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Using native plants to benefit your homestead  RSS feed

 
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The Benefits of Native Plants

I have been living on my homestead for about 2 and a half years and one of the first things I did was to start planting native plants. This may seem like a strange choice for a homesteader but native plants do provide a number of benefits.

These benefits can help make a homestead more productive by creating a balance with nature. My view is that if you want to work with nature then including native plants in your designs make sense.

In this week's blog post - 5 Ways Your Homestead Will Benefit from Native Plants I group up the benefits native plants provide into 5 groups.

5 Benefits Native Plants Provide to Your Homestead

- Support More Insects (and that’s a good thing!)
- Increase the Diversity of Life on Your Homestead
- Create a True Sense of Place
- Provide an Easy Low Maintenance Harvest
- Can Support Your Other Plants

Some of these benefits are not unique to native plants but that does not negate the benefit.

What benefits do you see native plants providing? Got any that I missed? Leave a reply with your answer - I would love to hear from you!

Taking Native Plants Out of the Edges


New planting area in front of my house with a number of native plants just planted. But now there are also potatoes next to the native plants.

To be clear I'm not going to argue that you should only plant native plants.

But I would like to see more people mixing in native plants throughout their homesteads and their designs. It is normal to list pros and cons of a plant before planting and following permaculture practices we want the plant to provide multiple harvests/benefits. In my view this process applies to native plants just as much as it does to non-native plants.

I would love to see more people planting native plants in their gardens, their food forests, as landscaping, etc. In permaculture terms - let's not relegate native plants to zone 4 and 5. Native plants can fit easily into zone 1, 2 and 3.

I'm currently building and planning a new kitchen garden that will be located in zone 1 just out my backdoor. While I will be planting traditional vegetables I will also be planting 7 native perennial vegetables:
- Dwarf Checkerbloom: Has edible leaves and flowers with a mild flavor - can be cooked or eaten raw.
- Early Blue Violet: Has edible leaves and flowers with a mild flavor - can be cooked, or eaten raw and used in teas.
- Miner's Lettuce: Has edible leaves, stems and flowers. Very good for salads. Very shade tolerant.
- Nodding Onion: Strong onion taste but can be used like a regular onion. Greens can be harvested like chives or green onions.
- Oregon Stonecrop: Nice crunchy edible leaves with a nice flavor. Can be cooked or eaten raw.
- Pacific Waterleaf: Edible leaves with nice mild flavor that can be eaten raw or cooked. Also, has edible rhizomes that taste similar to Chinese bean sprouts. Very shade tolerant.
- Redwood Sorrel: Edible leaves/stems raw or cooked with a tangy lemony flavor. Very shade tolerant.

I can't wait to have a salad made up of all of these great native edible perennial vegetables with some tomatoes and fresh berries added in.

For me a big point of writing this blog post was to encourage people to take another look at native plants and moving them in from the zone 4/5 edges to the zone 1 kitchen garden.

Why Native Plants Matter


I have planted a lot of native lupines on my homestead. These fix nitrogen, support pollinators, and support 64 different butterflies and moths. Many of these have caterpillars that can only eat the native lupines.

So why do I care about native plants? Why can't we just plant the full range of plants from all over the world to ensure we have the highest level of diversity as possible?

First off, please do plant a high diversity and use plants from areas with similar climates that will provide a benefit for you and your family. But adding native plants will even further increase the diversity of your planting.

But the big reason native plants matter to me is their critical role in the local food-web.

As you may know plants as producers (use sunlight to "produce") provide the foundation of most food-webs. The next step up from plants are the animals that eat those plants. While most large plant eating animals like cows and deer can eat a wide range of plants, the majority of plant eating insects are restricted to a few or even 1 specific native plant.

Monarchs are the classic example of this but upwards of 90% of all plant eating insects are specialists (picky) that rely on 1 or just a couple native plants. Without the native plants these insects can't survive.

Why does this matter as a homesteader?

Well, those insects support the predators such as song birds and beneficial insects that eat insects - both the picky and generalist insects. If your homestead can't support those picky insects then you are likely to have less birds and beneficial insects.

