Are natives the answer? Revisited

I started to leave a comment on Linda’s Friday post regarding Seattle Public Utilities proposed building codes regarding “Healthy Landscapes” but decided I’d weigh in with a regular post.  Linda honed in on the 75% native requirement but there are lots of things to make one scratch their heads in the proposed codes.

Existing invasive plant species shall be removed and no invasive species planted.
No mention of how invasive plants shall be removed.  Heavy-duty herbicides? Armies of school children forced into slave labor? Slow-moving ground-fire? Goats?

75% of all new plantings will be native to Western Washington.
So where did 75% come from?  Sounds like a number that was pulled out of the air.  How is 75% defined?  75% of plants? 75% of the area?  And how does this foster “Healthy Landscapes”?  If I have a 2 acre landscape and plant an acre and half of salal or Oregon grape I’ve met the requirement of 75% but have I increased species diversity or structural diversity or contributed to a “Healthy Landscape”?

A vegetation plan must be submitted for review.
By whom?  What happens if they (whoever ‘they’ are) don’t like it?

Existing native plant species shall be protected whenever possible.
Sounds reasonable but what about existing non-invasive non-natives?  Could a homeowner be required to cut down a 40-year-old red maple?

And on and on we could go.  Let me state clearly, I’m not against native plants.  Quite the opposite – I grew up in western Washington and have a passion for PNW plants since my high school days.  Since moving to Michigan I’ve written articles and given talks promoting natives here as well. http://www.hrt.msu.edu/assets/PagePDFs/bert-cregg/GoingNative.pdf

Nonetheless, I think many in the native plant movement hurt their cause by parroting the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what they’re saying.  Repeating a lie often enough times does not make it the truth.

Let’s critically look at some of the reasons for planting natives according to the Washington State Native Plant Society:

Native plants are adapted to our climate of wet winters and dry summers.
True. But so are lots of non-natives.  Adaptedness is a function of the environment in which plants have evolved; whether it’s native or exotic.  There are many climates around the world that are similar to the PNW and can produce similarly adapted plants.

Require less water than most non-natives once they are established.
Once again, adaptations such as drought tolerance are a function of the climate under which plants evolved.  There are many exotic species that are more drought hardy than western Washington natives and likely to use less water.

Resist native pests and diseases better.
Sometimes. But unfortunately the days of worrying only about native pests are in the distant past.  Exotic pests are here and they are here to stay.  Dutch elm disease, white pine blister rust, emerald ash borer, chestnut blight, Japanese beetle, the list of exotic pests is long and getting longer.  Native does not mean pest-free.

Improve water quality by needing less fertilizer and no pesticides.
OK, here’s where I get confused.  The reasoning in Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, is that native insects don’t feed on exotic plants, therefore if we plant exotics, native food pyramids will collapse and it will be the end of life as we know it.  So… if native insects won’t feed on exotic plants, why would exotics require more pesticide use?

Save resources and encourage a sense of Stewardship.
Ok, now maybe we’re getting somewhere.  Not sure why stewardship is capitalized here but if they mean a ‘sense of place’ or a ‘connection to the natural environment’ then I can buy it.  Many native activists, including Tallamy, run away from this argument – apparently it doesn’t sound scientific enough – but it’s one of the best we have.  Washington state has some of the most incredible plants anywhere.  They should be celebrated and promoted and planted.  In my mind, the biggest reason for planting natives – along with carefully selected non-natives – is to increase overall biodiversity.  When I mention biodiversity I am speaking broadly; species diversity, structural diversity, age-class diversity, and landscape diversity.  When we look to the future we have no idea what lies ahead. We don’t know what new, exotic diseases or insects are looming on the horizon. Most of us expect climate will change but no one can say with certainty how.  Plants cannot evolve as fast as climate will change or as fast as new pest will be introduced. The only way to deal with this uncertainly is to spread the risk through diversity – this includes natives, exotics, and even interspecific hybrids.

31 thoughts on “Are natives the answer? Revisited”

  1. The “less fertilizer” claim strikes me as disingenuous as well. Sure, in a wholly natural
    environment that may be true, although there are exotics that require little in the way of fertilization as well. However, planting in extremely poor builder’s soil will often necessitate a fertilizer regiment regardless of plant origin. You can amend that, but you are unlikely to recreate the soil profile in which the plants evolved.

