Native Plants: Which Should You Offer?

Native Plants: Which Should You Offer?

 

Of all the niches within the perennial market, natives currently rank among the most intriguing and sought-after. Ironically, and perhaps unnecessarily, natives are also misunderstood and even considered problematic.

Growers, retailers and gardeners want natives, but which ones? How do you grow them? Well, consider this: If you offer a decent perennial selection, you’re already into natives.

All species of phlox, most gaillardia and all echinacea, to name just a few genera, are natives. Foreign variety names like rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ or carex ‘Oehme’ may deceive, but North America is the ancestral home of these and many other famous perennials, like most coreopsis (some hail from Africa) and all stokesia.

Since colonial times, Old World collectors have plundered the Americas for botanical treasures, sending them abroad for education, breeding and selecting. So much for the myth that natives are just for restoration work and meadows.

For growers undecided about which natives to offer, or which of their current offerings qualify as natives, there’s the Native Wonders collection by Emerald Coast Growers. These 41 perennials and 27 grasses were chosen not just for provenance, but for real garden merit and ornamental value.

“When selecting our Native Wonders program, we considered the retailer’s and homeowner’s concerns: Buy native and grow beautiful plants,” says Emerald Coast’s Cheri Markowitz.

Perennials

An amicable schism surfaces whenever the Perennial Plant Association elects a Perennial Plant of the Year. Some members prefer recent introductions relevant to today’s market. That element held sway when heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and geranium ‘Rozanne’ won in 1991 and 2008, respectively. Each was known in the industry but still unfamiliar to gardeners and many retailers.

Others prefer worthy but overlooked plants. Those voices prevailed with Baptisia australis (2010) and Amsonia hubrichtii (2011). Both are fine garden choices–and natives. Because “new native” is an obvious oxymoron, clearly merit–not novelty–prompted their selection.

Perhaps we’re skeptical of novelty: Some wonderful new perennials prove neither wonderful, nor perennial. When an annual disappoints, it’s over in a season. When perennials fail, it feels like a betrayal. Natives, the common wisdom says, enhance the odds for success: After all, they evolved here in our climate and in harmony with surrounding flora and fauna.

Back to amsonia: Detractors scoff that A. hubrichtii blooms for about 20 minutes each spring, looks sparse and unkempt in pots and establishes slowly in the landscape, coming into its own in the second year. So why is it the 2011 Plant of the Year? How do you grow and sell it?

Easy: Grow it for its unmatched foliage, a backdrop that brings movement to the border. Slender leaves on erect stems sway gracefully in the vaguest hint of a breeze; cold nights paint them a dazzling yellow/gold. Plant by July to bulk roots for fuller pots next spring.

Aquilegia canadensis. This perennial blooms early and makes a cute pot, and it’s irresistible on the retail shelf. There are selections like ‘Corbett,’ ‘Little Lanterns’ and ‘Pink Lanterns,’ but it’s hard to beat the vivid red petals and gold stamens of the species.

Latin names hold clues to nativity. Specific epithets like americana, canadensis, and pensylvanica are obvious while others are more obscure: novi-belgii means “of New Belgium,” an old name for New York. Australis, as in baptisia, conjures kangaroos, but it really just means “southern.”

Asclepias. The common name “milkweed” does this genus a disservice. The popular A. tuberosa, butterfly weed, produces beautiful orange flowers, invaluable to Monarch butterflies. ‘Hello Yellow’ and ‘Gay Butterflies’ offer yellows, oranges and near-reds. Less familiar but equally worthy is A. incarnata, swamp milkweed, which is great for naturalizing, happy at water’s edge and a durable cut flower.

In 1998, garden center gurus mocked the PPA for selecting Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ because it’s so obviously unsuited to our current regrettable retail display model. True, some types get leggy in gallons before blooming. But recent selection Prairie Splendor flowers early, at half the height. Newcomers like the Big Sky and ConeFection series offer wild new colors and forms that nature never got around to.

Lewisia cotyledon. This is an adorable windowsill crop, popular in Europe in 4 ½-inch pots. Tough, tolerant and semi-succulent, it bears cute-striped flowers, mostly pastel shades. Sow it late in the year, as cold treatment yields the best germination, or play it safer with liners. In nature, lewisia (a.k.a. bitterroot) grows in scree, often at high altitudes. That’s a clue: Don’t kill it with kindness. Water sparingly and use well-drained media.

Polemonium reptans. ‘Touch of Class’ an improved selection from ‘Stairway to Heaven’, brightens up shady areas with crisp, white-edged foliage. You can’t sow it, but it’s readily available in liners. Protect it from full sun and keep it moderately moist.

Grasses

Carex pensylvanica is not a showy grass and not a specimen, but it naturalizes shady areas, forming a slow-spreading, self-sufficient lawn you needn’t mow. At retail, don’t display it near tall grasses like panicum or muhlenbergia. Put it with your groundcovers as a turf alternative. C. muskingumensis ‘Oehme’ is a beautiful, underused variegated form discovered in Maryland. It’s versatile, happy in containers, mixed beds or at water’s edge.

Panicum is a genus whose time has come. More tough, beautiful varieties enter the trade each year. For a good range of colors and sizes, try ‘Northwind,’ ‘Heavy Metal,’ ‘Dewey Blue,’ Ruby Ribbons or ‘Shenandoah.’

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) is still sold as andropogon (big bluestem) by some holdouts despite a taxonomical split in the 1960s. Both andropogon and schizachyrium are prized for restoration plantings due to their ability to thrive in compromised soils, but don’t overlook their pretty side.

The name “bluestem” is inadequate. Grab a fistful of schizachyrium ‘Blaze’, especially in fall, and you’ve got a rainbow in your hand, from glaucous blues to smoldering reds and oranges. Try Blue Heaven also.