Plus, the generalist insects that are left will happily munch on your vegetables, fruit, and other plants you planted.

On my homestead I'm trying to support these picky insects so they can help support the predators that will help control pest insects. Hopefully, this will result in my homestead being in balance with nature and pests not being a major issue.

So are we seeing a reduction in these insects? Is there a problem? Well there has been several studies recently that have shown that insect populations are crashing all over the world. I link to a few news articles on these studies in my blog post.

One thing I have noticed is that when I go on road trips my windshield does not get covered in dead bugs - when I was a kid we had to clean the windshield multiple times on most trips. According to the articles I'm not unique in noticing this change.

Something is up and I want to do what I can on my homestead to support a wider range of insects.

Benefits of Native Plants


Camas (the flower) and Wapato (the green arrow leaf shaped plant) are 2 native plants in the South Puget Sound in Washington State. Both were historically used as staple crops and can be a great food source. Wapato especially is easy to grow and produces tubers that are very similar to potatoes but grows in wetlands. I can't wait to have a large planting of Wapato in the future!

This blog post has been a bit different from my others but I believe that everyone's homestead can benefit from native plants. I listed some of the native plants I'm going to be planting and incorporating in my garden but what about you?

Are you including native plants in your planting designs? If so what native plants are you planning to plant?

Do you disagree with my view on native plants?

Please reply and share your thoughts below - even if you disagree with me I would love to hear from you and the reasons why. Also, don't forget to check out my blog post mentioned in this thread. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

The blog post goes through each of the 5 benefits of native plants that I listed. Plus, all the information is available in a cheat-sheet that has some extra resources to help you find out what plants are native to your area and the birds and insects they support.

Thank you!

Resources:

The following is an affiliate link

If you are interested in learning more about the role of native plants in supporting all those picky plant eating insects I highly recommend the book Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. The book goes into all the research that has been done to show that most plant eating insects are specialists. I found it to be very interesting and it really motivated me to make sure I have at least some native plants growing in or next to all my planting areas. I checked this book out from the library and then went on to buy it since I found it so useful.
 
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This is one of my favorite topics!  I'm very interested in native plants and am trying to re-establish many that had been eliminated from our land by decades of poor grazing management.  I'm particularly interested in edible natives and have included some in my kitchen garden, specifically Canada Onion and Winecup.  Winecup is proving to be a lovely ground cover as well as a salad green.  
 
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Enjoyed this thread and blog post!

I thought it was really interesting about how a lot of insects are picky eaters.

I've noticed a lot more birds like you mentioned in the blog post due to the general increase in insects. I had fun yesterday actually, watching a swarm of robins hunting around the yard! I hope they get a lot of Japanese beetle grubs!

Like you mentioned about harvesting native plants, I recently realized I have a lot of lamb's quarter growing, and I'm excited to hopefully identify other edible natives!

 
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Native species are very important for supporting naturally occurring wild life, many species of quail will vanish from an area that has been stripped of the native plants and grasses because they depend on these species for food and nesting sites.
My state has incurred this problem and the bob white quail is almost completely gone from much of it's range because of the disappearing native grasses.
I am planting many strips of our native grasses and side oats in the areas that quail like to live on our property, hopefully this will bring the few in our area to our land so they will be protected better and have the diverse diet they need. (I am also planning on adding to the population of quail)

We have many natives on our land that we use for medicines and foods, these areas are being nurtured just as if they were garden plants.
Even the pastures are mostly native plants, it makes them far more draught resistant and it also draws in the animals that like the forage.

great post Daron.

Redhawk
 
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I think natives are underestimated from a healing  aspect in the landscape. There are many "go to"non native species in the permaculture hand book. When i look around i see no reason to add them. 2 examples:

Why plant daikon radish when i have yucca. Yucca sends down big carrot like roots that veer off in different directions. Its punching into my limestone landscape. Daikon may never get established. I dont think i can be convinced that daikon would do better. Yucca is also a perrenial. I cut it flush to the ground. My guess is some roots die back. This should give a path for water to infiltrate. The dead roots add organic matter below the surface. The tops are left as a mulch or put in the compost pile. I added a lot to a compost pile and there is no evidence of the sharp needles.

