SmallTownNews
Native plants are instrumental to region's ecosystem

By JEANNE REHWALDT

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

Have you ever wondered why native plants are such a great option for your garden?

There a many reasons to use natives in your landscape and this column will give you some idea of what native plants really are.

Native plants are plants that occur naturally in your region. For example, Douglas fir is a native plant in much of Western Washington. English holly is not a native plant in Washington because it was brought here by humans. It is a native plant in England.

Non-native plants are often called "exotic plants" or "introduced plants." Occasionally they can become a problem, spreading aggressively and damaging wildlife habitat.

The plants native to your region have grown alongside the native insects, fungi, plant diseases, wildlife and other native plants for thousands of years. This long relationship has produced a complex web of interrelationships, by which the native plant can depend upon numerous other native organisms to survive and flourish, and a multitude of native organisms might depend upon that native plant to survive.

In the process, native plants have evolved the ability to attract native animals that benefit them, such as pollinating and seed-dispersing insects and birds, and repel or survive native organisms that harm them, such as plant viruses and munching insects.

As a result, native plants often attract a wider variety of native animals than do exotic plants. In addition, the plants native to your area are adapted to growing in your region's soils and climate, and so generally require less maintenance, such as watering, than do non-natives.

Using native plants raises important issues about exactly what "native" means. For example, red-osier dogwood (Cor-nus sericea), is native to Western Washington. However, it is also native to of other places, including Alaska, Southern California, Michigan and Maine. Although they are all the same species, red-osier dogwoods growing naturally in other areas have adapted to a very different combination of climate, soil, diseases, and other plants and animals from what is found in Western Washington. As a result, you could say that dogwoods native to Michigan are about as "native" to Western Washington as are palm trees!

Ideally, you want to use plants similar to those that occur naturally nearby. Such plants will be adapted to the climate and soils specific to your area. In addition, using truly native plants will protect local native plants from crossing with similar plants from other regions, which can water down the local adaptations that native plants have evolved over time.

Unfortunately, the red-osier dogwood sold here in nurseries frequently has been propagated from plants adapted to growing on the East Coast. Because most nurseries do not track the origin of their stock, it can be difficult to know what you are getting. You might prefer to go to a nursery that knows their stock is from our region, or grow your own. We are fortunate in Mason County that we can order from the Mason Conservation District to get well-adapted varieties of native plants for our gardens.

Workshop scheduled

Reserve your seat for Mason Conservation District's Native Plant Workshop. Enjoy a slide show and hear about the characteristics and needs of the plants that are available for sale at the 2013 annual Plant Sale. You can order plants at www.masoncd.org or pick up an order form at the workshop. The workshop is from 6 to 7 p.m. today at the North Mason Timber-land Library in Belfair. Contact Jen at 427-9436 ext. 13 or email jentw@masoncd.org for more information.

The WSU Master Gardeners are having its first class in the Through the Garden Gate community gardening workshops from 9 a.m. to noon this Saturday at 210 W. Franklin St. (Memorial Hall). The topics for this class are setting up a home greenhouse and using row covers, hoop houses and other season extenders to warm up your spring vegetables. Instructors will be Doug Wright and John Moss. Cost is $10 per person payable at the door. To register please call 427-9670 ext. 680.

... native plants have evolved the ability to attract native animals that benefit.them ... and repel or survive native organisms that harm them.



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