Native Plant Confusion

Are all natives drought-tolerant?

Native plants are extremely popular right now especially as they are being promoted as the solution to everything from saving the bees to climate change. With this much media & marketing hype there’s bound to be problems.

Hype has over-inflated natives qualities; much of it not backed up by any research or even field observation. Particularly misleading is native plants’ reputation as being drought-tolerant.

“Native plants are not unlike the rest of the plant world” emphasizes Belinda Gallagher, head of horticulture, Royal Botanical Gardens. She’s right. There are native plants that are specialized to grow in wet soils and also native plants that flourish in continuously wet weather. These plants won’t be drought tolerant.

Even if the native plant is drought tolerant there’s no assurance that its horticultural derivative (cultivar, termed nativar), will also be drought tolerant.

In our enthusiasm to find solutions, we may have overpromised and under delivered. By all means use native plants. Some of them are outstanding. But take the hype with a pinch of salt, and just watch and see if your selection of established natives withstands drought. Then pass on the information, please.

Written by Cristina da Silva
Monday, March 8, 2010 in Plants & Soils

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  1. Miriam Goldberger says:

    It’s wise to be wary of all sweeping generalizations in life! Like all plants – Native plants are subject to the – right plant for the right place rule. Once placed in conditions in which it thrives – it will be entirely drought tolerant once the roots are established.

  2. Cristina da Silva says:

    Oops, I re-read Miriam’s comments. It looks like she is saying all native plants are drought tolerant. With the caveat that they located in the right location and given time to establish themselves.

    That’s exactly why so many native plants die. Many people don’t know what the right conditions are. And not all native plants are drought tolerant, even when established. I guess Miriam missed the point.

    Correct statement: Some native plants are drought tolerant.
    Incorrect statement: All native plants are drought tolerant.

    Native plants are just like any other plant on the planet.

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