Charlotte Pyle’s talk, "Let's get precise about what a "native" plant is" started off with a lot of basic introductory invasive species fodder, so I started reviewing my notes from the previous session. My mistake – because I suddenly realized she was talking about some pretty cool stuff. Charlotte works in Connecticut, and has been thinking a lot about what the term “native” means and how it’s important from an ecological perspective. She listed several reasons why people typically want to grow native plants: for ecological restoration, as habitat for wildlife, because of the belief that they won’t grow out of control, and because they believe native are better adapted to the environment. Of course, we know that often it is easier to grow a hearty non-native plant than to cultivate non-native species.
Charlotte also pointed out that labeling a plant as native can indicate many different things. Subspecies may be native to a very specific region, or cultivars of native species may no longer have the characteristics that made their wild counterparts a valuable part of the ecosystem (I loved her example of plants bred to have huge berries – too huge to fit in any local bird’s mouth!). The fact is, we really don’t know what we’re doing to wild native plant populations by mixing in horticulturally grown plants.
After Charlotte, Jonathan Lehrer spoke about Japanese barberry, but I’m going wait to talk about that until I cover the talk that was given on Saturday by another member of his lab.