The other is pokeweed versus comfrey. Comfrey is known for the massive top growth and its ability to chop and drop. I have found the same with pokeweed.

This may be a different concept when thinking of permaculture. Dont get caught up in the latest hypes. If you truly use observation in your plan you will likely find that little is needed. Nature has already provided the solution if you let it happen. Sometimes the answer is do nothing.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Steve Thorn wrote:
I recently realized I have a lot of lamb's quarter growing, and I'm excited to hopefully identify other edible natives!



Lamb's Quarter, Chenopodium album is actually a naturalized European plant, but it has been on this continent for hundreds of years so seems like a native.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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wayne fajkus wrote:I think natives are underestimated from a healing  aspect in the landscape. There are many "go to"non native species in the permaculture hand book. When i look around i see no reason to add them. 2 examples:

Why plant daikon radish when i have yucca. Yucca sends down big carrot like roots that veer off in different directions. Its punching into my limestone landscape. Daikon may never get established. I dont think i can be convinced that daikon would do better. Yucca is also a perrenial. I cut it flush to the ground. My guess is some roots die back. This should give a path for water to infiltrate. The dead roots add organic matter below the surface. The tops are left as a mulch or put in the compost pile. I added a lot to a compost pile and there is no evidence of the sharp needles.

The other is pokeweed versus comfrey. Comfrey is known for the massive top growth and its ability to chop and drop. I have found the same with pokeweed.

This may be a different concept when thinking of permaculture. Dont get caught up in the latest hypes. If you truly use observation in your plan you will likely find that little is needed. Nature has already provided the solution if you let it happen. Sometimes the answer is do nothing.



Great points wayne,
in many instances of "permaculture plants" if the soil isn't conducive to them growing well, you are wasting time, effort and money trying to grow them.
Daikon is a good way to get organic matter deep into the soil but if you have bed rock near the surface you are wasting your time with daikon, rape would be a better item for that purpose.
If you have alkaline soil then yucca is a natural as are many other plants that like that sort of environment, which is best for you can be determined by the Observe first rule.
I have one small area on our homestead that daikon likes, but we have switched to using sweet potatoes there, because they love the soil and we love to eat sweet potatoes.
I currently have no comfrey growing anymore, the donkey found the few plants I had and she loved them, she doesn't eat the poke though and it grows in many areas, left alone until we want to cook some tender new leaves up for greens.
I'm letting the poke spread as it wants to for now.
Most of the soil is showing better microbiome life where we are leaving it to nature to provide the plants and roots, these organisms are the natural occurring ones and so better suited to our climate.

Redhawk
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks all for the comments! I would have replied sooner but I was sleeping in – got a nasty cold…

Tyler – great to hear that you have included some native plants in your kitchen garden. I would love to see some pictures if you don’t mind sharing.

Steve – Thank you! It was a surprise to me to learn how many insects are picky eaters. But given that nature loves to fill niches it made sense to me when I thought more about it. I think this is fairly unknown among most homesteaders/gardeners which is partially why I wanted to write this post.

Steve and Tyler – Lamb’s quarter is an interesting plant. It was introduced but there is also evidence that some varieties were native to North American before the European type was introduced. Currently, the thought is that they hybridized so it is hard to know what is “native” and what is not. My view is if there are picky insects that can use it then it still fits the native classification in my book.

Yarrow is a similar plant in that it is native to my area at least but there is also a European strain that was introduced. The USDA classifies them as being native and non-native.

It can be very challenging to figure out what is native and what is not which is why I use a definition that looks at how the plant fits in the local food-web. If there are animals that have specialized to make use of that plant then to me it is fully integrated in the local ecosystem. But if the plant is only being used by generalists then it is still not fully a part of the local ecosystem in my opinion. That does not mean it does not serve a role but that role is more limited when compared to a native plant.

Dr. Redhawk – thank you! And thank you for talking about how the habitat loss has impacted quail where you live. I would love to learn more about the native plants you use on your land.

