Want something different? Grow native woodland plants

Zizia aurea -Golden Alexanders by Ken Parker
Golden Alexanders or Zizia aurea. Photo by Ken Parker.

If you want something in your garden that your neighbors don’t have, try native plants, suggests Ken Parker, CNLP, native plant specialist and manager of trees, shrubs and perennials at Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

He will talk about native woodland plants that you can grow in your own garden at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 5 at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark Street, Hamburg. The fee is $10. He will also be one of several speakers at a Native Plants Day at Lockwood’s on Saturday, July 7.

It’s rare to have local indigenous plants in our gardens, Parker noted. The majority of our garden plants are species that were introduced to Western New York. You don’t even see native woodland plants in our parks.

Ironically, native plants constitute a new product line for nurseries.

“It’s not that it’s a new product, it’s just that we lost that knowledge,” said Parker, who is part Seneca. “I look at native plants from the Native perspective.”

His knowledge of Native plants led to the development of numerous horticultural programs and lecture series within Native American communities, including the Mohawks of St. Regis, NY; the Iroqouis of Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, Ontario; the Florida Seminoles, and Pueblos of New Mexico. In recent years he has presented for the Intertribal Native Nursery Council and U.S. Forestry Department.

Penstemon digitalis -Smooth Penstemon by Ken Parker
Penstemon digitalis or smooth penstemon. Photo by Ken Parker.

Native Americans have long used native plants as food, as medicine, for fibers, for dyes and in ceremonies, he said. Other people are more interested in becoming self-sustaining nowadays, and they’re beginning to look to native plants.

There are many reasons to use native plants in your garden. Non-native plants can become invasive. Native plants support birds and insects. Our actions can have far-reaching environmental effects.  Parker noted that Native Americans look to the seventh generation, realizing that what we do now affects the next seven generations.

Lockwood’s is beginning to grow native plants for sale. This year they are offering native grasses and native perennials grown from seeds. Many of the plants that Parker will be discussing in his talk will be available for sale at Lockwood’s.

Parker’s definition of a native plant is a plant that was locally indigenous before European settlement.

There are plants, such as a Colorado spruce, that are indigenous to North America but not to New York State. For a plant to truly be a native plant, its seed source should be within 60 to 90 miles of Western New York, he said. Ideally, environmentalists would find a good wild specimen as a source of seed and document the plant’s location using GPS.

Trillium grandiflorum -White Trillium by Ken Parker
White Trillium. Photo by Ken Parker.

Parker knows a lot about native plants. He has been actively growing, installing and promoting indigenous plants of North America since 1992. Originally from South Buffalo, he moved to Canada and ran his own nursery that sold only native plants.

Parker also was featured for two seasons on the Canadian TV show Gardening Gamble, which was like Trading Spaces for yards.

A jazz and blues musician as well as a former U.S. Marine, Parker recently moved back to Western New York.

Many native woodland plants thrive in shade

“There’s more to life than hostas!” Parker said. Many woodland native plants grow well in the shade.

There are two kinds of shade. If you live in the city and have a small yard with a big tree sucking up all the water, you have dry shade. If you have an area under a tree that has had generations of leaves building up, you would have moist shade. Parker has provided lists of plants that do well in each kind of shade.

Moist, rich loam soils

Elymus virginicus– Virginia Wild Rye

Carex plantaginea – Plantain-leaved Sedge

Actaea pachypoda – Doll’s Eyes or White Baneberry

Allium tricoccum – Wild Leek

Anemone canadensis – Canada Anemone

Aralia racemosa American Spikenard

Arisaema triphyllum – Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Asclepias exaltata– Poke Milkweed

Matteuccia struthiopteris -Ostrich fern by Ken Parker
Ostrich fern or Matteuccia struthiopteris. Photo by Ken Parker.

Aster macrophyllus – Large-leaf Aster

Cimicifuga racemosa – Black Cohosh

Podophyllum peltatum – Mayapple

Sanguinaria canadensis – Bloodroot

Trillium grandiflorum – White Trillium

Cornus alternifolia –Pagoda Dogwood

Hamamelis virginiana – Common Witch Hazel

Lindera benzoin –Spicebush

Matteuccia struthiopteris –Ostrich Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula -Hay-scented Fern

 

Average to medium & dry soils

Hystrix patula – Eastern Bottlebrush

Elymus virginicus– Virginia Wild Rye

Rubus ordoratus by Ken Parker
Rubus ordoratus or purple-flowering raspberry. Photo by Ken Parker.

Carex plantaginea – Plantain-leaved Sedge

Elymus villosus – Silky Wild Rye

Aquilegia canadensis – Eastern Columbine

Asarum canadense – Wild Ginger

Eupatorium coelestinum – Blue Mistflower

Geranium maculatum – Wild Geranium

Helianthus strumosus – Paled-leaved Sunflower

Mertensia virginica – Virginia Bluebells

Penstemon digitalis – Smooth Penstemon

Celastrus scandens –American Bittersweet Vine

Cornus florida –Flowering Dogwood

Cornus racemosa –Grey Dogwood

Hydrangea quercifolia –Oakleaf Hydrangea

Parthenocissus quinquefolia –Virginia Creeper Vine

Rubus odoratus –Purple-Flowering Raspberry

Matteuccia struthiopteris –Ostrich Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula -Hay-scented Fern

Zizia aurea – Golden Alexanders

 

Native woodland grasses, perennials and trees

Parker offered this list of native grasses, perennials and trees. While all the plants listed here are North American, not all are indigenous to Western New York, he noted. All of these will be available at Lockwood’s. Those marked with an asterisk  are currently being propagated to be available early June.

