Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What’s in a name? Naturalized Plants or Invasive Exotics

Somewhat like fashion, horticultural perspectives change over the years, going in and out of vogue.  In my Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia, first published in 1971 as a “bible for American and Canadian gardeners by the dean of American horticulture” and its second edition of 1986, I had occasion to look up ‘naturalized.’  A brief paragraph informs that it is ‘a horticultural term for an exotic plant that has escaped from formal garden planting and become established and is increasing “on its own” in the new country. Many European plants, especially “weeds” have become “naturalized” since first being brought to America by the early settlers.’

When I looked up “exotic” all it had to say is ‘Foreign, not native.’  And “invasive” was not even listed.  

As an example, in Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia Honeysuckle is extolled as ‘easily grown’ and it notes that ‘their chief ornamental value is their [fragrant] flowers, their colorful fruits and their ability to grow under various conditions. Fruits of the honeysuckles range in color from bright red and yellow to dark blue and black, and some are whitish and translucent. They are most attractive to the birds.’ Its vigorous growth is not even mentioned.  

Yet today’s more sophisticated media emphasizes the harmful effects on native flora and ecosystems resulting from planting the Japanese honeysuckle vine. Search by name on the internet and more attention is paid to the invasive nature of this exotic species than to its ornamental qualities. 

For example, in the Wikipedia article there are more lines about the invasive qualities of Lonicera japonica than there are about its description and uses combined. The U.S.D.A. site  calls it a noxious weed, the Floridata page has a warning symbol and text, while the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health lists dozens of  states and organizations naming it a ‘severe threat.’  

When I checked the Martha Stewart website under Gardening, the entry was all about features.  Features included ‘attractive flowers, attractive foliage, attracts butterflies, attracts hummingbirds, and fragrant. Garden uses included ‘climbing, containers and ground covers.’ Guess something got overlooked this time. 

To learn more, join your local Native Plant Society. They focus on beautiful ornamental natives and on combating invasive exotics. Are you a member? 

photo credit: Emilycompost website for Japanese Honeysuckle picture

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