  2. I think disingenuous may be a little strong since it implies a willful or conscious effort to deceive. In my view, it’s simply naïveté or lack of critical thinking. So many things about natives sound good and feel good but don’t always make sense if you stop and think how they apply to built environments that we typically deal with. What needs to happen in developing these codes or other planning efforts is to ask ‘What is the desired condition? And what is the best way to get there?’

  3. I too have a bit of a problem with the 75% native and the line of “protecting of natives”; Here in Mass., both Poison Ivy and Virgina Creeper are considered natives, (aggressive but not Invasive).

  4. It may be naivete on the part of the politicians and bureaucrats drafting the code, but it is most likely disingenuousness on the part of the activists pushing for the code changes.

  5. Bert, no sense arguing someone’s religion. The problem is that true believers usually want to take their beliefs into politics and have the government enforce their dogma. My pet peeve is the organic food movement, whose dogma is that all man-made chemicals are bad, at least when used in agriculture. The native plant movement seems a bit of an offshoot of this. We need logical, educated voices like yours to counter this national trend of faith based politics on both the left and the right. Wish you were writing for a nationally syndicated column.

  6. Bert, I really enjoy your perspective here. I live with restrictions like this (though mine require 100% native plants) and there is so much wrong-headed about them. I blog regularly about this (see my ‘green, or Green? series), and I really appreciate you taking Tallamy to task. Most of the ‘science’ pursued in this area examines ‘native only’ areas by comparison to ‘non-native;’ little study exists where these places converge. Add to that the general conflation of ‘non-native’ and ‘invasive’ with a little selective sampling of available study, and you have a problem. (By ‘selective sampling,’ I mean that local governments, in order to fall in line with our state’s Growth Management regulations, choose which science supports their intended ordinances while ignoring all other. That isn’t science.)

    In the two years I have been living with Native-only planting restrictions, I was forced by the City of Sammamish to hire a third-party planner ($4,000), plant 300 native plants ($5,000+), and encumber a $5,000 cash bond on the survival of the plants. The plants were poorly chosen for their site and not properly planted, as well. Most of them died the first winter. Since then I have attempted to emulate the actual nature of my property and have increased the diversity (and survival rate) by replacing or adding an additional 600 native plants ($8,000 including those which are regularly consumed by Mountain Beavers). I was to have additionally paid $4,500 to the Planner for annual monitoring and reporting, but I’m not stupid enough to pay an idiot for nothing. Still, the total cost, including what I was to have paid, is almost $27,000 and counting, and I am only two years into a five year plan. I could have gotten a lot of landscape services for that kind of money, I think, and as it is the expense puts my family at risk.

    Alan is right, this is religion for most people (Alan, you are dead-on with your entire comment) and also speaks to what for many is the belief that we need government to save us from ourselves, no matter the cost. It also reflects the attitude of many of Washington’s government bodies that ‘Something must be done, even if we don’t know why.’ When it comes to land-use policy, it is surprising in one sense, that Seattle is bringing up the rear, but at the same time trying to extend these regulations to existing properties and residences seems about right. Where the funding will come from for monitoring and enforcement is beyond me, but likely from Plant Patrols similar to the mushrooming parking enforcement we see, in order to collect fines.

    Seattle, and the rest of the state would benefit just as much (if not more) by creating a voluntary, merit-driven program such as the Cascade Land Conservancy created in Oregon, and by putting some teeth into our Noxious Weed Laws. There is no good reason why I should see English Ivy in virtually every nursery I visit as I quest for native plants.

    There is well more to this than I have written here, and I hope I have not written too much; this is your site, and not mine. I am not here to promote my own writings, but if you want to see how these things work in real life, that is the place to go, as I am the only home and property in my city that is subject to the full-force of this type of arbitrary and capricious regulation. If anyone doesn’t like the way this sounds, get thee to your Planning Commission meeting.

  7. Just a note on the 75% item….

    75% of all new plantings will be native to Western Washington.” Does this mean 75% of the toatal plantings completed or 75% of each and every planting? If 80 people plant all natives, does that mean # 81 can plant all non-natives? Who’s going to talley this up?

