Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Check the Calendar

A Nod to the Native Underdog Plants

    Gardens, unlike wild places, require gardeners to maintain them. If you abandon your garden, it goes wild. Similarly, if every person abandoned Seattle (or any other city), its plants would reclaim their domain, heeding nature's inevitable call of the wild. The best suited species would smile hugely, and boom their population. Can you imagine their manifesto? "Let the ruling gardeners, the mowers, pruners and groomers, tremble at our plant revolution! We plants have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win. Plants of all kinds --unite, propagate and fill the earth!" But the weaker plants would sigh and commence dying, unable to get by without human coddling. Even if this fantastic scenario ever took place, the plant species checklist would never return to that of the original pre-settlement, virgin flora. For too many imported, non-native species possess sufficient strength to overwhelm most natives. Just as eastern North American gray squirrels oust our native squirrels, so English ivy meets no resistance among our native plants.
    Gardeners have the luxury of choice. We can ignore native plants and ecology, or help underdog native plants. We can go whole-hog in any direction we chose. But we should be at least be aware of our options and get informed before letting ourselves be drawn any particular way. Suppose your property has an anomalous fringe area --sun or shade, wet or dry-- appropriate native plants exist which can be acquired. Well, why not plant some relatively weak native species, as long as they're handsome enough to please your eye? They'll lend a touch of local flavor, help native wildlife, and, if chosen and sited carefully, they're just as pretty and no more demanding than numerous non-natives.
    Seattle was once home to more than 200 species of native wild plants which were wiped-out by development or crowding from non-natives. Some of these extirpated plants are well-endowed for garden usage and can be obtained from nurseries specializing in natives. Examples include: Great Camas (Camassia Leichtlinii), White Fawn-Lily (Erythronium oregonum), Riceroot or Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis = F. lanceolata), Slender Toothwort (Cardamine pulcherrima), Wild Hollyhock (Sidalcea Hendersonii), Yellow Wood Violet (Viola glabella), Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium Trichomanes).
    For every native species lost in Seattle, at least one foreign species has naturalized itself. Consider grasses for example. Seattle is decidedly not known as a grassland, but had some open, windswept meadows along Puget Sound, such as at Alki and Meadow Points. Of the 119 grasses which have been noted wild in Seattle over the years, the breakdown is sobering: 32 natives remain wild, 10 natives have been extirpated (or are exremely rare). At least 58 non-natives are naturalized, 15 non-natives occur as waifs, 2 persist, 1 reseeds and 1 escapes. In short: nearly a quarter of Seattle's native grass species are either wiped-out or very rare, and way more non-native species grow wild than even the original number of natives. How many of your ornamental grasses are natives? Are any? Would you know?
    If you want a really original native-gardening project, remove your lawn, loosen the soil, add copious gravel and sand, then seed it exclusively with native grasses, mosses and associated wildflowers. Of course, a natural native maritime Northwest meadow is no lawn substitute. It cannot be mowed, watered, fertilized, edged, thatched, aerated, etc. Such practices favor non-native species. Moreover, without vigilance on your part your native meadow will be invaded by weedy non-natives or will turn into a patch of woodland. The closer it is to saltwater or bluff areas, the better. In fact if you do not live in what was originally a meadow or prairie-like expanse, you're not creating an absolutely ideal native restoration project. Nonetheless your efforts will be novel, and let's face reality --most people would rather have a faux native meadow for their yard than a authentic forest, all shady and dripping.

(Originally published in The Northwest Gardeners' Resource Directory, 7th edition, by Stephanie Feeney (1997), page 87)

Back



Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

Home   Wild Plants of Greater Seattle
About Arthur Lee Jacobson   Services & Rates   More Books
Plant of the Month   Essays   Frequently Asked Questions
   Articles   Tell A Friend
Awards and Interviews   Useful Links   Volunteer Work
Gary Lockhart's health books   Contact Me


http://www.arthurleej.com
all content and graphics herein
are Copyright © 2001