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Ask the Ecologist

by Belle Bergner

Q: What’s the deal with native plants? I seesome varieties in the nursery say they arenative to Wisconsin. Should I only buy plantsfor my garden that are from Wisconsin?- Jane Gardener

A: Native plants have become a hot topicfor ecologists and environmentalistsfor a number of reasons in recent years.Problems have arisen when plants from faraway – mostly from Europe or Asia – arebrought to the US, they escape from theirgardens and invade forests, out-competenative plants that are having a hard enoughtime as it is trying to compete with locals,and consequently they can take over someareas, eliminate rare or threatened species,and create an ecologically fragile andunbalanced system.

You don’t have to buy only Wisconsin-grownplants, but the closer to home they are, themore likely they will adapt easily and notthreaten other local plants. Native plantsalso attract natural pollinators and otherwildlife that help balance our ecosystem. Ifyou aren’t sure if a variety you like is local,ask the nursery manager.If you are lookingfor wildflowers and grasses, Riverwest’sown Kellners Greenhouses on Humboldthas a good variety to get started. Once youget going, try Taylor Creek Nursery (www.appliedeco.com/tcrn) or Prairie Nursery(www.prairienursery.com) to fill out yourgarden with a more diverse mix. They alsohave a “no mow” mix of grasses that forma naturally low-stature lawn that does notneed to be mowed. These nurseries arecareful to use primarily seed from southernWisconsin and northern Illinois so we canrest assured that their gene source is local.

Send your ecological inquiries to our residentecologist at

Riverwest Currents online edition -May, 2006