Post and Courier
December 26, 2014

Going native: Plant from the region for the region

Posted: 02/22/2014 06:00 p.m.
By Bo Petersen

The palm trees left dead and dying by the recent ice storm just aren't from here. They aren't palmettos. And that's an abject lesson in the value of planting native.

Native plants are adapted to the changes in local environment. They and native wildlife are adapted to each other.

The ice-distressed trees "are California fan palms," said College of Charleston botanist Jean Everett. "Our native palms did just fine."

Fan palms are very similar to the palmetto, the state tree, and often planted in its place, mistakenly or not. But "they are not cold tolerant enough to handle our recent unpleasantness," Everett said.

Dying shrubs, invasive takeovers - the consequences of widespread exotic "landscape" plants are giving native planting a new foothold in the Lowcountry.

The plants that belong here simply make better landscapes.

Invasives can be hard to tell apart from natives. A sprawling hedge of wisteria near an entrance to the nature trail in the Sullivan's Island isn't native, said landscaper Jeff Jackson of the S.C. Native Plant Society, although there is a very similar looking native Lowcountry wisteria. This one was planted and is taking over.

"A lot of our invasive plants came from our gardens, our landscaping and our agriculture," Jackson said.

Some subtropical-looking plants get so popular they are thought to be native. People are stunned when Jackson tells them that pampas grass is an invasive.

Not all non-natives are bad. Camellias aren't native. But they have found a niche here without supplanting another species.

"I'm not anti-exotic plants," Jackson said. "I'm anti-exotic invasives."

Not all local nurseries have quite caught on, Jackson cautions. The best way to tell if it's native is to ask a Master Gardener through Clemson Extension or another service. The society holds a native plant sale in the spring and fall each year. The next sale is March 15 at Charles Towne Landing.



Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.