Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Tuesday - May 25, 2010

From: York, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives
Title: Reference for native critical populations from York, PA
Answered by: The Smarty Plants Team

QUESTION:

I have recently read a naysayer of native gardening. He states that native garden plants usually do not have the critical population size to be self-perpetuating. He says that one could better help the environment by writing a check to the World Wildlife Fund.I would like to know if there is an easy reference for such critical population sizes. I would certainly like to give any plantings the chance to spread to nearby wild areas and roadsides. As chance would have it, we are in the process of eliminating a stand of Ailanthus and will soon have a sunny, if somewhat stony, space to fill.

ANSWER:

How many Ailanthus altissima, Ligustrum lucidum, Triadica sebifera or Melia azedarach plants does it take to create a self-perpetuating population?  Apparently, not very many, since all of these species - often planted as landscape plants - have found a way to cast off their garden shackles and invade the Texas countryside.

Just because a native plant is introduced to a garden setting does not mean that it will be henceforth isolated from others of its species.  Nearly all gardens are relatively close to wild areas of some kind.  Many gardeners are surprised to find, after planting a native in their garden, the same species already thriving in the greenbelt just behind their house.

The number of plants necessary to reach critical mass for population stability varies with species - native and non-native, as well.  Some plant species do need large populations to become self-sustaining.  But, some plants need very few plants of their own species to perpetuate themselves.  Indeed, a surprising number of native plants need only one plant of their species – themselves – to reproduce.

For lots of specific research in this area, do a Google Scholar search using the terms, “minimum viable population” and “metapopulation”.

So, yes there is good stewardship in removing non-natives and gardening with native plants.  Will you repopulate Pennsylvania with a native tree species by planting it in your back yard?  Probably not, but you certainly won’t be adding to the already burgeoning Ailanthus population either.

Contributing to the World Wildlife Fund or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center are worthwhile acts.  But so is doing your bit in your own garden.

 

More Invasive Plants Questions

Non-branching mimosa tree
June 26, 2008 - I have a Mimosa Tree, just about 2 years old, grown from seed. The problem with it is that it has not branched out, it looks like one long branch growing out of the ground, about 5 feet if stood strai...
view the full question and answer

Invasive silverleaf nightshade in Plainwell MI
June 27, 2010 - Solanum elaeagnifolium Cav. Silverleaf nightshade, Silver-leaf nightshade, White horse nettle. We purchased our land and built here 3 years ago. I have these all over my 30 acres of land including ...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID from Woodcreek TX
January 27, 2012 - I would like to attach a photo of a weed in my lawn and have you identify it. How do I send a photo? I have been told it may be ground ivy. Please tell me how to kill it without damaging the lawn.
view the full question and answer

Replacement of Arizona ash in Austin
October 28, 2011 - We have two Arizona Ashes in our yard that probably have maybe a decade left in them. We want to get a couple new trees started, so they will be well established once the Ashes are near their end. In ...
view the full question and answer

Removing invasive Dichelostemma firecracker plant from Austin
April 12, 2012 - We have dichelostemma firecracker plant & cannot kill it. We need help in getting rid of this plant. Spent another 3 hours digging up corms this afternoon. It is invading our backyard & want it kil...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.