Go native

  • Invasive tamarisk

    Megan Grey Rollins
  Native plants are enjoying a new celebrity with Western gardeners, landscapers and conservationists. But just what makes a plant a native? Art Kruckeberg, a botanist at the University of Washington and a founder of the Washington Native Plant Society, says the short answer is this: Natives are plants that were here before European contact. The first alien plants came from continental Europe, Kruckeberg says, as settlers accidentally brought along seeds or bits of plants in shipments of some other material. Others probably arrived in the waste products of livestock or in the ballast water of a ship. Non-native species have since been purposefully imported, with good intentions, for landscaping, erosion control, or eradication of some other pest. Some imports, like foxglove and crested wheat grass, have become so well-established (-naturalized') that they seem like natives, Kruckeberg said. But imports often spread unchecked, with devastating effects on local plant life.

To learn which plants are native to your area, contact your state's native plant society - every Western state has one - or call a local cooperative extension office. Other sources include local nurseries that feature native plants and a state or county noxious-weed control board.

The Washington Native Plant Society publishes a quarterly newsletter, Douglasia, available with membership in the organization: WNPS, P.O. Box 28690, Seattle, WA 98118-8690.