By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
If you are looking for native plants for your garden – truly native plants that belong by heritage in your region and state – we have found a bouquet of information.
Novices and master gardeners alike will find a bounty of advice at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, where they’ve cultivated the Native Plant Information Network, a listing of some 7,200-plus native plants that spans the United States.
Using the NPIN online map you can select your state and up pops a list of commercially available native plant species that are suitable for your area. This is so helpful because planting natives is a wonderful way to support not only a diversity of plant life, but in turn, a diversity of insect and wildlife and helps keep our local ecosystems robust. Native plants also are naturally adjusted to the local rainfall levels, so they help cut down on needless plant irrigation.
“It’s a bit of a niche,” says Damon Waitt, senior botanist at the Lady Bird Center. “But we’re pretty convinced that native plants are your best choice for the landscape in the garden. They don’t cost as much in water and maintenance, and they have ecological benefits, you don’t need to use copious fertilizers.”
And they help restore of a “sense of place” that provides a “human benefit,” too, he said.
Which is what the former first lady had in mind. Lady Bird, as you may know, was big on natural landscapes, and advocated letting wildflowers grow along highways instead of turning public byways into cultivated gardens. In the 1960s, she was ahead of her time. She and actress Helen Hayes formed the National Wildflower Research Center, later called The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in 1982, to promote sustainable landscapes.
Knowing the Lady Bird Center, located in Austin and supported by the University of Texas, would be strong on Texas natives (155 results just for Central Texas), we hopped around the map to make sure it really is a national resource.
For California, we found 158 recommended plants for the Northern part of the state and 208 results for Southern California. In New York, 112 results, and similar long lists spanning the nation — from North Carolina (135 results) to Illinois (177 results) to Washington (218 results).
That seems like a pretty good selection for homeowners looking to diversity their home gardenscapes, so many of which are pre-stocked with non-native ornamentals and lack native variety, which means they don’t contribute to the local ecosystem the way natives can. (Birds eat native berries; butterflies seek specific blooms.)
Natives, which include dozens of prairie flowers and wild flowers from every corner of the U.S., have faced some resistance from home gardeners who fret that native gardens must be “messy” by nature, says Waitt. But native gardens can be neat, as home gardeners will discover once they realize the full palette available.
Commerical nurseries typically haven’t stocked a wide range of natives, but that is changing, he says, as more people convert their yards or portions of their garden to native flowers and plants.
Interest has been extremely high in the Native Plant Information Network, which began in the 1980s as a mailing clearinghouse operation. But since launching online, it has a large following; thousands of viewers daily from around the globe. A companion information service, Ask Mr. Smarty Pants, receives thousands of questions daily, which are read and sorted by volunteers with selected queries being answered online by Wildflower Center experts.
“Usually once a person’s is converted,” Waitt said. “They’re converted for life.”
(Photos courtesy of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, credit for building photo: Bob Daemmrich.)
Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle MediaFind native plants at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center