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Are Nativars OK?

Studies show pollinator preference may vary between the straight species and cultivated varieties

Fine Gardening - Issue 192
Illustration: Lyn Alice Hamilton

Enthusiasm for native plants continues growing each year as we become increasingly aware of and concerned about the deleterious impacts humans have on the natural world. These impacts, which include habitat loss, climate change, and insecticide use, have certainly intensified over time. This can inspire motivation to take action, often beginning in one’s garden.

At the same time, a familiar scene typically plays out at local nurseries across the United States when customers arrive to purchase ecologically friendly plants for their gardens. Seldom seen are the native, unmodified, “straight species” originally emanating from nature. Instead, customers find a veritable collage of native plant cultivars featuring qualities such as larger flowers, compact sizes, improved disease resistance, alternative leaf coloration, and other attributes deemed “garden worthy.” These cultivars are sometimes the result of years of concerted breeding efforts, which are then maintained through asexual propagation techniques.

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  1. calliopegirl 01/24/2020

    This was excellent and timely. I am researching along these lines over the winter as to what I should keep and what I should replace in my garden. Reading books by Doug Tallamy, Nancy Lawson, and numerous websites on native New England botany. Searching for answers to these very same questions/observations on the affects of cultivars. Your research makes me hopeful that some of my "natives" can stay. I will be watching this summer.

  2. Jennyontheblock 02/18/2020

    Really fascinating research! I try to plant natives, but admit that I haven't paid much attention to whether they are nativars - I'm hoping that while shopping at the local nursery there are cues to help shoppers figure it out!

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