Native replacements for your favorite plants

January 20, 2013 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Native plants are those that were growing in a particular area when the first European settlers arrived. Many of these plants are still in existence and using them in our landscapes is a good idea for many reasons.
Since native Wisconsin plants have been growing here for hundreds of years, they are uniquely adapted to our soil and climate and therefore need less first aid from the gardener in the form of added water and fertilizer. This saves time and money and is good for the environment. Native plants support native insects, birds and animals that have evolved along with them over the centuries. In addition, plants native to our area define our part of the world and distinguish it from every other part of the world. They are part of our heritage, just as are the rivers, lakes and hills that comprise the topography of northeast Wisconsin.
What if you are convinced that native plants are the way to go in your landscape, but you are emotionally attached to your peony plant (which hails from Asia, Japan, China or Europe) because you transplanted it from your grandma’s yard? That’s okay – keep it and don’t feel guilty.
But let’s say that you have a peony plant that you just aren’t that attached to. Peonies aren’t beneficial to bees and insects since their fluffy flowers don’t allow the insects to enter them to get to the nectar. Plus they attract ants. There are several native plants that can replace that peony that will play an important part in the ecosystem of your landscape, supporting many insects and birds. Some of the possible alternatives to peonies are cow parsnip, fire pink, indigo, large beardtongue, showy beardtongue, queen of the prairie, Sullivant’s milkweed, swamp milkweed, wild blue phlox, wild lupine and wild roses.
How do I know this? I looked it up in a handy book entitled The Midwestern Native Garden by Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz. This book lists hundreds of your favorite common garden plants and at least one, but sometimes ten, native alternatives. The alternatives listed will thrive in the same sun/shade, soil, water and temperature conditions as the non-native plant did, but detailed cultivation requirements are listed for each native plant anyway. There are also Nature Notes for each plant, telling why the non-native is useless and listing the many valuable attributes of their native replacements.
This book is a valuable addition to your gardening library if you are trying to make your landscape more hospitable to birds and butterflies and save yourself some time and money in the long run. If you’d like to look before you buy, it is available through the Winnefox library system.
If you are interested in learning more about native plants and their many benefits, the following websites are excellent: and


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