Lynda Ellis, UM Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County.
Native plants are those that were growing in our area before Father Hennepin arrived. Often, that means they are tough plants that can grow with minimal care. Some, indeed, may be invasive. But others may be a decorative addition to the landscape; attract native birds, bees and butterflies; and perform other useful functions. Whether you wish to add a native plant or two to an existing landscape or want (or need) a completely native garden, more information about native plants is important.
Native plants are grown from native seeds. However, it is human nature to collect the seeds from the largest of the native flowers, or the tallest (or smallest) of the native grasses, or in other ways select for more human-desirable attributes. Over time, this leads to cultivars of native plants that may have lost some of their native attributes. Why you do you want a native plant? If for decoration, perhaps the cultivars will be as good or better than a true native. If for drought-tolerance due to the long roots of some native plants or to feed native pollinators, perhaps a true native will be better.
The following are a few native plants that are easy to grow in a full-sun garden: Black-eyed Susan has masses of bright yellow flowers with dark centers. Purple coneflower has taller purple-blue flowers with brown centers. Prairie sundrops have smaller, yellow flowers. Little bluestem is a 3-4’ high, decorative, bluish grass with excellent fall color.
Is a native plant garden a weed-patch? No! Native gardens, in the early years, do need care to prevent undesirable weeds from taking root. Also, if grown from seed, some native plants will not flower in their first years and look weedier than they will in the future. Borders, benches, birdhouses, etc. can make a native garden more acceptable in the neighborhood.
Where can you find native plants? Some may be obtained from neighbors (with permission!). Some native plants growing in wild areas are endangered or threatened, and, by law, may not be dug up without a permit, including several orchids, trilliums, gentians and sedges. Other native plants growing in wild areas do not transplant well, in part due to their long roots. Collecting seeds may work, if you take only as many as you need, a few from each of several plants. Many common native plants are available at garden centers and nurseries. The Department of Natural Resources has a list of native plant suppliers in Minnesota.
Native plants can be a valuable, useful addition to your landscape. For more information, see http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/gardens/nativeplants/ .