Gardeners everywhere walk the fine line between wanting native, hardy plants and that flashy new and improved variety that’s hot in the stores. It can be a hard choice when really we just want them all, even if we don’t know exactly where we’re going to put any of them.
Maybe we want a Cherry Tree that fits on our tiny balcony or postage stamp courtyard. Maybe it’s a favorite flowering shrub that has been engineered smaller and weeping for a hanging basket? There are many reasons for gardeners to embrace new and exciting plants that are always becoming widely available!
Hybrids, crosses, cultivar, sports, GMO’s; those words keep getting thrown around these days. So what is the difference between all these buzzwords?
Here’s a crash course on those terms for those that are not familiar with them.
A native plant is one that is described as indigenous to a certain region or area, that was present prior to European settlers' arrival. These plants have evolved alongside their own native pollinators and are highly adapted to the climate and soil they are naturally growing in.
Better adapted to the particular weather and drought/rainy seasons/humidity that area has and requires less babying than non-natives. Also known as ‘Straight Species’, natives have not been crossbred or hybridized by man, this doesn’t mean they haven’t hybridized themselves (which they often do). This also doesn’t mean a plant won’t be invasive, just because it’s a native.
To promote biodiversity throughout your garden, enjoy fuss-free plants that roll with the changes in your area, thrive despite or are naturally resistant to local pests or diseases, and help out and attract beneficial pollinators. Natives also have their own niche as insect host plants and their own unique place in their ecosystem. Reproducing via open pollination for centuries without any help from people.
Check out NatureHills.com and our many Garden #ProPlantTips Blogs on Native Plants
A term was coined by Allan Armitage in 2008 where he combined the words ‘native’ and ‘cultivar’ in hopes of reducing confusion.
Nativar is one term for a cultivar of a native species that has been bred for specific characteristics. Like Cultivars, Nativars are the result of careful selection and cross-breeding by humans that separates them enough from the naturally occurring native form to no longer have viable seeds or seeds that grow true. Instead, reverting back to one or more of their parentage.
This can be done in the greenhouse or with selective breeding in the field, but always done to enhance a certain unique characteristic of the original plant. Usually, propagation is done by horticulturists by way of asexual cloning, grafting, cutting, root divisions, layering, tissue culture, and more.
We love Nativars for many reasons! We can enjoy a wider variety of flower colors, shapes, and forms. Incorporate shorter, more compact, taller or columnar plants. Enjoy heightened insect or disease resistance, and select preferred hardiness to specific environmental conditions, and so on. A Nativar can be a hybrid of two or more plants selectively bred together for something new, or cloned for one particularly desirable wild plant trait.
Nativars can start as native plant sports, or that have naturally developed themselves. Humans then select and propagate that trait to recreate it for mass production for our gardens. Or, these can be developed by a process of artificial selection. All to obtain an enhanced version of the Native trait.
The word Cultivar is short for ‘cultivated variety’. Seed-savers beware - Navitars and Cultivars must be asexually propagated to keep the desired trait true from plant to plant.
Exotic plants are plants that might be native somewhere, just not where they're being planted or sold. These are often not adapted to your region or environment, not resistant to local pests and diseases, or maybe won’t survive the summers/winters in your area.
They also don’t play a role in their new habitat as pollinators or host plants and are not recognized as food by local birds. Unfortunately, many may survive and reproduce, displacing native species and altering natural systems, and may even become invasive.
On the plus side, they’re often fantastic annuals and houseplants!
Any plant from anywhere, native, cultivar, exotic, or otherwise, that has been introduced into an area that’s not its native habitat, and with nothing to stop it from spreading (climate, insects, competition) has a chance to run rampant. They often choke out native flora and fauna.
“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.” -by Doug Larson.
Defined as any plant growing where it shouldn’t, weeds are usually the tenacious plants, both Native and Navitar alike, that won’t back down in the face of pesticides or your disapproval. Like the Dandelion that has followed mankind throughout all continents except Antarctica, once they move in they are hard to kill.
Determining which type of plant you have is easy! When looking at the botanical name on the plant label, look for these key differences.
A Native or Straight Species has its botanical name in the Linnaeus form. For instance, Native Coneflowers are Echinacea purpurea. Yet a Nativar or Cultivar of the Coneflower, like the Magnus Coneflower, has the botanical name Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’. See those single quotation marks? That means it has been bred for a specific trait, in this case, amplified color and larger blooms. Similar to the Native, but bigger and better.
Hybrids or crosses often have an ‘x’ between their botanical names to indicate what two plants were involved in their breeding. For instance, the Key Limequat Tree carries the botanical name of Citrus x floridana 'Limequat' indicating it’s a hybrid of the Key Lime and a Kumquat.
The main concern for - and argument against - Navitars is their lack of genetic diversity.
Because Nativars are often cloned, this reduces genetic variation. When there is more genetic diversity, plant species are more likely to be able to adapt and overcome threats like pests and diseases, climate changes and local weather.
Native plants grow from seed carrying the wealth of generations of a diverse gene pool that thrives no matter what is thrown at them in their environment, plus are the key building blocks for future innovations in horticulture! Concerned ecologists, gardeners trying to be environmentally friendly, some horticulturists and plant professionals alike, know the value in keeping Natives an active part of the habitat.
Often Navitars and crosses can be sterile and will no longer feed birds looking for seeds. They’re not recognized or useful to pollinators, and some have been bred to have blooms that make it impossible for pollinators to even reach the nectar!
To learn more about choosing Native plants for your garden, go to our Natives Garden Blog.
Navitars still have their own vital place in the environment! Some traits that Nativars offer can be more beneficial for wildlife such as producing more fruit, having longer bloom times, or attracting even more pollinators! Natives can sometimes become too tall or aggressive, becoming weeds, and self-seed in profusion.
Cloned plants make it easy for humans to replicate, grow, and market these plants with consistent characteristics.
Engineering plants with higher disease and pest resistances also mean using fewer sprays and chemicals, less water and less work and time in upkeep. While giving gardeners a wider and more diverse color and variety of shapes, sizes and those fancy new shiny plants for our gardens!
So next time you are looking for something new, maybe first see what ‘good ol’ fashioned’ Natives will work for your area first to improve your ecosystem.
But if you are looking for that exciting new variety to spice up your landscape, rest assured that Nature Hills uses Plant Sentry™ to ensure you get plants that won’t become invasive for your area!
As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experts at NatureHills.com for help finding the right plants for your needs today!
Check Out Great Plants for Your State Here, and for bird-friendly Native species for your landscape see the new line of Audubon Native Plants for Birds!