  8. Gardening and commercial landscaping is not environmental restoration! It is just too fragmented to ever fill that role. Legislating it, rather than sensible xeric planting is a waste of time, money and effort. We need to select plants that are going to be successful in the actual location and current and potentially near future climate conditions. Natives are great, but they did not evolve to live in urban situations!uote>August 17, 2012
    by
    BethCouldn’t have said this better myself. Rock on Garden Profs!August 22, 2012
    by
    Ginny StiboltIn order to have a rational discussion on a somewhat controversial topic, it’s not a good idea to be dismissive of a whole group of people who would otherwise join in with their own rational ideas. In my opinion, you should have stayed on topic about this particular law and not tried to apply the whole native plant movement to this badly written piece of legislation. It would have been more useful to make suggestions on how the regulation should have been written to be more useful and why. Then we would all learn something.

    I am a member of the Florida Native Plant Society and I posted a link to this post and the previous post on the FNPS Facebook page and quite a discussion ensued, but Taryn Evans, president of one of our 37 chapters, has responded more thoroughly in a post on the FNPS blog. Here is a link:
    http://fnpsblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/are-natives-answer-professor-cregg-why.html

    While I’ve had the privilege of hearing Doug Tallamy speak at our annual conference in May and agree with his viewpoint, I think that reasonable urban and suburban landscapers may need to use a mixture of local natives, near natives and proven non-invasive exotics for the most sustainable landscapes. (A near native is a plant that is native to nearby regions.) The environments near all those buildings, driveways, and other non-natural objects are certainly not the same as the pristine conditions before the European invasion. That being said, I believe that when possible, good-sized chunks of property should be left undeveloped and all natives planted so some restoration can take place. Then the natives planted in nearby landscapes will play a more important role in supporting the butterflies, bees, other bugs and their predators including birds.

    Here in Florida we have a terrible problem with invasive exotics and are spending millions of public and private dollars to halt their taking over of so much of our open lands. Yet big box stores routinely offer invasive plants for sale. People just beginning to think about planting more natives might read your post and come to the conclusion that if these smart horticultural professors say that native plant enthusiasts are “just parroting the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what they’re saying.” then planting any exotic is okay and that natives are not important. Is this really what you wanted to say, Bert?
    August 22, 2012
    by
    Jeff GillmanI’m going to let Bert speak for himself, but I feel compelled to make a comment. Maybe it’s because I know Bert personally, but I just don’t see any dismissiveness in Bert’s post. He’s offering some valid points regarding arguments that are sometimes used by native plant enthusiasts. That’s all. I hear the same arguments that he does and I’m glad he made those points — and I’m glad that you’re unhappy about what he said and the way he said it because that means that you, and hopefully a lot of others, are listening and, hopefully, thinking.August 22, 2012
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    Linda Chalker-ScottI’m also going to jump in here – partially to agree 100% with what Jeff just said, and partially to wonder why there is such hostility from the FNPS group towards horticulture scientists speaking out on their areas of expertise?August 22, 2012
    by
    Cherylthis is an issue that has bothered me for years, and the reason is twofold. First , we do not live in the world where the so -called natives lived (in whatever year you drew the line in the sands of time to deem them so ). Where I live for many square miles the land was covered in galcially deposited sand and no living thing , not even ants ,lived here. Our continent ,as well as the enite land mass of the earth has changed drastically over time , and we had nothing to do with species migrations, climate changes , ice ages, volcanic erruptions etc. and how plants and animals evolved in response. Things have been moving since long before we got here. And yes , we have introduced lots of exotics , ourselves included, but to think we can go back in time is just ridiculous. Our food crops are not native, our pests (disease and insect ) are increasingly not native, and many exotics are very well suited to the growing conditions where they have been introduced . The biggest issue by far though, is that I hear so very many people spouting off the mantra of ‘native only’ who have never done a minutes worth of research( and I do not include the posters here, I am talking about people I encounter in my day to day work) and they feel so self righteous about their opinion ( yes I said opinion- I do not see the science backing them up here) that ordinances like this get passed. I am all for biodiversity, I plant many native plants here, along with well chosen exotics , and believe education about plant choices is the way to go not laws dictating what I consider propaganda. The message is just too restrictive and too narrow in focus, we need to widen the view and work toward a solution that takes into account the very global world in which we live.August 23, 2012
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    antigonumcajanI have to agree. What is the deal with percentages and definitions in straight jackets.August 23, 2012
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    Donna WilliamsonWhat an interesting discussion! I have heard Doug several times and I don’t hear him saying natives only – I hear him encouraging folks to rethink exotics only – a condition too common here in Virginia. And while there are many learned folks in the realm of native plants, some of us are newer to the concepts and fumble a bit in our enthusiasm to make things better…I encourage clients to plant a selection of natives among their existing landscapes and count that as a short-term success. For me, that works in this uncertain world.August 23, 2012
    by
    Ginny Stibolt”Nonetheless, I think many in the native plant movement hurt their cause by parroting the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what they’re saying. Repeating a lie often enough times does not make it the truth.”

