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How far away counts as Native?

Posted by edlincoln 6A (My Page) on
Wed, Jun 26, 13 at 17:59

I've been looking for Native substitutes for European plants. Most recently, clover.

The only North American substitutes I can find are native to California.

Is that close enough? Would you count a Californian plant in New England as Native or invasive? What about one from the Midwest? New York?

Is it better to plant a European version that is clearly not native but is already loose in the ecosystem, or a Californian plant?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: How far away counts as Native?

Plants that are native in the East have become invasive in the West. There are native plants that can get out of control when planted in rich garden soil instead of the dry meadows they are used to. So, native to North America is not an automatic guarantee of good behavior. On the other side of that, non-native does not necessarily mean invasive thug, and even if a plant is invasive in, say, NJ, it may not be in Montana.

What is it about clover that you are looking to duplicate in a native plant? What natives have you considered?

RE: How far away counts as Native?

Ed, there is the genus Dalea to look at, aka Prairie Clover. There is a purple flowering and white flowering form. They are both native to a large chunk of the central US.

In all other respects, lisanti's got you covered.


RE: How far away counts as Native?

I like clover because it is a nitrogen fixer, bee food, and tolerates being mowed. An unobtrusive way to provide food for bees.

Purple Prairie Clover is actually one of the two plants I was considering. The problem is it isn't Native to New England (the closest place it grows is New York) so I was having pangs of guilt about setting it loose. Also, I'm not sure how much like true clover it is...can it be mowed or walked on?

The other one I was thinking of was Trifolium wormskioldii. It has the added virtue of liking swamps. I was going to set in loose in a field that gets to wet to be mowed in the Spring.

I can find very few native perennial flowers from my area that are nitrogen fixers or tolerate mowing. Can you think of any suggestions?

RE: How far away counts as Native?

I did a search for the Pea family on the USDA plants database, and there are few, if any, native nitrogen fixers that grow low enough to be mowed. A search for native low-growing plants give you a few more choices, like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, a couple native violets, cornus canadensis, and several others.

Do you want the clover-ish plant to grow in your lawn, thus the mowing? Have you checked with your native plant group/society for suggestions? FWIW, I'd consider something native to NY as safe for MA.

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA Plants search page

RE: How far away counts as Native?

Yup. And also, I don't know how ridigidly you are adhering to a natives-only philosophy. Nor am I criticizing you if you do wish to stay strictly native. But honestly, something like red clover, Alsike clover, etc is all over the place anyway. For every conscientious plant guy like you, laboring over such decisions, there's 500 deer hunters planting clovers on their "food plots" to attract and feed deer. Or highway departments still including non-native clovers in their "highway mixes", etc.

I think if it's clover you want, and it must be mowable, it's probably clover you're going to end up with. And this is coming from a guy who actively fights clover in a variety of "native" plantings!


RE: How far away counts as Native?

I'm not 100% strict about the "all native" thing, but I don't like to plant things that might spread unless they are native.

I have a few uses for the "cloverish" plants.

1.) Mix into a section of lawn that is an unmowable swamp in the spring and mowed in the summer...I figure if it is a "de facto" meadow in the spring, I might as well have bee food in it. Anything put in it has to survive summer mowing and be inconspicuous. There is a hard to find, swamp loving Californian clover that looks like white clover. Unfortunately, it is from California.

2.) Mix in to my parent's lawn to supplement the "invasive" white clover (and fill in dry clay spots). I figure the New York Purple Prairie Clover is pretty and loves dry conditions.

3.) Put on a steep slope with poor soil to supplement the grass.

4.) Illicitly slip into a local vacant lot...since I suspect it will be mowed occasionally, that limits wildflower options. (The vacant lot is a recently leveled building which will be used as a parking lot for construction equipment during a city renewal project...also next to a park. "Volunteer" baby grass is just starting to grow would amuse me to have some native wildflowers there. I have some surplus seed I purchased from plot 1-3, and that big expanse of plantless dirt is temptingt...)

I love the idea of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. It loves salt and produces edible fruit. Unfortunately, it grows slowly and is hard to find...I'm not going to be able to buy enough to fill in a large area. Also looks to be to brittle to survive mowing.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Sun, Jun 30, 13 at 20:41

RE: How far away counts as Native?

So, you're into guerilla gardening ;-) Have you discovered seed balls yet?

Here is a link that might be useful: How to Make Seed Balls

RE: How far away counts as Native?

I started Dalea purpurea from seed, but it didn't make it one season out in my little meadow area because the rabbits found it irresistible and ate the seedlings to nubs. Only tried growing it that one time, but I should try again.

Personally I wouldn't worry about "invasive" clover in the lawn, because the turf grass is also non-native. Trifolium repens (white clover) is actually an excellent companion for turf grass, because it fixes nitrogen and nourishes the grass. I love it in the lawn and it's great for pollinators. Anyway I have much worse invasives to worry about, like Buckthorn and Bittersweet.

I've started a number of western natives from seed, and very few of them have thrived in my gardens. I think it is simply too wet here in the northeast, both summer and winter. I wonder how many eastern plants would thrive in the dry west either.

One exception is the California poppies which do very well in a dry edge of the garden along the driveway.

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