Plants grow easily on their home turf Natives: A large number of trees, shrubs and perennials have been thriving in this region since before Europeans arrived here.

April 13, 1997|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What plants require little water and fertilizer, yet thrive happily -- a busy gardener's dream? Not usually the plants that come from Europe, Asia and Africa, of which there are thousands. No, the most reliable plants for your yard and garden are native. They're indigenous, local; they come from here. They are many of the area's perennials, trees and shrubs.

Native in the Baltimore area refers to plants that have been here since before the European settlement of America, explains Sam Jones, owner of Atlantic Star Nursery and recording secretary of the Maryland Native Plant Society. "They have been growing here for centuries and are in tune with the peculiarities of the Mid-Atlantic. Plants that are introduced from elsewhere, exotics, are not so in tune.

"For instance," he says "last year, we had an unusually cold winter, and those Magnolias x. soulangiana, which are originally from China, bloomed and then turned brown in a late blast of cold. Native plants don't do that. There is a certain integrity to our native flora, stretching back to the last Ice Age, maybe before."

Since native plants take our temperature and moisture ranges in stride, they're a good choice for someone who works and doesn't have a lot of time for gardening, says Allison Gillespie, the volunteer native-plant coordinator at the Irvine Natural Science Center. "They don't need fussing over. They tolerate our droughts, our rains, our cool weather and our heat." She adds that native plants attract our native birds and butterflies.

Renewed interest in growing native plants has been going on, observes Jones, for at least five years. It's part of the trend to naturalize and use bio-diversity in the garden. It's a response to the writings of such horticulturalists as Sara Stein and Ken Druse, who urge that we restore the ecology of our back yards. Some people are even allowing their lawns to grow, with additional appropriate plant material (and tolerant neighbors), into meadows. And the state legislature passed an act 10 years ago to establish setbacks or easements to protect threatened and endangered native plants in developing areas.

The native-plant movement is a sign of people wanting to have a slice of nature in their back yards as well as of Americans feeling more comfortable with themselves and what they have, observes Gillespie. They no longer feel compelled to import everything from the English country garden. They are happy to ** use what is here.

Which is a lot. Below is a partial list of area native trees, shrubs and perennials.

Trees: Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry). White flowers in mid-April, purple berries in June. Asimina triloba (paw paw). Purple waxy flowers in May. Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud). Pinkish-red flowers in April, heart-shaped leaves. Chioanthus virginicus (fringe tree). White flowers in late April, bluish-black fruits on females. Cornus florida (flowering dogwood). White flowers in April, red fruits in fall. Franklinia alatamaha (Franklinia). Not seen in the wild since 1770. White flowers in August-September, brown nut-like fruits. Magnolia virginiana (sweet-bay). White flowers in late May to early July, red-seeded cone fruits. Oxydendrum arboreum. (sourwood). White flowers in late June, red and purple foliage in fall.

Shrubs: Fothergilla (fothergilla). White flowers mid-spring, gold and red foliage in fall. Hydrangea quercifolia (oak-leaf hydrangea). White flowers in summer, good drying material. Hypericum (St. Johnsworts). Shorter than 3 feet, yellow flowers in mid-summer. Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry). Aromatic waxy leaves and fruits. Viburnum prunifolium (northern black haw). White clustered flowers in May, good fall foliage. Rhododendron viscosum (swamp azalea). Pink flowers in spring. Cornus stolonifera (red-osier dogwood). Small white flowers in spring, red branches. Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry). White clustered flowers, red berries, fall foliage.

Perennials: Mertensia virginica (Virginia blue-bells). Bell-shaped flowers, first pink, then blue, in April. Gaura ("whirling butterflies"). White flowers on pink stems, summer. Lobelia cardenalis (Cardinal flower). Red tubular-shaped flower in late summer. Echinacea (coneflower). Large pink, white or rose flowers in summer. Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed). Orange flowers in summer. Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine). Red and yellow flowers, May-June. Oenothera (evening primrose). Yellow flowers, May-June. Aster divaricatus, dumosus and novae angliae (asters). Pastel shades. August to November.

Digging up or buying native plants dug up by someone else jeopardizes habitat and is illegal. When you buy native plants, be sure that they have been propagated by a reputable grower. The phrase to look for when you shop is "nursery propagated."

Or check out the Native Plant Sale at Irvine Natural Science Center in Stevenson, from April 19 (Earth Day) through May 18. Call 410-484-2413 for directions. On Aug. 23 Irvine will hold its sixth annual Native Plant Seminar and Sale with speakers and a large variety of native trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. Also, the Native Plant Society meets at Oregon Ridge four times a year. The address is P.O. Box 4877, Silver Spring, Md. 20914.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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