It has been nearly a decade since I began to change my backyard from a play area for my kids to a more naturalized landscape that would help improve habitat for wildlife. As my project slowly progressed through the planning stage, I became aware of the benefits of including native plants in my plans.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, native plants are “adapted to local soils and climate conditions, generally require less water and fertilizer … are more resistant to insects and disease and are less likely to need pesticides.”
I learned the hard way that just because plants share the same generic Latin name, it does not mean that all plants of a particular genus are true natives.
For example, I wanted to use a native shrub with the common name "beauty berry" in my garden. In the late summer, it has attractive purple berries that are a source of food for birds. Because of my education and experience, I knew that using common names can be misleading when shopping for plants. It is best to use the Latin genus name as a means to identify a particular plant, which in the case of beauty berry is Callicarpa.
To my chagrin, I forgot that knowing the species name and variety is also very important when trying to purchase plants that are true natives. When selecting the Callicarpa that I used in my yard, I neglected to learn that the native species I wanted is americana and I mistakenly purchased the hybridized species Callicarpa dichotoma 'Issai' variety.
As a result of my ignorance I purchased a shrub that, although it closely resembled the native plant, turned out to be a self-seeding variety. It created hundreds of seedlings from its attractive berries. I quickly learned that I had made a mistake and planted a non-native, invasive "frankenplant" that was taking over my garden. Upon learning of my error, I quickly removed the non-native Callicarpa and the unwanted seedlings it had produced.
Fortunately, there are two good resources available that can help you avoid making my mistake of purchasing the wrong variety of a plant. Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas lists non-native plants that are considered invasive because these plants often spread rapidly and reduce wildlife habitat. This source includes a listing of alternative native plants to use when landscaping your yard.
Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping focuses on plants that are native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is an excellent “one stop” source for information that covers all aspects related to using native trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses.