Monday, January 24, 2011

What is really "native"?

It seems that "going native" is the thing to do right now in order to be regarded by your gardening peers as an ecologically responsible gardener.  Planting 100% native varieties sounds like an easy enough proposition, but as I dug deeper into what's authentically native in Connecticut, I discovered some surprising facts.  Many of our garden stalwarts and long time favorites in our gardens aren't native at all.

Here are some examples:  Dahlias come from the high plains of Mexico, with some being found in Ecuador and Honduras; roses were originally cultivated in Babylonia and Assyria; chrysanthemums come from China originally dating back as early as 15th century BC; peonies are from China and are a revered national symbol; hollyhocks were grown in England since the 12th century but originally came from the holy land, now Israel, and their name was originally spelled "holihoc" - holi for holy and hoc for mallow, a native plant it resembles; hydrangeas were originally found in the United States, however, with the first recorded variety the 'hydrangea arborescens' found growing wild in a colony in Pennsylvania - it found immediate popularity in England and spread all over Europe - many varieties grow all over North America where fossils have been found that are 40-70 million years old; fuschia hails from South America; cyclamen comes from the Mediterranean.

These are just a few popular flowering plants and shrubs that are so pervasive in American gardens, so much so that most of us have come to think of them as "native".  But a little digging shows us that many, if not most, of the plantings we see in our gardens or our neighbor's gardens or public gardens originated somewhere other than in American soil.  And to me, that's just fine.

I agree that we need to rid our landscapes of invasives, those prolific and nasty plants that take over giant swaths of meadows, marshes, residential properties and woods.   But to focus solely on planting only native species would leave out so many of our beautiful, trusted and dependable plants that we have grown to love over the last few hundred years.

My favorite plant ever is the hydrangea, which just happens to be originally American, but I also have a great affection for the peony, the rose and the dahlia, just to name a few, and I plan on keeping them around for a long time in my gardens.


  1. Very informative post. I tend to agree with you regarding the natives. I do appreciate the colorful splashes of beauty that non-natives can bring. I also love hydrangeas and finally found a few that will survive our cold Winters.

  2. Thank you for visiting, Carolyn! Where do you live? Which hydrangea cultivars do you grow?

  3. Ditto. Hoping that my hydrangea makes it through the winter--cold and dry, some snow. I meant to mulch it, but didn't get around to it. Fingers crossed. cheers. ann

  4. Ann, I don't always mulch mine either and they always pull through. they're hardy things which makes me love them more!