You’ve heard me say before that nativars are cultivars of native plants. They are not native plants. As I was browsing through the Prairie Moon Nursery’s Native Gardeners Companion recently, I ran across this very excellent case for using native plants, not cultivars or nativars (pg 13). See if you agree.
Some companies also believe they can “improve” native plants by propagating to select specific characteristics like flower size, leaf color or compactness of growth. The resultant cultivated varieties (cultivars or nativars) can reliably reproduce the targeted variation but the ecological value and genetic diversity of the original plant are diminished.
Sporting colorful descriptions after their botanical names, these cultivars now are widely available. Their splashy features mask unintended consequences of the variations. Blossom-size and changes in color or fragrance can confuse or deprive nectaring and pollinating insects, robbing them of the much needed nectar for energy and the ability to carry out pollination services for future propagation of plants. Many cultivars are sterile, depriving wildlife of winter seed sources. Vegetative propagation yields identical clones, decreasing the genetic diversity and flexibility that should be a plant community’s strength.
We encourage you to avoid these cultivars in favor of species that were truly native to North America at the time of European settlement. In restoration work and native landscaping, we believe that alien species, naturalized species and cultivars should be avoided, especially when they might contaminate native gene pools. Just like the wildflower seed packets that include naturalized Asian and European plants in their offerings,…while they have cosmetic appeal to some, cultivars did not co-evolve with North American insects and wildlife, so have little value to them.
Use Space and Resources Wisely
Native plants and seeds are becoming more and more available throughout the USA. Don’t you agree the space and resources non-native plants use would be better devoted to truly native plant species? Why diminish biodiversity by contaminating the environment with less beneficial plant species.
Paraphrased with permission from Prairie Moon Nursery.
See also Cheerios and Bees
Dee Dee Walker says
First-time butterfly gardener:
Thank you so very much for your post and explanations. This leads me to more questions. Where can I find seeds and seedlings which are local and native not nativar? Start with the local nursery? Online catalogs? Which are reputable?
I want to start pots this summer and I am not pollinator-specific about what I am targeting but I want a few well-rounded “good ‘uns” that won’t break the bank.
Donna VanBuecken says
Dear first-time butterfly gardener — glad you wrote for more info, Dee Dee. Do you know if there is a Wild Ones chapter near you? If so, they would be the best source of information about the pollinators in your area. They, too, would be able to help you figure out which plants would work best in containers. As for catalogs and nurseries, of course, I’m going to recommend searching out only dealers who provide native species. But, here too, a local Wild Ones chapter would be able to help you out with that info.
To find the nearest Wild Ones Chapter, go to http://www.wildones.org/connect/chapters/
To find a reputable native plant nursery (and potentially a catalog), go to http://www.wildones.org/resources/business-members/
To read more about Wild Ones position on native plants and natural landscaping go to http://www.wildones.org/about-us-2/wild-ones-position-statements/
Celia L Gust says
Hi, I am interested in understanding if the benefit of a true native vs. a nativar is a black and white as described here. Many times a native is just not possible. For example, in trees. My yard is just not big enough to have a native fir, spruce or cedar. However, I could fit a “nativar” that is shorter and narrower. Are you saying that it’s better to have nothing than a variety that will fit into the space available? Or, how about flowers. I have a stand of mint that is covered in hundreds of bees and other flying critters. I can’t keep track of the number of different types of bees that take advantage of those flowers. Is that a bad thing? They look very pleased to have the mint, and I’m pretty sure it’s not native. That’s not to say I am not incorporating natives where I can but I don’t feel like I need to be a complete purest to be contributing to the welfare of pollinators in my area. Am I way off track?
Donna VanBuecken says
Great questions, Celia. No, you’re not way off track. I’m going to refer you to the Wild Ones position statement on Nativars and specifically the quote from Dr Doug Tallamy: “It IS a bad idea to load the landscape with cultivars that have no genetic variability. I would go that route only if it is a choice between a nativar and a plant from China.” Choice is the key. One needs to weigh the circumstances and the results and make the best decision for them.
By the way, there are many native mint plants, so it’s entirely possible the plants of which you speak are not non-native! And thanks for adding natives to your plantings wherever you can. That’s a great way to build habitat for our pollinators.