Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Native Plants, Native Pests, Cultivated Weeds

I'm always thinking about plants and reading about plants.  Sometimes a theme emerges, and lately it's the division between native and exotic plants, between weeds and cultivated plants. 

Arundo donax.  Exotic invasive in the US.
Among a certain set of gardeners, native plants are widely thought to make better garden choices because they are bred for their own specific environment, and are often food and/or shelter for native wildlife.  Fair enough.  I pretty much agree with this idea, in general.  In theory.  I guess.  Sometimes I'm a little disheartened at my garden's prospects, should I go native.  I live in what was once a vast coastal prairie that has now all but vanished.  I'm not sure it's even possible now to recreate the native environment on a scale as small as my yard.  Plus I think I'm too short to live in a tallgrass prairie.

Pennisetum purpuream.  Exotic.  Invasive in Florida.
But that's not really what's on my mind.  Here's a question: if native plants are best suited to the local environment, and native wildlife has evolved to use them for food and shelter, haven't native pests also evolved to prey on them?  If we broaden our idea of wildlife to include plant pathogens and irritating insects, would we be happy to plant natives for them? 

Elephant Ears (Colocasia).  Invasive exotic.
It's true that sometimes a plant actually thrives in a region far removed from its origins.  Sometimes it thrives so much it becomes a nasty invasive.  I'm thinking of the destruction wrought on the aforementioned coastal prairie by the Chinese Tallow tree, an exotic species gone wild.  Though it is not native to this area, it is certainly well-adapted here.  And we all can think of native plants that are notoriously fussy and hard to grow in their own, original environment.  The Dogwood (Cornus florida) springs to mind.

More on this subject later.  Weeds.  Crops.  Ornamentals.  Politics and policy.  What a tangled mess!


  1. I've never really thought how native pests evolve to prey on native plants, but it makes sense. That's why biological control is around.

  2. Yes, it is indeed a dilemma at times! I'm still chuckling over the phrase "too short to live in a tallgrass prairie".

  3. The huge problem with the non-natives in my area is that they adapt so well and so quickly that they push the natives out. And the natives support the beneficial insects and wildlife. There's an excellent video on the problem on the UNC-TV website at http://www.unctv.org/exploringNC/episode304.html.

  4. Native pests have evolved to prey on native plants that's why native plants are so important!!! Native "pests" turn into native butterflies, are the only food for nesting birds, feed amphibians and spiders, move sunlight up the food chain to us. We can't live without them and they can't live without native plants. I never understood this before I read Doug Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home. I summarized it in my 11/26/10 post.

  5. I am also a big native plant enthusiast but have over the years learned to allow myself to plant what I like. You are right native plants attract native pests but they also attract beneficial insects that keep the pests to a dull roar.