Stopping invasive plants a shared responsibility

As most of you know, I’m pretty hardcore about using native plants as much as possible, and advocating for their use over less-well-behaved “imports.” However, on occasion, I must admit that I find myself drooling over a non-native plant that is simply too stunning not to add to the garden. This past week, as I was working in the ornamental grass greenhouse, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ caught my attention, with its graceful dwarf habit, wispy plumes and interesting orange/tan fall color. Right away I started visualizing areas of the yard where Miscanthus could lend a nice soft, whimsical look.

But, I always do my due diligence on whatever I want to bring into my garden, and the research I did on Miscanthus sinensis (also known as Chinese silvergrass) made me change my mind fairly quickly. According to the National Park Service, several species of Miscanthus have escaped cultivation across the U.S. and have become problematic, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic states. Wild Miscanthus (the straight species, M. sinsensis) sets copious amounts of seed thanks to the presence of several different cultivars (‘Adagio’, ‘Gracillimus’, ‘Yaku Jima’, etc.) in home gardens. These seeds are then scattered by the wind and start new plants, that when large enough, out-grow and out-compete native plants. In turn, that can have detrimental effects on food available to wildlife. Because of this, Miscanthus is on the invasive plant lists in several states in the northeast, mid-west and Mid-Atlantic/southeast.

Which brings me to the main question of this post: do garden centers and nurseries have an environmental obligation to not sell plants known to be invasive or potentially invasive? I understand that it simply would not be feasible from a profit standpoint to limit plant offerings to only native plants (though there are many smaller nurseries that do choose to sell exclusively natives). On the other hand, destruction of native flora and wildlife is a real problem, even if we don’t see it in our immediate area. Ideally, garden centers and nurseries would voluntarily limit their non-native inventory to sterile varieties/cultivars, like the ‘Lo and Behold Blue Chip’ series of Buddleia (Butterfly bush).

I don’t pretend to have the answer to this question. Realistically, I know it’s not as simple as just no longer selling certain plants. Taking back our ecosystems from invasive plants needs to be a multi-pronged effort. A large piece of the puzzle has to be educating consumers about the benefits of native plants and the potential cost to the environment of some non-natives. Additionally, state agriculture and forestry departments should be sharing information with nurseries and garden centers about what plants are problematic in their area, so that in turn, the nurseries and garden centers can confidently offer plants that won’t pose a problem for local wildlife and flora. Everyone has a part to play in ensuring the future health of the world around us.

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