Wayne – I agree, and I do think there are a handful of plants that do truly provide a benefit that seem to always be mentioned in permaculture writings/videos/audio. I think this partially comes down to people picking plants that will work for a wide audience. Hard to promote natives to a wide audience – I only know the natives in my area and even then, I have a lot to learn. But I have very little knowledge about native plants found even a state or 2 over.

I’m using native lupines as a comfrey replacement – though I did plant some comfrey to use as a medicinal plant. Still testing how best to chop-and-drop the lupines but they have the added benefit of also being nitrogen fixers plus having a very large tap root.

Part of it is also a lack of knowledge – it is hard for a PDC to teach about native plants and it is a lot of work to learn about native plants. Most gardening books don’t talk about them and most plant nurseries don’t carry them. The Master Gardener programs don’t help much either.

I’m planning on writing some posts about native plants in my area. These may not appeal to a wide audience, but I think it is important for the information to be out there.

Thanks all and please keep the comments coming! I love hearing what you all think and having a great conversation with you all.
 
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I planted camas and wapato the year I didn't have any cats....and the bunnies ate all of my plantings! *Sobs*

I really want to get my hands on some miner's lettuce--I only have the siberian miner's lettuce, and my variety tastes like dirt .

And you just listed a bunch of natives that I don't have...and now feel I must get! I tried to get nodding onion from our local conservation district plant sale, but they were all sold out last year, and this year they didn't offer them at all . Maybe next year!

I got some of the redwood sorrel (also called Oregon Sorrel) that my mom took starts of from our family park down in Oregon. THat stuff is so tasty!

I think I need to search my wetlands and see if there's any pacific waterleaf in there. It sure looks like a familiar plant, and that'd be so cool if it was already growing there!

Other of my favorite edible natives are blackcap raspberry, trailing blackberry, and wood strawberry. I'm currently reading through a book about the founders of Seattle, and when they arrived, they were thrilled by how many edible berries we have here, and how there's almost always one of them ripe, from spring through fall.

 
Nicole Alderman
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wayne fajkus wrote:Why plant daikon radish when i have yucca. Yucca sends down big carrot like roots that veer off in different directions. Its punching into my limestone landscape. Daikon may never get established.



Meanwhile, daikons love my land so much that they've self-seeded themselves over much of it. I can't get much to grow here, but daikons oddly LOVE it. It don't even LIKE daikons! Thankfully, my kids and husband likes to munch on the flowers and seed posts. And the insects like the plants, too, and they tend to get infest the daikons rather than my broccoli or kale, so I'm not concerned!
 
Daron Williams
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I planted camas and wapato the year I didn't have any cats....and the bunnies ate all of my plantings! *Sobs*

I really want to get my hands on some miner's lettuce--I only have the siberian miner's lettuce, and my variety tastes like dirt .

And you just listed a bunch of natives that I don't have...and now feel I must get! I tried to get nodding onion from our local conservation district plant sale, but they were all sold out last year, and this year they didn't offer them at all . Maybe next year!

I got some of the redwood sorrel (also called Oregon Sorrel) that my mom took starts of from our family park down in Oregon. THat stuff is so tasty!

I think I need to search my wetlands and see if there's any pacific waterleaf in there. It sure looks like a familiar plant, and that'd be so cool if it was already growing there!

Other of my favorite edible natives are blackcap raspberry, trailing blackberry, and wood strawberry. I'm currently reading through a book about the founders of Seattle, and when they arrived, they were thrilled by how many edible berries we have here, and how there's almost always one of them ripe, from spring through fall.



Too bad about the camas and wapato Bit of a side tangent... but I really want to try to build a pit oven that is combined with rocket mass heater tech for cooking plants like camas. But I guess I should plant camas first... Wapato is nice since it does not need to be cooked so long. Once I get my new ponds developed I want to start growing it.

The site I linked to has a ton of native edible plants for our area - been enjoying looking through their site for ideas I really like the ones that can be used as salad greens or cooking greens - they are just easy to use which is nice.

