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Going native: Save our identity

Using native plants in the garden is certainly not a new idea. In fact, the landscapes of our ancestors featured mostly or entirely native plants that were gathered close to home. Before the advent of modern transportation systems, plants could not survive long journeys and most plants were spread through gathering and disseminating seeds.

All that has changed in our modern society.

As people became more mobile and moved to far-flung places, they often wanted to surround themselves with familiar plants.

On a trip to New England several years ago, we were staying in Concord, Mass., a lovely, quaint town. We were there for the Patriot's Day reenactment of the start of the Revolutionary War. We pulled into a restaurant to get a cup of coffee and as I parked the car, I had an incredible realization. I could have been anywhere in the United States! The parking lot had been landscaped with the exact same selection of plant material that one sees in Oregon. There were heavenly bamboos and "Otto Luyken" laurel planted next to the "Thundercloud" flowering plums. The building had rhododendrons on the shady east side and "spring bouquet" viburnums on the sunny south side, just like at home.

It was at this point that I realized we are losing our regional identities in our plant selections, as well as in our language, architecture and food. But there is a trend to get back to what makes each eco-region unique: well-adapted native plants. By gardening with native plants we can enjoy many real benefits, from lower maintenance to a decreased use of pesticides, fertilizer and water. Who doesn't think that is a worthwhile goal?

Unfortunately, mention the term "native plant" and some people envision a less-than-worthy, weedy shrub or tree whose only attribute is that "it's from around here." Not only is that view untrue, it's unfair to all of the wonderful plants that can add so much beauty and enjoyment to your yard while asking little in return.

Let's look at some benefits and guidelines for using native plants as set forth by the Native Plant Society of Oregon.

If you grow locally native plants in your garden, that is, those plants that are adapted to the Klamath Mountain ecosystem and are preferably within 50 miles from your home, you will be providing habitat for plants and the animals that depend on them. Many native butterflies depend on a single native plant species during their caterpillar stage. Locally native plants are adapted to local soil and climatic conditions, making them easier to maintain than non-native species. You will lessen the chance of introducing invasive plants into our community, the way that star thistle and other noxious plants have displaced natives.

The rap that native plants are ugly is just downright false. Several garden-ready species grow naturally on my property that are desirable in almost any garden. Checker lily, yarrow and veronica are just a few that grace my garden with no tending from me other than to limit competition from weeds in their locations. I treasure each and every madrone that sprouts from seed. I'm also privileged to enjoy ponderosa pines and incense cedars that provide a good amount of privacy and screening without having to provide any fertilizer or water throughout the year. It doesn't get any more low-maintenance than that.

Native plants, or their closely related cultivated varieties, are available at many local nurseries. One local nursery specializing in natives is Plant Oregon, the nursery on Wagner Creek. They have a year-round supply of attractive natives, many that are locally important species. Check out the snowberries and willows for some cool selections. Wherever you choose to get your plants, ask about the source of the supply. Ideally, the plants should be propagated from seeds or cuttings within our eco-region and not be wild-collected. Transplanting natives from the wild is strongly discouraged. It can damage natural plant communities and deplete them beyond their ability to recover. Besides, state law forbids the collection of many plant species. Be sure and buy from reputable professionals.

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-10 a.m. Saturday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at stanmapolski@yahoo.com.