This is the first post in a new series, "Restoring Our Roots," on gardening -- suggesting native substitutes for common exotic garden plants and taking small steps to make a truly sustainable, green garden.
While on vacation, it's nice to relax and take a break from the everyday. Since vacations with my family always involve some kind of outdoor activity, I can't help but to notice the plants around me. For a botanist, I suppose, there is no such thing as time off.
Visiting new places, I'm always on the lookout for plants on the loose. These would be herbaceous or woody plants that have escaped from a garden and moved into a nearby natural area. These potential troublemakers need to be noted. Did you know that most states and townships don't have laws against nurseries selling known invasive plants to home gardeners? Sadly, the onus is on the buyer to be educated.
One plant that qualifies as possibly problematic is the Nippon daisy. Formerly Chrysanthemum nipponicum (literally "daisy from Japan"), the taxonomy changed and it now has the silly Latin name Nipponanthemum nipponicum -- Japanese flower from Japan. Oh those wacky taxonomists!
In the New York City area, it is commonly known as "Montauk daisy." Despite its scientific name, there are nurseries that erroneously claim it is native to the area around the Montauk Lighthouse in New York. This is why gardeners need to be knowledgeable. Something growing wild does not necessarily mean it's native. In this case, it is an exotic that has naturalized there. Montauk daisy also resides in coastal habitats in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The plant has become popular because it is pretty and hard to kill. It does well in dry, well-drained soil in full sun (beach dunes, for example). It is a shrubby perennial that becomes mounded and bush-like, growing to three-feet tall. White, daisy-like flowers appear in mid-summer and last until first frost. It is attractive to a variety of pollinators.
Instead of courting potential disaster, why not use a homegrown member of the Aster family? Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan' is a white cultivar of the native purple coneflower, the characteristic prairie species with a natural range that extends from Ohio to Michigan and Iowa south to Oklahoma, Louisiana and Georgia. 'White Swan' (pictured below) grows to 30" tall and is also a strong foliage plant with dark green leaves. Large flowers bloom from mid-summer into mid-autumn. A ring of long, reflexed, creamy white ray petals encircle protruding coppery-green cones. While in bloom, the blossoms attract a wide array of bees, butterflies and skippers.
The leaves of 'White Swan' provide sustenance for native caterpillars of the Silvery Checkerspot, Wavy-Lined Emerald and Common Eupithecia. In winter, these flowers offer seeds for hungry goldfinches. And isn't sharing our gardens with wildlife what it's all about?
This plant also prefers well-drained soil in full sun. Once established, it tolerates drought, heat, humidity and poor soils. While it self-seeds freely, given that it is a cultivar, flowers probably won't come true from seed. Instead, propagate vegetatively via root cuttings in autumn. This easy-to-please plant is excellent for beginners who want to go native in the garden.
Check out this exclusive TDG video of Marielle Anzelone talking about Wildflower Week and the importance of protecting, and exploring, urban nature:
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