Let’s begin with a few definitions. A native plant species is one that occurs naturally in its ecoregion and habitat where, over the course of time, it adapted to physical conditions and other species in the system. A key point is that a specific plant can’t be called native without saying where it is native to.
So, for a native plant species, we need to know its natural region and habitat. Natural regions can span several states and into Canada or Mexico, or they can be small areas with specific soil and climate situations. A red maple’s natural region extends over all states east of the Mississippi River, a few states on the western side of the Mississippi River, and into southern Canada. In contrast, the auricled twayblade (Neottia auriculata) grows in the Adirondacks high peaks.
A non-native plant is called exotic, meaning that its native region and habitat are not here in our area. Many exotic plants come from similar habitats, so they grow well here. Wisteria, daylilies, hosta, and lilacs are popular examples.
Some exotic plants brought to our area become invasive. When a non-native plant thrives in a location to the point that it takes over native plant habitats and chokes out other species, it has become invasive. Creeping Charlie, Japanese knotweed, and Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima, sometimes called China sumac), are examples that are all around us.
It is very important to know whether an exotic plant is invasive. Here are a few websites that list invasive plant species of New York:
One of our best resources for plant and growing information is the Cooperative Extension service. Cooperative extensions have their offices in the county seat of each New York county, and their information is specific to that county. Niagara Cooperative Extension Service is in Lockport
(716) 433-8839 x226 http://cceniagaracounty.org/gardening
In the next post, we will learn about nativars and cultivars of native plants as well as the benefits of including native plants in a garden.