Why native plants?

As a Master Gardener I've gradually learned more about the role of our plant choices in providing habitat that is being lost at alarming rates.  Though our part of the world often looks very green, the diversity and quality of habitat is in decline.  Most of our wooded areas, for example, are full of invasive species replacing the native undergrowth.   If each of us tries to plant natives -- canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcover -- we can help mitigate native plant losses.  

Why plant a native tree?  Here's just one example.  The native dogwood (Cornus florda) supports 117 species of native moths and butterflies.   The Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) supports no native insect herbivores (from Dr. Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware entomologist).  Often there are very complex relationships between plants and insects, birds and other animals.  When a native plant is no longer growing in an area, creatures dependent on that plant are also lost.  The web of life unravels.

Getting Started

Match the right plant to the right place. 

If you have a space that is small or large, shady or full sun, soggy or dry there's a native plant that can and will take root if you give it a chance. From trees (large and small), shrubs, perennials, vines, ground covers, these plants will fit the conditions of the area because they are adapted to the weather, pests, soil, and seasons of Eastern North America.   They provide habitat for insects and other creatures which have co-evolved often over millions of years in intricate relationships. This is why replacing extensive areas of non-native turf grass with native plants can be so beneficial.  A mix of native and non-native plants, particularly if they are diverse, can also be a practical, beautiful and life-providing alternative to turf.

Take Action

Reduce lawn by adding or extending beds. Remove invasive plants. If you have woods, increase native understory and ground cover and add native shrubs and perennials at the edge.


Online Resources

Douglas Tallamy's companion site to his book, The Living Landscape: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens

Lists native trees large and small, coupon to buy trees, how to plant.

Native Plants of Maryland: What, When and Where HG#130

Rebates for rain gardens / conservation landscape



Darke, Rick and Doug Tallamy, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, Timber Press, 2014.

Tallamy, Douglas W. Bringing Nature Home : How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens, Timber Press, 2007. www.bringingnaturehome.net

Greenlee, John. The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn, Timber Press, 2009.


Maryland Native Plant Society database of native plants including a list of woody plants native to Montgomery County; talks, fieldtrips, native plant sources/sales

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Native Plants Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping Chesapeake Bay Watershed

“Plant Lists for Maryland Regions” Useful for identifying local natives vs. regional natives.

Plant lists by region; commonly available natives, MD, VA and WV.

Some Native Plant Sources  

Local nurseries: Plants tagged as native may not be locally native, check. Ask for the source of the plant.
Buy nursery propagated vs. nursery grown (may have been wild collected).

Lists native plant sales held throughout the year.

Adkins Arboretum, MD Eastern Shore, native plant sale days April and September, otherwise native plant nursery is open M-F, April 15 – Nov. 1.

Audubon Society of Central Maryland
Audubon Society of Central Maryland, Mount Airy. Native plant sale the last Saturday in April.

Black Hill Nature Center, Boyds, Maryland. Native plant sale at the greenhouse in April. Mostly herbaceous plants. 

Brookside, Wheaton. Native and edible plant sale, Spring.

National Arboretum, annual Lahr Symposium and native plant sale

Go Native Tree Farm.  Manheim, PA. Seed grown native trees, wholesale and retail. By appointment only, call 717-538- 0393.

www.bluewaterbaltimore.org/herring-run- nursery/native-plants/
Herring Run Natives. MD native shrubs and trees, a non-profit to benefit Baltimore waterway conservation.

Nature by Design in Alexandria.  Range of natives is good for trees, shrubs, and perennials, including some unavailable at local nurseries.

Newsom Seed (local) has a UMD-selected wildflower mix that has both annuals and perennials.  

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. High quality organic seed www.southernexposure.com