I find waterleaf mostly growing in moist conifer forests with good leaf litter from scattered big leaf maples. I don't think it likes saturated soils but it does like moist soils. There is a restoration site that has a ton of it that I plan to raid - since it spreads fairly well I figured I won't do any lasting damage. It does not like too much sunlight - the ones I transplanted last year survived on my hugel beds but they got more sunlight than they seemed to enjoy. Luckily, overtime it will get more and more shady as the trees and shrubs grow.

This time of year waterleaf might not be visible - it sometimes dies back during the winter and then pops up in late winter or early spring depending on the site. I think March is a safe time to start finding it.

I really want to get more native berries going on my place. I have a bunch of the trailing blackberries but they don't seem to ever produce berries Blackcap are on my list to start planting in more areas - I really like them!
 
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Totally agree.

When I bought 6.5 acres and a home via foreclosure, it had gone feral.

Everyone said I should bush hog the pasture and cut down the trees blocking my view.

Instead, I paid a local plant expert to walk the property with me and tell me about what was there. Best 100 bucks ive ever spent.

If I had bush hogged I would have lost several varieties of fruit. If I had felled the trees that had the audacity to be between the house and the view, I would have lost valuable nut producing trees and the only white oak (low tannin acorns) on the property..

I think permaculture and local varieities go hand in hand. Studing nature and patterning our methods after hers means growing what wants to grow.

Owning a piece of land to me means an opportunity to optimize my foraging of native plants while aiming for a native food forest
 
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It's probably important to point out the difference between 'native' species and 'indigenous' species.

I've tried both, but can't properly integrate them near the wholly introduced food crops because of vastly different nutritional requirements - most natives and indigenous species hate phosphorus, so there's not too many choices to grow fruit/veggies near them.

However, we do have Macadamia and a Finger Lime growing near Callistemons (bottlebrush trees). The Callistemons are indigenous, the others are natives.

Other indigenous or native 'bush tucker' plants are more curiosities than useful day-to-day kitchen foods - some western/eastern herb replacements plants, etc, but most are hard work to grow and be adequately productive ... noting aboriginal people tended to be seasonally nomadic over a broad but defined area, taking small amounts of things.

We do also have native ground covers, like Pigface, which are edible and have a palette of flower colours akin to a child's crayon collection.

The nearby veggie garden benefits from the abundance of flowers put out by the Macadamia and Bottle Brush trees, and the Pigfaces, which attract many species of native and introduced pollinators: bees, wasps, hover fly, etc; and several types of Dragon Fly. The ecology must be working because there's heaps of spiders, lizards and the all important frogs.

Selectively allowing the chooks to 'graze' keeps things buzzing along - insect control, weed clearance, turning over the soil beneath the trees, happy hens producing very healthy eggs!

 
Daron Williams
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Thanks for sharing J Davis. When I moved into my place I was surprised how many fruit trees there actually were hidden among big blackberry thickets. It is really important to step back and observe before acting.

Thanks for sharing F Agricola. Your climate is a bit warmer than mine I really don't know my subtropical or tropical plants. Interesting though and thanks for sharing!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Daron Williams wrote:
Tyler – great to hear that you have included some native plants in your kitchen garden. I would love to see some pictures if you don’t mind sharing.



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Winecups in future Blackberry area
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Winecups with Prickly Pear
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Winecups with Beets, Kale, and Collards
 
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My definition of a "native plant" is anything that is currently growing in the wildlands around my farm.

My farm, and the surrounding 20,000 square miles, was at the bottom of a lake during the last ice-age, therefore every plant and animal growing on it are from somewhere else. In any case, I don't have much hope of identifying more than a few of the thousands of species that grow in this area. It's easiest to warmly welcome every species from anywhere/anytime.
 
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This is a bit of a guilty topic for me. I'm often torn as to how I should feel about it.

Where I live, a lot of the native plants are having a hard time adapting to climate change. Many of our cedars are dying from drought stress, for example. Some people have suggested using native plants from further south, like California. The results have been mixed. While many of these plants can survive the hot and dry summers, they are not adapted to this cold of a zone and freeze out. I think native plants have many benefits, but at this point, I just look for things that grow well here and, as Joseph said, I welcome them. I do make an effort to try to save space for some, like lupines and the native hawthorn, but the it's a mixed bag.

