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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - December 07, 2007

From: Colden, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Native alternatives for non-natives
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Is there a way to search this website using an invasive plant species to get a list of native plant alternatives? ie. search Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese Silvergrass) and get the native alternative Saccharum giganteum (Giant plume grass) and others. I love the website and use it to try to plant as much native plants as possible. I want to replace some non-native plants, but haven't found the resource to cross reference the native alternative for them. I also have a landscape design I want to use, but I want to find native alternatives for a few plants before I buy any plants for the landscape design.

ANSWER:

Sorry, we have no specific cross-referencing of replacements for invasive plant species, per se. However, Be Plantwise is a partnership between the National Park Service, the Laby Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Garden Club of America and the National Invasive Species Council. There are links to a number of sites having to do with invasives and non-natives, but so far, we haven't found any cross-reference lists of replacements for non-natives.

We think your idea is wonderful, though, because the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is focused on the preservation and propagation of plants native to North America. So, perhaps we could suggest a slightly different way to go about your search. Begin by going to our Plant Database, and go down the page a little way to the "Combination Search." Suppose, for instance, you are interested in appropriate shrubs for your climate. Select New York as the state, shrub as the habit, perennial or annual, as you choose, and whatever sun and/or shade and moisture requirements you have for the particular spot you have in mind. Just for a trial run, we selected full sun and low moisture, perennial and clicked on "Search." This gave us 14 results. You can read the specific information on each plant and see if it suits your requirements. In addition, the following pages actually named the non-natives for which they were suitable replacements:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick), Juniperus communis var. depressa (common juniper), Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac), Rhus copallinum (winged sumac), Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac), Rosa setigera (climbing rose), and Shepherdia canadensis (russet buffaloberry).

Granted, this is probably not as quick and easy as a cross-reference, but you KNOW that any plant you find in your Search on our Plant Database is going to be a native. You know what sort of plant you want, you know what sort of environment it is going to have, and you'll usually get a selection of several to choose from. Some have photos from our Photo Gallery, but if they do not you can usually do Google-Images to find a picture.

Last answer to a question you did not ask, yet: Where do I purchase these native plants? Go to our list of Native Plant Suppliers, again, search on New York. If we left all the boxes checked, we got 14 results; if we checked only "Nursery", there were 7 results. Or, if you don't see one near you, prepared with your list by scientific and common names of the plants you want, contact nurseries that are in your area and ask specifically if they stock those plants. Happy hunting!

 

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