The garden catalogs have begun arriving all over the country. Even in cities and towns with snow on the ground, gardeners are beginning to dream of spring.
If you're a planting fanatic, it's time for your annual reminder to "grow native" this year. You don't have to go to the rainforests to protect endangered species. You can save them in your own back yard by growing plants that are indigenous to your area.
Over the last 200 years, agriculture and urban sprawl have destroyed millions of acres of native habitats in North America. The result: Approximately 200 species of native plants in the United States have become extinct since the 1700s, and now 3,000 more are endangered.
Native plants are important to the ecosystem, not only for their beauty, but because they support wildlife and are much better suited to the climate and soil conditions than imports. And they generally don't need a lot of maintenance, so in addition to protecting a valuable resource, you'll be saving yourself time, money, water and fertilizer.
It's easy to learn about the native flora in your area:
*You can find books about native plants at public, college or horticultural libraries.
*You can take a class or workshop on native flora. They're often available at natural history museums, botanical gardens, college botany departments or horticultural societies.
*You can join a "native plant society." Many regions of the country have them. Members can teach you what to do in your own garden and how to assist in the preservation of disappearing species and habitats.
*Ask about appropriate native plants at a local nursery. Not every nursery will know about them, but chances are there's one in your area that will.
A well-stocked nursery will often carry some native plants, and some nurseries are devoted exclusively to them. Check your Yellow Pages to see if there are any in your area. Note: Make sure the plants have been grown by the nursery from seeds and cuttings and aren't illegally harvested from the wild. Before buying, ask suppliers where they get the native plants.
Choose plants that are native to your area, not your state. In a diverse geographical area, such as California, native plant habitats range from alpine to temperate rainforest to arid seacoast. It's important to choose plants that are appropriate for your climate and soil type.
For more information:
*The National Wildflower Research Center Clearinghouse, 2600 FM 973 North, Austin, Texas 78725. It will supply a wildflower list, addresses of nearby native plant nurseries, and sources for wild seeds for any state. Send $3 and an address label.
*The Society for Ecological Restoration, University of Wisconsin Arboretum, 1207 Seminole Highway, Madison, Wis. 53711. An organization of professional and amateur ecological restorers. It
will refer you to organizations in your area interested in habitat restoration.
*Prairie Nursery, P.O. Box 306, Westfield, Wis. 53964; (608) 296-3679. A catalog ($3) for wildflower seeds and nursery-propagated wild plants.