Sue Sweeney has posted an article called The Nativar Dilemma today over at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens that I definitely recommend reading if you are curious about avoiding cultivars of native plants.
The topic of native plant cultivars (which Sue calls “nativars”) is definitely a tough one, and my recent post on the topic barely scratched the surface. I agree with much of what Sue wrote, although I am less worried about cultivars “mucking up” the gene pool than I am about them sometimes just being poor performers ecologically – and ornamentally.
Still, her advice to use native plants grown from locally collected seed is advice I can heartily endorse.
Thankfully in Baltimore we have many ways to follow that advice. For one thing, we are blessed with many nearby native plant nurseries who grow all or most of their plants from locally collected seeds.
Chesapeake Natives, a non-profit wholesale and research nursery based in College Park, relies on volunteers to hand-gather seed from local sources. They propagate a wide variety of perennial flowers and grasses from this seed, for use in restoration projects and for sale to the public at native plant sales. They do NOT have a retail localation, but they DO attend native plant sales throughout the year.
Heartwood Nursery and Garden Shop near Stewartstown, PA is not much further from Baltimore than College Park (and is in the same ecological region as Baltimore), and Heartwood maintains regular retail hours. Owner Sue Houck also uses local sources for seeds for many of her plants, and she is not alone: Kollar Nursery and Edge of the Wood Nursery are also great sources of plants within a reasonable drive.
There are many other local growers of native plants who – like Chesapeake Natives – do not maintain retail businesses. The Maryland Native Plant Society maintains a calendar of native plant sales, and you will often find these growers at those sales.
One of the best is actually this Saturday (August 27th) at the Irvine Nature Center. The 20th annual Native Plant Seminar and Sale will feature ten native plant vendors, and some great speakers. If you are on the hunt for local genotypes of native plants, Irvine offers probably the best opportunity to find a wide selection in one place!
Finally, although I don’t endorse an “ignorance is bliss” approach to gardening it may be somewhat comforting to know that many of the native plant cultivars we see in this area actually ARE of somewhat local origin. The horticultural industry is pretty well entrenched in this region, and the upside of this is that many of the cultivars and selections we see in the trade were first selected from populations growing in the Chesapeake Bay region. For example, one of the best-performing garden phloxes in my yard is Phlox paniculata ‘David’, which is a cultivar but whose original seed source was just outside Philadelphia.
There are no guarantees, of course, when it comes to any particular plant but a small chance of blind luck is better than no chance I suppose.