What defines a native plant; why it matters

You may look at plants growing naturally in the woods, a meadow, or wetlands and think they are natives to Connecticut, but often this is not the case. To be a native, a plant must have grown in our region prior to European settlement.  Some of the plants, trees and shrubs growing in Connecticut wild spaces are actually naturalized – they’ve become accustomed to and grow quite comfortably in our area. Other plants are invasive bullies that overtake or crowd out other plants, often natives. Why does this matter? Think bugs and evolution. Local insects co-evolved with local plants in local conditions. Each Connecticut- or Southern New England-based insect and plant may have a slightly different genetic code than the same type of insect or plant from the Mid-Atlantic region.

This is the topic of my article “In Search of Natives” in the July/August 2012 issue of Connecticut Gardener. In it you’ll find further explanations of what the term native means in regards to plants, where gardeners can find plants native to Connecticut, and where many of the natives sold by Connecticut garden centers are actually grown. Because this is a misunderstood topic, the publishers of Connecticut Gardener, Anne and Will Rowlands, have graciously posted this article online.

2012-3 Connecticut GardenerWhat you won’t get from this link is all the other informative topics covered in Connecticut Gardener: Plants for Dry Shade by Sydney Eddison, Plants for Wet Shade by Nancy DuBrule-Clemente, and Wrapped Up in Vines by Tovah Martin. If you don’t subscribe to Connecticut Gardener you’ll miss a story about efforts to bring the American Chestnut tree back, a Designer Forum on Plants for Privacy, and advice on what gardening tasks to complete in July and August.

But back to natives. New England-based garden coach and designer Ellen W. Sousa covers the value of and how to use native plants in her book, The Green Garden, and professor of entomology and wildlife ecology Douglas W. Tallamy explains the important role native plants play in the lives of insects, and the birds and other creatures that survive on them, in his book, Bringing Nature Home.


Habitats friendly to native flora and fauna are ever in decline. Gardeners can be front-line defenders against habitat loss by gardening organically and with more natives. These resources will provide any gardener with the knowledge and tools necessary to become a habitat defender.

Garden thoughtfully.

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2 comments for “What defines a native plant; why it matters

  1. July 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Joene, I really enjoyed your article and am so glad that it is posted online since it addresses an important topic and this will allow it to reach a broader audience. Like every edition, this latest edition of Connecticut Gardener is really chock full of great info for local gardeners.

    • July 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Debbie, I’m so glad you enjoy the article especially since you blog for Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens (http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/). I hope my small article will help others become more interested in planting natives.

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