Are Native Plants Always Better? A Grumpy Verdict
People love native plants. They praise their beauty, ease of care, and how gentle and loving they are to the environment. As opposed to evil plants from Europe and Asia, native plants are always well-behaved and a better choice. Or are they?
No. They are not. Esteemed members of the jury, the prosecution calls your attention to Exhibit A (above) -- the showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa).
First off, this native plant has a stupid name. Its pretty pink flowers open during the day, not the evening. You've undoubtedly seen large sweeps of it blooming by the highways in spring and early summer. And many of you have said, "That's so beautiful, I think I'll dig up some and bring it home." This is a bigger mistake than bringing home Charlie Sheen.
This low-growing thug spreads by seed and also by roots that know no bounds. It kind of disappears in summer -- it's sneaky. Then the next spring, it sprouts everywhere and consumes your entire garden. One seed germinated in my flower border years ago and I've been battling this menace ever since. But, hey, it's native, so I guess that's OK.
I now present to you Exhibit B -- our native redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). People love its lavender-purple spring flowers and they should. But honestly, can there be a weedier tree? This thing ranks right up there with mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and black cherry (Prunus serotina) -- another native tree -- in the incredible number of seedlings that come up all around it. Every year, I pull up hundreds around mine. But, hey, it's native, so I guess that's OK.
Presented for your inspection, Exhibit C -- a lovely native vine called Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Virginia creep would be more like it.
Now this vine does have some good points. Its five-leaflet leaves turn brilliant red in the fall. And its blue-black fruits feed the birds. But this latter point is where the trouble starts. Birds poop out the seeds and seedlings come up everywhere. Thanks to adhesive discs, it climbs anything -- fences, walls, PVC, concrete, telephone poles, the walking dead, anything. It easily grows 30 feet a year. All the while, its roots -- sometimes thick as a rope -- spread far and wide, often sprouting 20 feet away from the mother vine. But hey, it's native, so I guess that's OK.
Let's wrap up our case with Exhibit D -- the infamous horsetail (Equisetum hyemale). This ancient survivor from the Carboniferous Age spreads by spores, not seeds, and consists of slender, hollow, green tubes several feet high. It likes water, so is often planted near ponds. But be warned -- its roots must be absolutely, completely cut off from the outside world or else it will cover the outside world. Pots with it cannot have drainage holes. Beds with it, like the one above, must be surrounded with steel edging or feet of paving. But hey, it's native, so I guess that's OK.
The prosecution rests its case.
The Verdict Bailiff, will you read the verdict?
"We, the enlightened, esteemed, and unbiased jury, having examined all the evidence, find that native plants are NOT always better than exotic ones from foreign lands. While many native plants such as sourwood trees, native azaleas, and Virginia bluebells are to be treasured, quite a few native plants are invasive, weedy, destructive, and a pain in the hiney. Therefore, we encourage the gardening public not to dogmatically eschew all non-native plants, but to choose the right plant for the right spot, regardless of its origin."
Bang! Court adjourned.