If I filled my property with native plants that grew well around here 100 years ago a large proportion of them would die. My valley used to be comprised of wetlands; it's dried out significantly due to warmer summers causing the water table to drop. Even the domesticated non-native apples that people planted here 100 years ago are no longer thriving, even when young specimens are planting. Things have changed. If I tried to fill my land with natives only I would end up with less biodiversity than the way that I manage it now due to all the losses.

Another thing that I think about is overall food production. To be blunt, a lot of the native plants, being unimproved, are less productive than domesticated varieties that are well adapted to our area. Huckleberries take more labor to harvest per pound than blueberries or gooseberries. Oak trees take a lot longer to start bearing nuts here than chestnuts or walnuts, and some of the natives that used to grow here need those wetter conditions to really thrive. I was told the other day by a person familiar with the topic that in 2018 100,000 people moved to Portland Oregon from out of state, most of them from states that are suffering in one way or another from climate change (drought, fire, hurricanes, extreme and prolonged cold, etc.) I feel that this is just the beginning of a great deal of climate related migration. Keeping this in mind, I feel that it is my responsibility to be conscious in my plantings to try to prepare myself to grow more food. It will be needed.
 
Daron Williams
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Great comments all and thanks Tyler for sharing the pictures!

I get that James - I live in the same area and have seen not just red cedars but also Douglas firs struggling with the droughts the last few years. As someone who manages large restoration projects in our area this has been a big stress for me. How do I restore an area with the changes we are seeing? How do I know that the trees I plant now will survive the next say 100 years?

I have looked at species from northern California and also Oregon. Incense cedar is one that I have looked into. But so far for my restoration projects I have not planted these. But I'm open to it because I believe that if the temperatures were increasing at a more moderate pace (taking a few thousand years to increase a few degrees C) that the trees found in Oregon and even northern California would have moved up to western Washington on their own. So in this case I'm just mimicking what could have been expected to happen naturally.

But as I said I have not used plants like incense cedar yet. But I have been looking into getting native plants from warmer areas. Say a Douglas fir grown from seed that came from a few hundred miles south of here. Hopefully that Douglas fir would have genes that make it more resistant to droughts.

I'm also picking native plants that are better adapted for droughts and planting them instead of the ones that would normally be found in the area. For example, shore pine instead of Douglas fir and Douglas (Rocky Mountain) maple instead of vine maple or big leaf maples. I'm also experimenting with more direct seeding instead of transplanting for forest restoration - learning a lot from the prairie restoration people since they already use direct seeding.

So there are some options for working with natives in a changing landscape.

As far as the productivity side of natives I agree with you fully - most have not been cultivated and improved for human consumption. There are some exceptions like serviceberries where you can buy cultivated varieties that get bigger and more flavorful berries. But the native plants that work as greens are easy to include and don't have the same production issue. Miner's lettuce for example was exported to Europe and is now being grown in fields to be used in high end restaurants. Luckily for us it is native Plus since our area has a lot of forests there are some really great shade tolerant native plants that are edible and will happily grow under conifers.

But as Nicole mentioned not all strains of miner's lettuce are as tasty as others. This seems to be true for a lot of our natives - there is just a lot of genetic variation. For example, some salmonberries taste really awesome but some are just meh. I found a patch of salal at one of my restoration sites that grow 6 to 8 feet tall in thick shrubs and get huge juicy berries that rival blueberries. I have never seen other salal grow like that - my plan is to try to propagate salal from cuttings, root fragments, and seed from that patch on my own homestead. I just need a bit more shade before I start trying to plant it at my place.

For those of you that are not familiar with salal it normally grows a couple feet high at most in the shade under forests but also along the coast. The berries from it are seedy and a bit meh but were historically used and mixed with other native berries. The salal I found is just amazing and so different - I brought a local plant expert out to see it and she could not stop talking about how unusual and awesome that specific salal patch was.