    This is a dismissive generalization.

    “…but if they mean a ‘sense of place’ or a ‘connection to the natural environment’ then I can buy it. Many native activists, including Tallamy, run away from this argument – apparently it doesn’t sound scientific enough…”

    I have NEVER heard any native plant enthusiast who was against diversity. To make this generalization and then say that native plant people don’t like because it does not sound scientific enough is a both a lie and an insult.

    I don’t know Bert, but he’s angered a lot of people with these comments when we should be having a discussion on how to write a sensible landscaping regulation.August 23, 2012
    by
    Jeff GillmanHi Ginny, I just can’t agree — in the first phrase you quote he uses the word “many” and in the second quote he was talking about a sense of place and sense of stewardship — not diversity — at least not directly. In terms of having a discussion on a sensible landscaping regulation — we’re working on that — hopefully I’ll post on it late today or early tomorrow. August 24, 2012
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    susan harrisOn the topic of sensible regulations that really encourage t
    620
    he most change, I’ll add that in my Maryland county, I could have gotten $600 for removing my lawn if I’d replaced it with 60 percent natives. Trouble is, there IS no native groundcover for full sun that I know of. So this restriction in the law means people get no incentive to replace lawns the way I did – with sedums,which have gotta be the least resource-demanding plants that could possibly be used to replace lawn.August 24, 2012
    by
    SteveWouldn’t the answer to this problem be a public education program and native plant incentives? Prohibition and/or strict regulation won’t work. People will simply ignore it, because there aren’t enough plant police to enforce it. If State Depts of Environment produced public service announcements and then provided discounted native plants to landscapers and homeowners, they might achieve some of what they envisage.August 24, 2012
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    Linda Chalker-ScottIf you haven’t already, be sure to read the comments on the Friday post that Bert refers to: https://sharepoint.cahnrs.wsu.edu/blogs/urbanhort/archive/2012/08/10/the-natives-debate-continues-.aspxAugust 26, 2012
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    TECHknittersix points:

    1) Native plants would be great if the conditions were native. Climate change, exotic insect pests and urbanization combine to make survival of an all- (or mostly-) native planting unlikely.

    2) The reason garden-variety plants ARE garden variety is because they’re tough–will bloom reliably, can be managed, aren’t overly aggressive, etc. These are plants which can take it, and will thrive in a variety of conditions. Non-garden variety plants (which include many “native” plants”) are particular about their exact micro-habitat (pH, amount of sun, rain amounts) because they’ve evolved in a narrow eco-niche–an eco-niche which it it unlikely to expect a non-expert gardener to reproduce, and which, in fact, may not even BE reproducible due to climate change, urbanization, etc–point 1.

    3) Recently visiting a large professionally-managed “native” garden in California, I was impressed by the tremendous amount of care (read $$$) being used to replant large sections in native plants in order to provide nectar for various native pollinators. Unfortunately, there were few insects to be seen, and a nearby honeybee hive had died (actually, had died every winter, needing to be replaced with new package bees, annually). Here in my own garden (planted with garden-variety plants, some of which are native to the area, some of which are not) I have counted many different pollinators (honey bees, bumble bees of several species, leaf-cutter bees, orchard bees, wasps of several types, hover flies) not to mention butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, etc etc–my garden is always in some kind of insect/bird motion from sunup to sundown and past, a complete contrast to the native plantings which were supposed to encourage pollinators in the carefully-managed eco-garden in CA. True, I live in the midwest, with more water, richer soil, etc, but the contrast between the insect/bird sparsity of the eco-garden and the lively and floriferous garden I’m running here was profound. I think the problem was actually due to point 1: the native plants planted did not thrive.

