all species have had to adapt to changes in their environments this long in order to survive up to this point. The degree of flexibility we see in the natural world is what makes life so durable on this planet and yet there are always sone people surprised when life, "finds a way."

The very notion of what is native and non-native can be an ambiguous distinction based on the imaginary lines us humans make: redbud, which is a beautiful tree and is now commonly planted throughout Ontario, is considered "native." However, it can only be found growing naturally on Pelee Island in Lake Erie, the southern most point of Canada. The single specimen originally cataloged on the island was a specimen which had rooted itself on the southern shoreline of the island, suggesting it may have been a victim of bank erosion and re-rooted itself after a journey across the lake. So yes, it's native, but just barely. Species ranges are never static, expanding and contracting with spatial changes in habitat, climate, and pressures from competitors/predators/food availability/etc. Has there been harm planting redbud further north than it's naturally found? No, and given current warming trends it is highly probable that the range of that species would have expanded northward in its own time. Are you planting a non-native species when you chose redbud?....depends on what historical period you base its range on, just remember: no species has a static range on a long enough timescale.

To be clear, I am NOT discouraging people from gardening using native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. I think it is great that species native to your local region are being sold for gardens, and it is something I'd like to see more of. Now that there is interest in native species there is more focus on breeding and developing these plants for people's gardens, something which had been lacking before (although that then brings up the next hotlt contested botanical debate surrounding "cultivars"). It is important to realize not everyone has it in their budget to go out and completely rehaul their garden to be exclusively native plants. In some cases even if they have the finances for it, the availability of many native plants is often restricted to specialty garden centers, with many "big box" garden outlets still catering to traditional plantings. One aspect of the "plant native" movement I can appreciate is leaving certain species remain when weeding. Unless they are in direct competition with vegetables, flowers such as asters, goldenrod, and even dandelions offer valuable sources of nectar and pollen for bees and other species seeking these resources. While I maintain several plots of vegetables in my garden these natives just mentioned go untouched in the areas meant for flowers. I look forward to seeing what comes to the golden rod this fall since I've allowed several patches of them to grow to a decent size. Remember - a weed is just a plant growing where you don't want it to. I suggest taking a second look at what beautiful and beneficial blooms some species can provide if allowed to persist and reconsider removing them if possible.

To summarize: what I am attempting to convey with this post is that there are some people, you know who you are, that need to get off their sanctimonious high horse and stop admonishing others for not gardening according to how THEY think it should be done. Yes, gardens offer food, shelter, and nurseries to urban wildlife in a time when pressures on their populations continue to grow. Yes, wildlife rely gardens, but so do people. They are places of peace, stress relief, contemplation, food generation, and learning. Gardens give humanity a greater appreciation for the work that goes into producing the food we eat and by getting our hands dirty we regain a connection with the earth that has been largely lost in our modern world. As the well known author Micheal Pollan says, "a garden suggests there might be a place we can meet nature halfway. " I encourage everyone to plant a garden, not only for wildlife but for themselves as well. Try your best to include some native species, or at least not remove so many. Regardless of what species you put in the ground select some plants that YOU enjoy too, be they native or from elsewhere, for humans are also one of those creatures who find solice in the garden.

To avoid going on too long I will conclude part 1 here. If anyone disagrees with any of the statements I made I encourage them to *politely* state their counterpoint in the comment section. I encourage debate and disagreement as long as it stays civil and good natured. Anyone caught breaking that rule will get one warning, and the second time will get banned for good.

Thanks for reading! Hope you all have a wonderful week

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I was under the understanding dandelions aren't native either... but they have proven to be super beneficial and I (and my 2 year old) take quite joy in blowing the seeds everywhere. They're amazing sources of pollen and nectar and can be used for so many medicinal/food things for people, too! (And they're damn near impossible to kill anyways, so why bother trying? xD )

There are loads of non-native plants that have a place in gardens (and maybe even in the wild, to an extent!), and a few of them have been in Canada for so long that they're Citizens too! Lol.

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