I think there is a lot of possibilities of developing new improved strains of our native plants. Just as Joseph has been doing that with vegetables and other plants at his place I hope people start doing that with native plants too. I'm going to start that work at my own place in a few years once I get my experimental garden beds built. Who knows what new perennial (or annual) food crops could be waiting for us to develop!

Thanks again for the comments!
 
J Davis
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If you are concerned over tree die off, take a look at the heavy metal content of the soil and how it is changing over time.

I urigate the nut and fruit trees I want to support hoping that it will help them chelate sufficiently.

Aluminum, barium, strontium on the rise in soil. Finding species that are tolerant should be a field of study since stopping the rise of these metals in our soil doesn't seem to be within our power.
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
My state has incurred this problem and the bob white quail is almost completely gone from much of it's range because of the disappearing native grasses.

Redhawk



Oh! This brought back memories of childhood camping on our land, and the bob whites and whip-poor-will's calling. That's so rare now.
 
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Yay!!!  New perrenial veggies to introduce.  Native here in the city mostly means chicory, yarrow, lambs quarters, dandelion and THISTLE.  Finally the thistle seems to be giving way to clovers though.  I use all of the others as edibles and medicinal but mostly usr the thistle as chop and drop or pull and drop mulch.  It is a slow process on the initially crappy soil that is an abandoned city lot, but it is becoming more vibrant each year.
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Great post, Daron! I like what you say about native plants.

J Davis wrote:I urigate the nut and fruit trees I want to support ...



I love that word, urigate"!!! Thank you for the word.
 
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We're in central Virginia, in the Piedmont.

I've been investigating the Colonial gardening of this area, information mostly coming from Williamsburg VA and Monticello (Thomas Jefferson), and am intrigued that so much of what we've always thought was "new" in organic gardening was going on back then. One example, the integration of larger plants into Zone 1-2. These often included dwarf fruit trees.

I'll mention here 2 which are native for consideration: pawpaw and elder. Elder can be of the local native type or of other species. The pawpaw, once nearly extinct, is attracting renewed attention. Though it is nearly impossible to get it to market in edible form, as it deteriorates quickly, for subsistence it is an excellent crop. The fruit is very tasty, sort of a banana pudding.

We're on very poor red clay soil here but amending it constantly and while our first attempt to get pawpaw seedlings to grow failed miserably, we do have an elder succeeding. I'm sure everyone knows of the benefits of elder so I won't bore you with that.

Pawpaw will grow nearly everywhere north of Mexico except the SW, which is too dry. Elder likewise.
 
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- Dwarf Checkerbloom: Has edible leaves and flowers with a mild flavor - can be cooked or eaten raw.
- Early Blue Violet: Has edible leaves and flowers with a mild flavor - can be cooked, or eaten raw and used in teas.
- Miner's Lettuce: Has edible leaves, stems and flowers. Very good for salads. Very shade tolerant.
- Nodding Onion: Strong onion taste but can be used like a regular onion. Greens can be harvested like chives or green onions.
- Oregon Stonecrop: Nice crunchy edible leaves with a nice flavor. Can be cooked or eaten raw.
- Pacific Waterleaf: Edible leaves with nice mild flavor that can be eaten raw or cooked. Also, has edible rhizomes that taste similar to Chinese bean sprouts. Very shade tolerant.
- Redwood Sorrel: Edible leaves/stems raw or cooked with a tangy lemony flavor. Very shade tolerant.



This is one of the big reasons I like to read permies posts.  Filling holes in my data base.  A couple of new edible species I didn't know about!  Party!!!  Bonus!!!  A couple more arrows in the quiver.  I may never use the info, but then again I might have the opportunity.
 
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I live on the east coast. I have land west of central Virginia.

I sprouted a pawpaw from seed, but I learned that it has to be winter hardened to sprout. My first time sprouting was a failure because I sowed the seed in spring. Local nurseries sell pawpaws, and you can buy a one-year or three-year old tree; that saves time to fruiting. If I recall, paw paw fruits after five/six years.

link to KSU pawpaw page: https://kysu.edu/academics/cafsss/pawpaw/

Here is a fascinating link to NATIVE BEES: https://bugguide.net/node/view/475348
It turns out, honey bees don't pollinate tomato or eggplant flowers. Until I read this, I never knew that so many bees were European. Nor did I know there were so many native bees.

