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Native Plants

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Native Plants - What you should know

My first remembrance of becoming interested in the plant world takes me back to my mother’s childhood home in the Berkshire foothills of Northwestern Connecticut. We were hiking up the hill across the stream from the house she grew up in, a walk she had made a thousand times before. What once was pasture was quickly becoming woods again, and Mom was trying to show me the vision of what once had been. To a six-year-old mind, the concept of geological change is difficult to grasp, but I began to look around me in a new light; these plants were changing this place…

The next startling insight came as my mother, the paragon of restraint and gentility, suddenly threw herself down in the tall grass and cleared the straw away from a little plant. “Wintergreen,” she said with a smile, “Like the Lifesaver candy.”

She plucked a small berry and handed it to me. “Try it.” I tentatively popped the berry in my mouth and chewed once, then again. The look on my face must have been profound; my mother laughed out loud and told me I couldn’t eat all the berries in the woods, but she could show me the good ones. The rest of the summer was a whirl of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, serviceberries and the occasional wintergreen berry. It was a grand summer.

Somehow as I got older, I lost the thread I had started to pull that day. I still recognized the berries Mom had showed me but the rest was still “woods". My first indication that all was not well in those woods came before my professional plant career began; Mother was again the teacher, this time most unwittingly. As a child she had made bittersweet wreaths from vines up on the hill, and wanted some to do the same here in Old Lyme. Unknown to her the reasonably harmless native had been joined by an aggressive Chinese look-a-like, and in a few years the woods behind our house were festooned with the stuff. Mom remains chagrined about this some thirty years later as the problem continues and she laments ever doing it but how was she to know? Nobody told her…

As I began my professional career in plants I started to look for plants that were natives while keeping an eye out for those potential invaders, and I found far more of the latter and few of the former. Occasionally someone would point out a crested iris or a pink turtlehead, and tell me it was a native, leaving me scratching my head as to whether or not I could ever remember seeing it (of course I had not; these are both more southern plants). As my knowledge of woody ornamentals grew, I began to see more and more recognizable plants out in the woods, but some of these I knew as Japanese barberry and Tartarian honeysuckle; if those southern natives hadn’t made it here, what were these Asian invaders doing here?... article continued here.
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