Grasses

Hystix patula -Eastern Bottlebrush Grass by Ken Parker
Eastern bottlebrush grass. Photo by Ken Parker.

Hystrix patula* -Eastern bottlebrush grass: A unique clump-forming woodland native offers a wide bladed, dark green foliage.  The very attractive seed heads resemble bottlebrushes and normally bloom during our Western New York summers.  Seed heads are excellent specimens for dried arrangements. (Medium to loam soil/part to full shade/height: 2-4′ feet)

Elymus virginicus*- Virginia wild rye : This cool-season native is widely adapted throughout Canada and the United States.  The straight, stiff and bristly seed heads are attractive in floral arrangements.  Blooms in early summer and is often found in woodland flood plains, thickets and prairie. (Average to moist soil/full sun to part shade/height: 1-3′ feet)

Carex plantaginea- Plaintain-leaved sedge: The uncommonly wide leaves form impressive clumps in shaded or woodland settings.  Naturally occurs in shady forested areas near oak stands. Once established, it can tolerate dry shade locations. Seeds feed a variety of wildlife. (Rich loam soil/part shade to shade/height: 1-3′ ft.)

Elymus villosus*- Silky wild rye: An attractive woodland grass with nodding bristly seed heads that mature in mid summer. Also tolerates dry shade areas once established. As the name suggests, the grass sheaths are hairy & silky. (Average soil/Part shade to shade/Height: 2-3′ ft.)

 

Perennials

Aquilegia canadensis – Eastern Columbine

Arisaema triphyllum – Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Asarum canadense – Wild Ginger

Asclepias exaltata – Poke Milkweed*

Aster macrophyllus – Large-leaf Aster

Eupatorium coelestinum – Blue Mistflower

Celastrus scandens -American Bittersweet fruit by Ken Parker
Celastrus scandens or American bittersweet vine. Photo by Ken Parker. 

Geranium maculatum – Wild Geranium

Helianthus strumosus – Paled-leaved Sunflower*

Penstemon digitalis – Smooth Penstemon

 

Trees, shrubs and vines

Celastrus scandens–American Bittersweet Vine

Cornus alternifolia –Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus florida –Flowering Dogwood

Cornus racemosa –Grey Dogwood

Hydrangea quercifolia –Oakleaf Hydrangea

Lindera benzoin –Spicebush

Parthenocissus quinquefolia –Virginia Creeper Vine

Rubus odoratus –Purple-Flowering Raspberry

 

 

 

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11 Comments on “Want something different? Grow native woodland plants

  1. What a treat to see a nursery in the Buffalo area selling native plants. I have tried to get some of the nurseries in the northtowns to carry more natives and they look at you like you have two heads. Granted some are not as bold as the hybrids most nurseries sell but they are so much easier and carefree. Once established they require little or no care at all to flourish and are not bothered by many of the pests that attack introductions and hybrids. I have several natives that I have grown from seed or ordered online. Some are native to NY state not exclusively to western NY.

  2. I think what a lot of gardeners don’t realize is that all of these garden centers have such different inventories. Years ago, if I found a plant I liked one year, I expected to find it the next year at any nursery I walked into. That’s when I realized that nurseries have different niches. Some lean toward hybrids, some like heirloom varieties, some are beginning to specialize in natives. It’s worth exploring local garden centers to see what they offer.

  3. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy began an emphasis on native species in the parklands three or four years ago. The varieties available from seed and some growers is increasing yearly. It’s interesting that European gardeners use more of our native plants than we do!

  4. Eileen, I didn’t know about your emphasis on native species in parks. That’s good to hear! It’s also interesting that Europeans use more native species than we do. Perhaps we’re always looking for something rare. Think of the dandelion. It’s colorful, fragrant, fluffy and grows easily. The only reason we don’t like it is because it gets everywhere. But now that nobody uses native plants in their gardens, native species are rare and different! Thanks so much for writing.

  5. It is ironic that Europeans find our North American species worthy. One man’s weed is another man’s treasure. It is also worth noting that humanity through urbanization as destroyed so much habitat in such a short time that we have truly brought numerous North American plants species on the verge of extinction. Fact is many are already extinct where they once naturally occurred in abundance.

    I highly recommend our conservation authorities and local parks departments strive to restore and maintain local species of the area. This should not include cultivars of natives. Make this a high priority to preserve the local genotypes of the original indigenous plants of western New York.

    For the average homeowner, it’s okay to bend the rules a little. It is more important to get any kind of native species back in every backyard. I like to call this environmental philosophy Eco-Logic. Be respectful to our Mother Earth.

  6. I have a couple areas in my yard that is kind of wet and I would like to make a rain garden with native flowers and plants that will attract birds and butterflies. Do you have any suggestions how to get started.

  7. Tom, if you are thinking of putting in a rain garden, start with this article:
    Rain gardens are low maintenance, help the environment
    It describes some of the basics and links to detailed instructions for designing a rain garden that are on the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers web site. The article Here are some good native plants for your rain garden includes a list of plants. I have a category under topics for birds and butterflies; you can find some articles there that should be helpful, especially this one. I hope that helps.

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