The impressive rise of native plants in the horticulture industry is well entrenched

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The rise of native plants to the pedestal they occupy today is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the horticulture industry, the idea of ​​packing plants as natives began in the mid-1980s, but was mostly ignored by growers, landscapers, and gardeners well into the 1980s. 1990. Even then, the term “native” as we know it today was only embraced by the environmentally conscious gardener and conservationist and included nothing but the species itself. .

The lack of interest in natives by nurseries and greenhouses could be directly attributed to the increased emergence of landscape color. In the 1970s through the 1980s, organizations like Bedding Plants Inc. were formed to market and tout the benefits of color through annuals. The market for bedding plants exploded and most other herbaceous plants were left behind.

The few native plant nurseries struggled to find traction in a market where color, ease and efficiency were the watchwords. Native asters and coneflowers were less colorful and much more difficult to produce than new cultivars for the emerging petunia and geranium market. As the bedding market grew, the voices of native plants were rarely heard by breeders, growers and garden centers. However, the message was heard loud and clear by a very important group – the gardening public.

Native plants as we conceive of them are essentially non-existent among annuals. The only way native plants could gain traction was if America could establish a robust perennial market. The perennial plant movement in the 1990s was in its infancy compared to today’s market. At the end of the 20th century, new construction continued to increase and interest rates fell, leading to a steady increase in the demand for ornaments. Little by little, people were asking for the color of annuals, but on plants “that came back year after year”. Demand could not be met by existing perennial growers and perennials ended up in the plant mix across the country. Perennials have become sexy!

However, the move towards native plants as the mainstream category was barely a whisper, mostly revolving around the importance of native species to environmental issues. However, these whispers were getting louder and louder. In the early 2000s, there were enough voices talking about native American plants that we needed to listen to.

Among today’s improved nativars is Coreopsis ‘Uptick Gold & Bronze.’ Photo by Allan Armitage

The native plant movement is gaining momentum

Two lines of thought became evident at this time. We finally realized how much native plants could support the conservation and environmental movements young people were embracing. The only way native plants would become mainstream was if plant breeders adopted them as they did annuals, improving form, disease resistance, and color. The “nativar” was born. Today, there are hundreds of improved nativars (such as Coreopsis ‘Uptick Gold & Bronze’ and Echinacea ‘Sombrero Rosada’) now available to gardeners and landscapers.

This brief account of the history of native plants is written to provide some context for this important group of plants, which seemed to come out of nowhere. Although native plants have contributed to our results, their development has had far-reaching consequences.

Our industry has become “greener”. The understanding that natives and pollinators go hand in hand has allowed us to support pollinator programs and butterfly releases, and enabled us to provide the plants for conservation and environmental movements. While we used to spray and smother caterpillars and bees, we now market plants to attract them.

Our industry has benefited from a full range of new genetics for our breeders. Prior to the emergence of the natives, minimal breeding of coneflowers, coral bells, mossflowers, or baptisia occurred. Our palette is better for them.

And of course, the debate continues, sometimes acrimoniously, over what defines a native plant and what is invasive. As a speaker, writer, and researcher, I’ve been in the middle of this debate and it won’t be pushed aside anytime soon. Space does not allow me to share some of the interesting suggestions being made today, but suffice it to say that as a horticultural industry we will continue to grow, sell and educate people about the benefits of our plants native.



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