    4) People have always been interested in carrying plants from one place to another–stone-age farmers carried seed from one tiny village to the next, sailors would bring plants from all over the world home with them. The “exotic” plants we have now as garden-variety plants are the result of millennia of human endeavor–plant breeding. To throw all this out for some political reason is a rejection of a continuous strand of human endeavor which has supported the rise of our entire species. We’re not rejecting improvements to the human environment like busses or trains rather than horse and carriage, or climate controlled houses rather than earth-floored huts, or sewer systems instead of outhouses, so why make the landscape go backwards? “Exotic” plants are human-kind’s old companions.

    5) The origin of the native plant movement owes much to Jens Jensen. What many don’t realize is how racist the basis of this movement is–Jensen, was making an argument that non-European immigrants should be kept out of the US, and he made his point with plants (despised “oriental” plants, called hybridized plants “bastards,” etc). In fact, the native plant movement owes no little debt to the “blood and soil” movement which had its origin in Nazi Germany. Folks today who want to impose their ideas of “native plants-only” on others ought to think a moment where their ideas might logically lead, and from where their ideas stem.

    And finally, 6) if a certain plant is invasive in a certain environment, it’s easy to keep it out, legally speaking (practically speaking, perhaps, not so much). There are (and have always been) noxious weed ordinances. If a plant is invasive in a certain climate, prohibit it from being sold in nurseries and ticket and fine those growing it. Here in the midwest, for example, I will get a ticket if I allow Canada thistle or bindweed to take root on my property, and the city will come and mow, (adding the cost to my property tax bill) if I don’t get rid of these noxious weeds myself. Outlawing whole categories of plants (“exotics”) because a few run riot is throwing the baby out with the bath-water. (Not to mention that many of the most invasive plants in the PNW are, in fact, natives, such as wild grape, yarrow, blackberry, poison ivy, poison oak, etc).

    August 27, 2012
    by
    Linda Chalker-Scott@TECHknitter, you’ve made some valid points. However, I can’t agree with your comment that “many of the most invasive plants in the PNW are, in fact, natives.” English ivy, Himalayan blackberry (not a native, BTW), scots broom, reed canary grass, Japanese knotweed and other deliberately introduced species form vast swaths that few other species can penetrate. I don’t know of any of our natives that have this kind of ecological impact.August 31, 2012
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    TECHknitterI accept the correction. My comments was based on once being trapped in the middle of a huge patch of poison ivy, surrounded on all sides by wild grape. However, that was admittedly anecdotal, rather than systematic, evidence. September 01, 2012
    by
    didggerLinda, you at least acknowledge that the introduced species you list in your post have a preference for anthropogenically disturbed sites, and for the most part, are early seral colonizers that would eventually make way for the next stage of succession? September 01, 2012
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    Linda Chalker-Scott@didgger (is it supposed to be digger?), yes these species prefer disturbed sites (anthropogenic or otherwise). And yes, given time and no interference they are outcompeted by other species. A good example is reed canary grass (RCG), which infests a lot of our wetlands. In our neighborhood we have a tiny triangular area that has a creek passing through it. It used to be completely obliterated by RCG. Ten years ago we cleared it out (by hand) and planted native species. Every year we’d have to go in and clear out the RCG again. Now the willows along the bank and the Douglas fir and western hemlock both shade out most of the RCG. We’ve got other nuisance species to deal with (nightshade is a nightmare in the trees) and the occasional blackberry, but there is no longer a monoculture of RCG.
    I don’t think I’ve done a post on this pocket restoration site before, so I’ll do it on Tuesday so you can see photos.September 01, 2012
    by
    diggerOops…yes disturbed sites in general (not pu
    rely anthropogenic).
    Thanks for the confirmation of this, it seems to be a point that is sorely lacking in popular discussions of invasiveness.