The bottom line: Stop stressing over natives. Purists will quibble, but if you’re growing gaura, lobelia or monarda, you’re already a native plantsperson. Welcome to the tribe.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Native Plants: Which Should You Offer?

More From Varieties...
Joe Cimino, Sakata Seed America

January 17, 2017

Sakata Seed Names New Senior Sales Manager for Ornamentals

Joe Cimino comes to Sakata with past experience at Sun Gro and Florexpo.

Read More
JinPin Flower Seedling Company partners

January 17, 2017

Ernst Benary Partners With Chinese Young Plant Grower on New Venture

The partnership creates a new company called Jinpin Flower Seedling Company, which will focus on providing young plants to the rapidly growing Chinese bedding plant market.

Read More
Dipladenia Sundenia

January 11, 2017

New Tropical and Foliage Plants That Offer Hidden Benefits

Tropical and foliage plants can offer extra paybacks to your customers in terms of health-promoting benefits such as filtering the air, reducing stress, and absorbing noise. Consider these new varieties, hitting the retail market in 2017, for your product mix.

Read More
Latest Stories
Joe Cimino, Sakata Seed America

January 17, 2017

Sakata Seed Names New Senior Sales Manager for Ornament…

Joe Cimino comes to Sakata with past experience at Sun Gro and Florexpo.

Read More
JinPin Flower Seedling Company partners

January 17, 2017

Ernst Benary Partners With Chinese Young Plant Grower o…

The partnership creates a new company called Jinpin Flower Seedling Company, which will focus on providing young plants to the rapidly growing Chinese bedding plant market.

Read More
Dipladenia Sundenia

January 11, 2017

New Tropical and Foliage Plants That Offer Hidden Benef…

Tropical and foliage plants can offer extra paybacks to your customers in terms of health-promoting benefits such as filtering the air, reducing stress, and absorbing noise. Consider these new varieties, hitting the retail market in 2017, for your product mix.

Read More
craspedia-golf-beauty-danziger-feature

January 9, 2017

Growing Tips for Craspedia ‘Golf Beauty’

Laura Robles of Mast Young Plants offers advice on ‘Golf Beauty,’ a novelty plant with can’t-miss yellow flower heads and silver foliage that blooms throughout the summer.

Read More
Bride with wedding orchids.

January 7, 2017

How to Stand Out in the Orchid Market

With the popularity of the Phalaenopsis orchid growing and its saturation in the market, orchid growers are hunting for new ways to stand out from their competitors.

Read More
California Coast

January 3, 2017

Expect Big Changes for California Spring Trials 2017

California Spring Trials 2017 will be here before you know it. Find out what you can look forward to and get a head start on planning and registering for your trip.

Read More
westerlay-orchids-feature

January 1, 2017

How Westerlay Orchids Solved Its Bacteria Problem

Water-borne bacteria was causing havoc with Westerlay Orchids’ production, so the company took preventative action to ensure the health of its plants.

Read More
nepeta-purple-wave-with-roses

December 30, 2016

Allan Armitage: Plants That Can Bring Success in the Ne…

Are you wondering which plants to grow? Here are some perennials, annuals, and herbs that are gaining popularity.

Read More
Honeybelle combo

December 27, 2016

19 New Combos for Containers Big and Small

Check out 19 combos and mixes new for the retail marketplace in 2017 that offer something for every container type.

Read More
sun-parasol-original-crimson-web

December 20, 2016

Suntory Launches Unrooted Cuttings Program for Sun Para…

While the domestically produced rooting program for the Sun Parasol will continue, growers who would like to purchase unrooted cuttings will have the opportunity for the Sun Parasol Original varieties and Garden Crimson.

Read More
santos flare

December 20, 2016

Ball Horticultural Expands Potted Plant Offerings With …

Ex-Plant, which specializes in potted plants, will become a part of Ball’s PanAmerican Seed division.

Read More

December 16, 2016

Please Take Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Poinsettia S…

Are plant sales up or down compared to last year? How did Black Friday set the tone for this season? What varieties and sizes were your best sellers? Did you try anything new this year to appeal to younger consumer demographics? We tackle all of these questions and more to help you understand the trends in Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Poinsettia Survey.

Read More

December 13, 2016

Dümmen Orange Shares Trends And Season-Extending Tips A…

As a purveyor of a wide collection of poinsettia and potted plant genetics, Dümmen Orange offered attendees a look at current trends – and a glimpse into the future – at its annual event in Columbus, OH.

Read More
Lollipop Flaming Hot Melon combo

December 13, 2016

21 New Combos For Spring To Fall Color In 2017

With the flood of new varieties and flower colors coming on the market, there is no end to the combinations and mixes available for hanging baskets and containers.

Read More
all-america-selections-new-website-home-page

December 3, 2016

New Mobile Responsive Website From All-America Selectio…

All-America Selections has launched a newly redesigned and revamped mobile-responsive website that includes a more attractive design, enhanced search tools, and easier and simpler navigation.

Read More
Sea Breeze Catharanthus combo

December 2, 2016

Four Mixed Container Trends To Watch

Mixed containers are still one of the best-selling SKUs at retail. Pay attention to these four trends that are making their mark on multi-liner mixes and combination containers.

Read More
kelly-norris

December 2, 2016

Kelly Norris: How The “Me Too” Philosophy Affects Plant…

When you’re selling the exact same thing as everyone else, it’s unrealistic to expect customers to buy only from you.

Read More

November 29, 2016

How Changes In Plant Patent Law Could Affect Your Varie…

There is an ongoing discussion happening among plant genetics companies about the current laws and ethics of plant breeding, and what the future holds for the improved lawful protection of genetics.

Read More