Want to know if a plant for sale is native? I have a list for you

Earlier this year, I spoke to the Midland-Huronia Probus Club about growing native plants, the importance of and how to. It was a good crowd, with people who posed many interesting questions. But there was one for which I didn’t have a ready answer. How does one know if a plant is native? a gentleman asked.

My immediate reply was, look it up, do the research, get educated, the information is all out there on the web. But I realized, that really isn’t good enough. When it comes to a plant that's for sale, it's important information that should be readily available - ideally, included right on the label. I think that will happen as awareness of ecosystem issues increases among gardeners and the trade responds to demand.

In the meantime - what to do? My nursery plant list is not a good resource because it only has what I happen to have currently on sale, and while all are native to Eastern North America, some have a range that stops south of the Great Lakes. See this blog on assisted migration for my reasoning. So - I have made another list, not a list of all Ontario native plants, just the ones you may find for sale at mainstream or specialist nurseries in this province. It is downloadable, you can put it on your phone so you have it to hand when you’re at a garden centre. Follow this link to Is it native?

The Doug Tallamy rule of thumb is that a garden with at least 70 per cent native trees, shrubs, perennials and other plants will support bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware who has been very influential in changing our views around the purpose of a garden, and what it should look like. For more information, check out his book Nature’s Best Hope.

Jumping worms

You need to know about jumping worms. Sorry, because they’re gross - large, snakelike, killers of other worms, destroyers of soil fertility. Native to East-Central Asia, the first report in Ontario came in 2014 from the Ojibway Prairie in Essex County. Last summer (2021), there were sightings in Wheatley, Hamilton and the Toronto region. Most were in home gardens, but some have been identified in a semi-natural ravine, demonstrating their potential to migrate from gardens into wild spaces. Cathy Kassavilis of the Master Gardeners of Ontario recently posted a comprehensive rundown on the group’s Facebook page.

Jumping worms are thought to have been introduced to North America through the horticultural trade - and the invasion continues along the same path. There’s no scientifically recommended way of controlling them so Cathy advises that prevention is the clear choice. “We need to stop the spread.” She warns that the eggs are easy to transport accidentally in pots of soil, compost, on boots and shoes or tires of vehicles. The cocoons are very tolerant to cold. So these can spread northward - cottagers and anglers take extra care, she says. Read more.

Small things

I make my own soil mix, from commercially bagged top soil, with perlite or vermiculite along with my own compost and leaf mould. I am continually perturbed by the plastic I come across - little shreds of plastic bag as well as other tiny pieces, in the commercial as well as in my own material. So for me, potting involves plastic removal in the hope that I’m protecting creatures that might ingest these materials.

I also try to prevent small plastic items from entering the waste stream or the environment - things like the very fine plastic ties that attach a label to a piece of clothing, or the ring that attaches a lid to a carton of cream. Or the plastic triangle I cut off a bag of milk. Or the dental floss. Conventional dental floss is not biodegradable, or if it is, it takes a long time. It’s an environmental threat if it ends up in aquatic ecosystems. I have switched to silk floss that does break down. And then there are tea bags: most contain plastic, often in the form of a coating to stop them from falling apart. I fish them out of my compost, the tea decomposed, but the bag intact.

Canadian grasslands

Grass Farmers - Regenerative Agriculture and the Canadian Grasslands is a lovely documentary from 2020, only 17 minutes long, featuring several farmers from across the country, including the Beretta family in King City in Ontario. The attitudes conveyed by these farmers dovetail with those that underpin a book I’ve just read, Wilding - the Return to Nature of a British Farm by Isabella Tree.

The stress is on the importance of large herbivores in creating soil that is healthy and sustainable, and landscapes that become a shifting mosaic of vegetation. Modern agriculture confines the herbivores to feedlots and makes the fields over to cash crop monocultures that are completely reliant on outside inputs - fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and even water, because the soil is degraded to the point it no longer efficiently holds water. “This is a critical time in history,” says Sean Smuckler, chair of agriculture and environment at the University of British Columbia. He urges that all of us become part of the solution - supporting the sustainable work by farmers like the ones featured in this excellent doc.

Purest water

We’re lucky here in North Simcoe to have amazing groundwater. There’s a House of Commons petition to protect it - please sign and share!
Cher Dignan
- 27 March 2022 at 03:58pm

Thank you for the comprehensive list! Thank you also for the silk recommendation as well as the link to the video and petition.
Love your posts. ❤️
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