    Appreciate your work.September 13, 2012
    by
    astersiaI am very interested in native plants and low-impact, high diversity urban landscapes. As was pointed out, I found Mr Cregg’s initial post very dismissive and not consistent with an academic approach to these issues. No point in interacting with someone like this. September 13, 2012
    by
    Linda Chalker-Scott@Astersia, where exacatly was Dr. Cregg’s post “not consistent with an academic approach?” To date, I’ve seen nothing written by any of his detractors pointing out even one scientific inaccuracy. All I’ve seen are personal attacks (primarily on the FNPS blog), and that doesn’t help further the discussion on a science-based blog.
    People who disagree with the substance of Bert’s post should be able to discuss these points without resorting to hostility.September 14, 2012
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    LisaThree cheers for Bert’s sensible post and biodiversity!October 29, 2012
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    JAD EarthmovingWhat is the reason behind removing the Existing invasive plant species? I’m so curious to know about it.

  9. In order to have a rational discussion on a somewhat controversial topic, it’s not a good idea to be dismissive of a whole group of people who would otherwise join in with their own rational ideas. In my opinion, you should have stayed on topic about this particular law and not tried to apply the whole native plant movement to this badly written piece of legislation. It would have been more useful to make suggestions on how the regulation should have been written to be more useful and why. Then we would all learn something.

    I am a member of the Florida Native Plant Society and I posted a link to this post and the previous post on the FNPS Facebook page and quite a discussion ensued, but Taryn Evans, president of one of our 37 chapters, has responded more thoroughly in a post on the FNPS blog. Here is a link:
    http://fnpsblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/are-natives-answer-professor-cregg-why.html

    While I’ve had the privilege of hearing Doug Tallamy speak at our annual conference in May and agree with his viewpoint, I think that reasonable urban and suburban landscapers may need to use a mixture of local natives, near natives and proven non-invasive exotics for the most sustainable landscapes. (A near native is a plant that is native to nearby regions.) The environments near all those buildings, driveways, and other non-natural objects are certainly not the same as the pristine conditions before the European invasion. That being said, I believe that when possible, good-sized chunks of property should be left undeveloped and all natives planted so some restoration can take place. Then the natives planted in nearby landscapes will play a more important role in supporting the butterflies, bees, other bugs and their predators including birds.

    Here in Florida we have a terrible problem with invasive exotics and are spending millions of public and private dollars to halt their taking over of so much of our open lands. Yet big box stores routinely offer invasive plants for sale. People just beginning to think about planting more natives might read your post and come to the conclusion that if these smart horticultural professors say that native plant enthusiasts are “just parroting the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what they’re saying.” then planting any exotic is okay and that natives are not important. Is this really what you wanted to say, Bert?

  10. I’m going to let Bert speak for himself, but I feel compelled to make a comment. Maybe it’s because I know Bert personally, but I just don’t see any dismissiveness in Bert’s post. He’s offering some valid points regarding arguments that are sometimes used by native plant enthusiasts. That’s all. I hear the same arguments that he does and I’m glad he made those points — and I’m glad that you’re unhappy about what he said and the way he said it because that means that you, and hopefully a lot of others, are listening and, hopefully, thinking.

  11. I’m also going to jump in here – partially to agree 100% with what Jeff just said, and partially to wonder why there is such hostility from the FNPS group towards horticulture scientists speaking out on their areas of expertise?

  12. this is an issue that has bothered me for years, and the reason is twofold. First , we do not live in the world where the so -called natives lived (in whatever year you drew the line in the sands of time to deem them so ). Where I live for many square miles the land was covered in galcially deposited sand and no living thing , not even ants ,lived here. Our continent ,as well as the enite land mass of the earth has changed drastically over time , and we had nothing to do with species migrations, climate changes , ice ages, volcanic erruptions etc. and how plants and animals evolved in response. Things have been moving since long before we got here. And yes , we have introduced lots of exotics , ourselves included, but to think we can go back in time is just ridiculous. Our food crops are not native, our pests (disease and insect ) are increasingly not native, and many exotics are very well suited to the growing conditions where they have been introduced . The biggest issue by far though, is that I hear so very many people spouting off the mantra of ‘native only’ who have never done a minutes worth of research( and I do not include the posters here, I am talking about people I encounter in my day to day work) and they feel so self righteous about their opinion ( yes I said opinion- I do not see the science backing them up here) that ordinances like this get passed. I am all for biodiversity, I plant many native plants here, along with well chosen exotics , and believe education about plant choices is the way to go not laws dictating what I consider propaganda. The message is just too restrictive and too narrow in focus, we need to widen the view and work toward a solution that takes into account the very global world in which we live.

