Saturday, July 7, 2012

Not Quite a Native

There are many plants here in New England that have become established parts of the landscape.  They’re so established, in fact, that they’re practically natives.  Unfortunately, they’re not actually natives and in some cases they’re invasive.  These “almost natives” frequently appear in places you’d expect natives to turn up; abandoned fields, roadside drainage ditches, along waterways or lakes, and even along roadsides.  In the background they flourish, to the point where they just seem like they belong there.

Perhaps one of the most common of these plants is Hemerocallis fulva, frequently referred to as the “ditch lilly.”  This daylily appears all over roadsides throughout New England and is also planted in gardens.  Colonists brought this plant with them from Europe and it quickly escaped from their gardens.  The tuberous root system is quite tenacious and will thoroughly settle into an area.  It will appear near old abandoned house foundations, in cemeteries, and I’ve seen clumps of it happily growing in fairly shady areas along dirt roads.  In some locations it is quite invasive and seems to belong, but it’s not a native.
                                                     Hemerocallis fulva
          Another colonial garden plant that appears to be native is the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris.  As with the common daylily, this plant was brought over by colonists.  If you’re interested in finding old home sites, stands of lilacs are excellent place markers for foundations.  Lilacs often turn up in the strangest of places, yet once upon a time, a garden or home was nearby.  I’ve found them in wooded areas growing next to long abandoned home sites; where all that was left was a pile of rocks that made up the foundation.  My guess is that someone scavenged these foundation stones to build stone walls in the area at a later date.  The lilacs, however, survived just fine.  Lilacs will spread in a few different ways depending on variety.  Most plants will slowly grow outward by sending up new stems in the form of sucker growth.  In some cases, lilac stems will root in where branches touch the ground.  In the case of the foundation lilacs I discovered they were spreading by low growing suckers, almost like a ground cover.

          Surprisingly, one of the most favored of all garden plants isn’t all that common as a native plant in North America.  Roses, so often seen in gardens, along the beach, or even bordering parking lots, are actually much more frequently found as a native plant in Asia.  Even the common Rosa rugosa, seen so often at New England beaches, is native to Asia.  Rosa virginiana and Rosa carolina are native to North America and appear in the wild here in New England (although competition from Rosa multifloria and other invasive plants is cutting down on their habitat).  So most of the roses found growing in the wild aren’t natives, but are instead garden escapees.  Rose collectors will often scour cemeteries and abandoned home sites in an effort to find old garden roses for preservation.  The rose pictured below appears near where I live.  Two homes have it scrambling over rocks in their front yards.  But in this picture, the rose is growing at what was once a home site.  It’s not a native, yet this plant in particular seems to appear frequently here in central Massachusetts.  My guess is, it was a commonly planted climber that has gone out of fashion but that has proven to be durable.  It only blooms once in the early summer and today, with so many options availabe, it has fallen by the wayside as a garden option.  So although you may find beach roses or roses like the climber below turning up throughout New England, they’re not native, although they certainly seem to belong.
                                              Unidentified climbing rose.

                                                           Rosa rugosa

 This next plant appears in wet areas including spots where the plant is partially submerged during the growing season.  Yellow Flag Iris, or Iris pseudodacorus, turns up wherever there is moist soil.  In some cases, the plant has become invasive, but at the same time it almost seems to belong where it is growing.  Again, this is a plant once frequently planted as a garden ornamental.  The native habitat for this iris is actually Europe and it also turns up in Asia and northwest Africa.  Because it can pull pollutants out of the water through its tuberous root system, it was used as a natural water treatment filter.  Unfortunately, this plant is hideously invasive in some locations, but at the same time has become so commonly seen it looks almost like it belongs.  It is, alas, not quite a native.
                                               Iris pseudoacorus

 Sometimes, the best intentions can lead to major problems in the plant world.  Frequently planted as a food source for birds, Russian Olive or Elaeagnus angustifolia, has become a major pest.  It is incredibly invasive as the seeds are readily spread by birds.  At the same time, the plant has been around long enough so that it almost seems like a native.  I’ve seen massive stands of it growing along highways and it appears so often I almost don’t notice it any more.  The foliage is a silvery grey color and the flowers are small and yellow. 
                                                 Russian Olive Flower

                                                Russian Olive Foliage

There are many other plants that fall into this category of “not quite a native” including Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis, which I’ve mentioned before.  Purple loosestrife, or Lythrum salicaria, is seen all along waterways here in the southern part of New England and I’ve seen it appearing in southern Vermont and above Portland Maine.  Like the other plants mentioned, these often invasive plants have become ubiquitous and have settled in to the point where they almost belong here.  Efforts to eradicate some of these plants continue and hopefully success will be had before the actual native plants are lost entirely.  At the same time the landscape has been so altered by these plants that they’ve almost become the new “natives.”

 For this post I double checked my memory using: Wikipedia and 

Recommended Plant:  Arrowwood Viburnum or Viburnum dentatum.  This is one of our native viburnums and an excellent garden plant.  The white lacy flowers appear in late spring and dark purple berries turn up in late summer.  The berries attract birds and the dense upright stems offer lots of nest building real estate.  Luckily, the plant tolerates all kinds of growing conditions from damp rich soil to dry sandy soil.  It will tolerate some shade although grows best with as much sun as possible.
                                                   Arrowwood Viburnum Flower

                                          Arrowwood Viburnum Fruit
When I took the picture of the Arrowwood Viburnum fruit, the weather had been unseasonably warm after an initial cold period.  The fruits stayed on the plants and actually fermented.  Birds weren't taking the berries due to this, and the area was filled with the scent of earthy, wine like, fermentation.

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