Native, introduced, invasive, cultivar, nativar… what do all these words mean anyway?
There is an enormous amount of confusion around these terms. We’re going to go through them here briefly: how NPU understands them, uses them, what we recommend, and why. The explanation behind the observations can be complicated, so we’re not going to delve into that at this time. First, the terms.
Native - a plant that existed in North America prior to Eurasian settlement.
Introduced, or non-native - any plants that was brought to North America either by accident or intentionally. This includes agricultural species- grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This concept applies to insects and other animals as well.
Invasive - An *introduced* plant species that spreads prolifically and chokes out other plants, severely reducing diversity in an area.*
*This is NOT the same as a native plant that spreads prolifically in garden beds. Native plants often create stands of one species where space allows and, while this is normal to a certain extent, it’s made more dramatic by human disturbance of the soil. Some plants thrive in disturbed areas, others are slow to establish, and still others will die out. It depends on their structure, life cycle, and role in the ecosystem they have evolved to fill. Regardless, a large stand of one native species isn’t a particular problem, and usually resolves itself over time, as the area undergoes succession.
Cultivar/nativar - a “cultivated variety” of a species that has undergone alteration by humans in order to exaggerate some desired characteristic, such as flower size/color, leaf color, lack of seeds/thorns, etc. This is usually done through selective breeding (including hybridization) but cultivars are occasionally made via GMO methods. “Cultivar” refers to any altered species, and is regulated to the point that a variety of cultivar can be trademarked. Nativar is an adaptation of the word turned marketing device- it’s a cultivar bred from a native species. As an entirely unregulated term, a nativar may be derived from species native to the continent but not the region, or may be a native species hybridized with one (or more) non-native species.
Wildtype - an individual of any species that is genetically indistinguishable from wild individuals in that species’ native range. This includes species variation and mutations that are naturally occurring.
Ecotype - a population of a species from a specific area. Generally used to refer to a population that has adaptations to local conditions that are not common or are absent from other populations of the same species. Where these differences are obvious, they may be indicated by var. (name) following the scientific name. Ex: Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii is an ecotype of black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) originating in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. However, this can also be as simple as a population of plants growing in a valley that is more tolerant of water than a nearby population growing on a ridge.
We exclusively sell native ecotypes of wildtype plants.
We support banning the sale and trade of plants that tend to escape from lawns and gardens into untended areas. Unfortunately, various introduced species become invasive in different regions or after a change in their conditions. For instance, we had never seen hostas reseed in woodlands until 2017, but we believe this is becoming a problem due to changing weather conditions. NPU does sell a few species native to surrounding states, particularly those to the south and west, as we are anticipating plant communities from those regions spreading here naturally due to climate change, as several already have.
Why should you insist on wildtype native plants?
Because they are, as a rule, both hardier and more valuable to wildlife than any other option. We are losing species, genetic diversity, and ecosystem resilience and functionality at an alarming and unprecedented pace. Ecosystem restoration begins with soil regeneration—which is inseparable from reintroducing native vegetation. This leads to improvements in water retention, rebounding insect and animal life, and carbon sequestration—which eventually leads to reducing global temperatures and cleansing fresh and salt water sources.
So what’s in it for you?
-A diversity of native plants provide immediate benefits like shade, reducing runoff/standing water, savings of time and money by reducing artificial inputs (like herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers), and planting of annuals.
-One topic we don’t often talk about is annuals. Much energy, chemicals, unrecyclable plastic, and water goes into their production, distribution, and maintenance, yet they offer essentially no wildlife support. The goal is to reduce the amount you buy, by planting a diversity of native plants so that there’s always something blooming, colorful and intriguing going on in your garden beds! The first time you see a hummingbird moth all up in your bee balm is MAGIC! We believe most people naturally transition away from annuals, as their native gardens mature and expand.
-Children LOVE learning in the outdoors with insects and wildlife. Providing a wildlife haven and a native food garden can be a gratifying way to engage with the land and with family!
-Last, but not least, there are positive and incalculable mental health benefits. Who would have guessed being surrounded by beauty and life could be so uplifting?