  13. What an interesting discussion! I have heard Doug several times and I don’t hear him saying natives only – I hear him encouraging folks to rethink exotics only – a condition too common here in Virginia. And while there are many learned folks in the realm of native plants, some of us are newer to the concepts and fumble a bit in our enthusiasm to make things better…I encourage clients to plant a selection of natives among their existing landscapes and count that as a short-term success. For me, that works in this uncertain world.

  14. “Nonetheless, I think many in the native plant movement hurt their cause by parroting the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what they’re saying. Repeating a lie often enough times does not make it the truth.”

    This is a dismissive generalization.

    “…but if they mean a ‘sense of place’ or a ‘connection to the natural environment’ then I can buy it. Many native activists, including Tallamy, run away from this argument – apparently it doesn’t sound scientific enough…”

    I have NEVER heard any native plant enthusiast who was against diversity. To make this generalization and then say that native plant people don’t like because it does not sound scientific enough is a both a lie and an insult.

    I don’t know Bert, but he’s angered a lot of people with these comments when we should be having a discussion on how to write a sensible landscaping regulation.

  15. Hi Ginny, I just can’t agree — in the first phrase you quote he uses the word “many” and in the second quote he was talking about a sense of place and sense of stewardship — not diversity — at least not directly. In terms of having a discussion on a sensible landscaping regulation — we’re working on that — hopefully I’ll post on it late today or early tomorrow.

  16. On the topic of sensible regulations that really encourage t
    620
    he most change, I’ll add that in my Maryland county, I could have gotten $600 for removing my lawn if I’d replaced it with 60 percent natives. Trouble is, there IS no native groundcover for full sun that I know of. So this restriction in the law means people get no incentive to replace lawns the way I did – with sedums,which have gotta be the least resource-demanding plants that could possibly be used to replace lawn.

  17. Wouldn’t the answer to this problem be a public education program and native plant incentives? Prohibition and/or strict regulation won’t work. People will simply ignore it, because there aren’t enough plant police to enforce it. If State Depts of Environment produced public service announcements and then provided discounted native plants to landscapers and homeowners, they might achieve some of what they envisage.

  18. six points:

    1) Native plants would be great if the conditions were native. Climate change, exotic insect pests and urbanization combine to make survival of an all- (or mostly-) native planting unlikely.

    2) The reason garden-variety plants ARE garden variety is because they’re tough–will bloom reliably, can be managed, aren’t overly aggressive, etc. These are plants which can take it, and will thrive in a variety of conditions. Non-garden variety plants (which include many “native” plants”) are particular about their exact micro-habitat (pH, amount of sun, rain amounts) because they’ve evolved in a narrow eco-niche–an eco-niche which it it unlikely to expect a non-expert gardener to reproduce, and which, in fact, may not even BE reproducible due to climate change, urbanization, etc–point 1.

    3) Recently visiting a large professionally-managed “native” garden in California, I was impressed by the tremendous amount of care (read $$$) being used to replant large sections in native plants in order to provide nectar for various native pollinators. Unfortunately, there were few insects to be seen, and a nearby honeybee hive had died (actually, had died every winter, needing to be replaced with new package bees, annually). Here in my own garden (planted with garden-variety plants, some of which are native to the area, some of which are not) I have counted many different pollinators (honey bees, bumble bees of several species, leaf-cutter bees, orchard bees, wasps of several types, hover flies) not to mention butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, etc etc–my garden is always in some kind of insect/bird motion from sunup to sundown and past, a complete contrast to the native plantings which were supposed to encourage pollinators in the carefully-managed eco-garden in CA. True, I live in the midwest, with more water, richer soil, etc, but the contrast between the insect/bird sparsity of the eco-garden and the lively and floriferous garden I’m running here was profound. I think the problem was actually due to point 1: the native plants planted did not thrive.

