Native Plants And Incidental Entymology

All text and photos by Maymie Higgins

While browsing for climbing vines and just for intellectual edification, I glanced over the plant information label for a plant I already have, Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), aka Star Jasmine. Ten years earlier, I had purchased a Star Jasmine at this very nursery, while honeymooning in Charleston, South Carolina. It grew very well on a trellis on a southern facing wall and I have even propagated more plants from cuttings. Two friends now have the vine established in their gardens from plants I gave them. But I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the card. “Native to China?!”, I exclaimed in surprise and disbelief. I continued to shake my head and secured a wagon to haul out the six large vines I would be purchasing at Abide-A-While Garden Center in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. But this time, I would be purchasing a native plant, Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), aka Butterscotch Jasmine, aka Yellow Jasmine.

The author and her husband in front of Confederate Jasmine in Charleston, South Carolina.  Confederate Jasmine and Climbing Fig are the only two climbing ornamentals allowed around historic homes in Charleston because their vines do not damage masonry and other structures.
2005: First anniversary photo in front of Confederate Jasmine in Charleston, South Carolina. Confederate Jasmine and Climbing Fig are the only two climbing ornamentals allowed around historic homes in Charleston because their vines do not damage masonry and other structures.

As I selected six vines, an employee, a nice gentlemen in his late sixties or early seventies, approached with a smile and said, “You’re planning to cover some real estate”. I explained that thanks to the recent ice storms, I now have a sunny fence line that used to be a shaded fence line. Mother Nature downed quite a few trees in March at my house, including six Loblolly pines and five Leyland cypresses. Not to mention countless large branches that broke off and required hard pruning.

As I went on to confess my embarrassment about previously selecting a non-native plant and how it is important to select native plants to your region in order to support the native wildlife, the employee reached around in a fatherly manner and briefly squeezed my opposite shoulder. He was proud that I had learned that lesson.

Plants and animals rely on one another in many ways. Animals rely on plants for food and shelter. Many insects have very specific plant host requirements for laying their eggs and for nectar host plants for nutrition. When we plant non-native plants, we are losing an opportunity to support native wildlife. If those plants happen to be invasive, their quick propagation can begin to choke out native vegetation and create deficiencies in resources for native wildlife. Animals adapt to the local plant life over evolutionary time so it is unreasonable to expect all of them to adapt to new plants quickly enough to avoid extinction. One cannot merely replace one plant with another and expect it to provide the same support to wildlife. It is far more complicated than that.

I now have eighteen Carolina Jessamine planted along fence lines and cannot wait for the intoxicating fragrance to overtake my backyard in the future.

Yellow Jessamine leaf with native caterpillar.
Yellow Jessamine leaf with native caterpillar.

If you are interested in using only native plants in your garden, there is a great resource for determining the plants to select. Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson became concerned about the loss of our nation’s natural beauty and the fact that as much as 30 percent of the world’s native flora is at risk of extinction. So, in 1982, she and actress Helen Hayes founded what became the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in order to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscapes. In 2006, the Center became an Organized Research Unit of the University of Texas at Austin. The Wildflower Center has helped to preserve and restore the biological richness of North America and has become one of the country’s most credible research institutions and effective advocates for native plants.

If you are interested in learning more about the importance of native plants, please visit Bringing Nature Home to view a video interview with Dr. Doug Tallamy and/or read his book by the same title.

Here is my own goofy biology lesson, filmed spontaneously when I discovered a caterpillar on my right shoulder after spending time in the garden recently.  As you can see in the background, my cat Larry was not impressed.  Also, I returned the caterpillar to the plants outdoors.  If you know what this species is, please comment.

2 thoughts on “Native Plants And Incidental Entymology

    1. Thanks, Neva. A reddit reader shared another interesting take and article on the subject:

      [–]flavor8zone 7b 2 points 1 day ago
      Not necessarily wrong, but it’s an incomplete picture.
      Toby Hemenway has a great essay about this:

      [–]maymieh[S] 1 point 20 hours ago
      I see your point and agree that we can broaden the scale in which we discuss the topic. My article is focused on backyard gardens, not entire ecosystems and certainly not on farming. I am trying to appeal to individual homeowners to plant native vegetation in their private gardens so there will be the cumulative effect of supporting native wildlife in spite of the ravages all around on that broader scale in which you refer.

      [–]flavor8zone 7b 2 points 20 hours ago
      I did enjoy (and upvote) your article, and sorry it hasn’t received more upvotes (also, apologies if I came off as snide; didn’t know it was yours). It is true that there are native insects who have very specific requirements, and where there’s a choice planting native is a great goal.

      Combining native-where-possible with ecological niche analysis and self-sustaining guild design I think is a good compromise. Native-only isn’t always feasible.

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