Native plant proponents have been encouraging us to reconsider our plant choices for quite awhile now. They’ve had mixed success. There are simply too many tempting new hybrids on the market for us gardeners to go on a strictly native diet. The hybrids aren’t just bigger and shinier, they also come with benefits like disease resistance and drought tolerance. What’s so great about native plants anyway.
What is a Native Plant?
Plants that grew in an area before humans brought them there are considered native to that area. Because they evolved in that area, they have adapted to the climate and growing conditions of that area. They have also become part of the local ecosystem, so they are not detrimental to other plants and animals in the area. In fact, birds, insects and other local wildlife may rely on them for food and shelter.
To the gardener, this means a plant that can pretty much take care of itself. It won’t need a lot of extra watering, pests and disease won’t desicate it. And it won’t start growing out of control. At least that’s the theory.
The problem is that not all native plants are lookers. You can’t blame a gardener for wanting a little pizzaz in their border. That’s why it’s nice to find out that some of our most treasured plants are natives. We can grow without guilt.
Here are 3 flowers that are native to the Hudson Valley area and much of the northeast. They can handle our humid summers and unpredictable winters. Give them a try in your garden and see if they don’t make themselves right at home.
If you are only familiar with the traditional Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) you are in for a treat. While the Fringed Leaf variety does not have picture perfect heart-shaped flowers dangling from its stems, it has delicate, ferny foliage and it repeat blooms through the summer, with frilly pink “hearts”. When traditional Bleeding Heart is calling it quits after one blooming, Fringed Leaf Bleeding Heart is just getting started.
These are very easy to care for plants. They prefer partial shade and a soil that’s not too dry, but they are adaptable. If they get a little bedraggled looking by mid-summer, just give them a shearing and new leaves and flowers will appear shortly.
Allow them to go to seed and you will have dainty new plants popping up throughout your yard.
● Height: 12 – 18 inches
● Spread: 12 – 24 inches
● Exposure: Sun to partial shade
● USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 – 9
Dutchmen’s Breeches are spring ephemerals, which means they go dormant and disappear shortly after flowering. That’s okay, because they are perfect for the early spring season and looking forward to seeing them is part of their charm. You can easily see how they got their common name. The white ballooning britches are actually swollen outer petals.
These are woodland plants and they’ll be most at home in a partially shaded spot. Although they like moist soil while they are growing, they’ll need good drainage when they go dormant.
Dutchman’s Breeches are slow spreaders because their seed does not germinate well. However don’t be surprised to see a patch popping up where you know you never planted them.
● Height:: 4 – 6 inches
● Spread: 12 – 15 inches
● Exposure: Sun to partial shade
● USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 – 7
Don’t let the word “weed” turn you off. The flattened flower heads of this plant are a attractive as any. Butterfly weed is in the same family as milkweed, but much better behaved. It is slow to wake up in the spring, but it has a deep tap-root and grows with virtually no care from the gardener.
The flowers of the species are orange or yellow, but they have been hybridizing butterfly weed and there are multi-color varieties as well as pink and reddish flowers. Although no longer “natives”, the hybrids still seem to be attractive to butterflies and other insects.
As with milkweed, butterfly weed gives off a white sap when wounded and it can irritate sin. However about the only care the plants will need is some staking. You can get around that by planting them behind shorter or sturdier plants, like sedum, that will prop them up for you. Butterfly weed grows best in rich, well-raining soil.
● Height: 24 – 36 inches
● Spread: 15 – 18 inches
● Exposure: Full sun
● USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 – 10
Sources of Native Plants
Smaller specialty nurseries often carry native plants. PlantNative has a state by state listing of native plant nurseries, although it is missing several, like Catskill Native Nursery, in Kerhonkson, NY.
And if you’d like to do some research on your own, there are several online native plant directories with great resources..
Two good ones to get you started are:
Please be sure not to dig your native plants from the wild. Not only are we losing some species to over harvesting, but it could also be illegal and get you into a lot of trouble. We don’t want either to happen.