    4) People have always been interested in carrying plants from one place to another–stone-age farmers carried seed from one tiny village to the next, sailors would bring plants from all over the world home with them. The “exotic” plants we have now as garden-variety plants are the result of millennia of human endeavor–plant breeding. To throw all this out for some political reason is a rejection of a continuous strand of human endeavor which has supported the rise of our entire species. We’re not rejecting improvements to the human environment like busses or trains rather than horse and carriage, or climate controlled houses rather than earth-floored huts, or sewer systems instead of outhouses, so why make the landscape go backwards? “Exotic” plants are human-kind’s old companions.

    5) The origin of the native plant movement owes much to Jens Jensen. What many don’t realize is how racist the basis of this movement is–Jensen, was making an argument that non-European immigrants should be kept out of the US, and he made his point with plants (despised “oriental” plants, called hybridized plants “bastards,” etc). In fact, the native plant movement owes no little debt to the “blood and soil” movement which had its origin in Nazi Germany. Folks today who want to impose their ideas of “native plants-only” on others ought to think a moment where their ideas might logically lead, and from where their ideas stem.

    And finally, 6) if a certain plant is invasive in a certain environment, it’s easy to keep it out, legally speaking (practically speaking, perhaps, not so much). There are (and have always been) noxious weed ordinances. If a plant is invasive in a certain climate, prohibit it from being sold in nurseries and ticket and fine those growing it. Here in the midwest, for example, I will get a ticket if I allow Canada thistle or bindweed to take root on my property, and the city will come and mow, (adding the cost to my property tax bill) if I don’t get rid of these noxious weeds myself. Outlawing whole categories of plants (“exotics”) because a few run riot is throwing the baby out with the bath-water. (Not to mention that many of the most invasive plants in the PNW are, in fact, natives, such as wild grape, yarrow, blackberry, poison ivy, poison oak, etc).

  19. @TECHknitter, you’ve made some valid points. However, I can’t agree with your comment that “many of the most invasive plants in the PNW are, in fact, natives.” English ivy, Himalayan blackberry (not a native, BTW), scots broom, reed canary grass, Japanese knotweed and other deliberately introduced species form vast swaths that few other species can penetrate. I don’t know of any of our natives that have this kind of ecological impact.

  20. I accept the correction. My comments was based on once being trapped in the middle of a huge patch of poison ivy, surrounded on all sides by wild grape. However, that was admittedly anecdotal, rather than systematic, evidence.

  21. Linda, you at least acknowledge that the introduced species you list in your post have a preference for anthropogenically disturbed sites, and for the most part, are early seral colonizers that would eventually make way for the next stage of succession?

  22. @didgger (is it supposed to be digger?), yes these species prefer disturbed sites (anthropogenic or otherwise). And yes, given time and no interference they are outcompeted by other species. A good example is reed canary grass (RCG), which infests a lot of our wetlands. In our neighborhood we have a tiny triangular area that has a creek passing through it. It used to be completely obliterated by RCG. Ten years ago we cleared it out (by hand) and planted native species. Every year we’d have to go in and clear out the RCG again. Now the willows along the bank and the Douglas fir and western hemlock both shade out most of the RCG. We’ve got other nuisance species to deal with (nightshade is a nightmare in the trees) and the occasional blackberry, but there is no longer a monoculture of RCG.
    I don’t think I’ve done a post on this pocket restoration site before, so I’ll do it on Tuesday so you can see photos.

  23. Oops…yes disturbed sites in general (not pu
    rely anthropogenic).
    Thanks for the confirmation of this, it seems to be a point that is sorely lacking in popular discussions of invasiveness.

    Appreciate your work.

  24. I am very interested in native plants and low-impact, high diversity urban landscapes. As was pointed out, I found Mr Cregg’s initial post very dismissive and not consistent with an academic approach to these issues. No point in interacting with someone like this.

  25. @Astersia, where exacatly was Dr. Cregg’s post “not consistent with an academic approach?” To date, I’ve seen nothing written by any of his detractors pointing out even one scientific inaccuracy. All I’ve seen are personal attacks (primarily on the FNPS blog), and that doesn’t help further the discussion on a science-based blog.
    People who disagree with the substance of Bert’s post should be able to discuss these points without resorting to hostility.

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