My other native plants are all wildflowers.
I have butterfly weed -- which is a beautiful orange flower -- that comes back bigger every year; I have seen butterfly weed (not to be confused with butterfly bush) for sale in garden catalogs. I have a firepink plant that I am trying to propagate, but I can't find info on the internet about it (shade tolerant). My land has lots of preexisting milkweed, so I leave those and don't mow. I also am gifted with swarms of preying mantis every year, so I keep a meadow space for them. I can't believe how fast they grow.

I have some wild grape on my land (unidentified). Crabapple and persimmon trees, too, but they look young, and I'm not sure they are wild. I can't imagine anybody would plant a crabapple tree deliberately.
This year I am hoping to add honey locust, elder, black walnut and yarrow.
 
James Landreth
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J Davis wrote:

But if you are concerned over tree die off, take a look at the heavy metal content of the soil and how it is changing over time.

Aluminum, barium, strontium on the rise in soil. Finding species that are tolerant should be a field of study since stopping the rise of these metals in our soil doesn't seem to be within our power.




This isn't a topic I'm familiar with, but I don't think it's heavy metals. Many of the trees I have seen that are dying are in or near the cascade mountains. There's no industry, current or historic, near there. Unless heavy metals can somehow move uphill (which I suppose could be possible in this day and age) I doubt they are a problem there. Pollution intolerant non native plants that are adapted to drought survive here. Everything I've heard and seen points to water and climate related stress
 
Mick Fisch
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If I filled my property with native plants that grew well around here 100 years ago a large proportion of them would die. My valley used to be comprised of wetlands; it's dried out significantly due to warmer summers causing the water table to drop. Even the domesticated non-native apples that people planted here 100 years ago are no longer thriving, even when young specimens are planting. Things have changed. If I tried to fill my land with natives only I would end up with less biodiversity than the way that I manage it now due to all the losses.



I drove through that area in the early 80's and thought it was lush and beautiful, a veritable garden of eden.  

The climate is shifting, as it seems it has throughout recorded (and unrecorded, according to tree rings and other clues) history.  

A quick look on the internet seemed to show no great drop in rainfall in your area over the last few decades.  The lowest year I saw was several years ago with 33 inches, which is about 10 inches lower than the next several years.  I wonder if part of the problem is not climate change, but rather lots of water being pulled out of the water table for human agricultural, domestic and industrial consumption?  As was noted in another thread, the regional population increase has been huge, and people suck up lots of water for a wide variety of reasons.  Could it be that the water table is dropping partly due to water mining?  (I realize this is the wet side of Oregon and there is quite a bit of rain so it's not like Tucson, AZ, but I think my question is reasonable).  

My uncles home in AZ had all kinds of water in the aquafer, until a water company moved in nearby and started pumping all day, 5 days a week to haul water to a growing town down the mountain that didn't have as good of an aquafer.  Soon, my uncle and his neighbors had to get any water they wanted early in the morning before the company started pumping or else their wells were dry.  In his case, it was easy to identify the culprit because of the companies habit of not pumping at night or on weekends, and because it's effects happened so soon after they moved in and started pumping.  If it had happened 5 years after they moved in, they would have blamed climate change.  unfortunately, in his case, because of the local laws, identifying the culprit didn't stop the theft of common resources and they are still pumping.

We have a tendency to find a favorite boogyman that we blame for all our problems in a knee jerk type reaction.  (It changes from time to time, ranging from the communists, the capitalists, immigrants, global cooling (in the 70's)).  Currently it seems to be climate change.

I am not in your area, and I can't see the long term local conditions, so I am simply seeking clarification.  Rather than blame climate change, which is hard to get a handle on, there may be a major water thief in the area.
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks for the comments all! I’m enjoying reading all the replies 😊

J Davis – Thanks for the comment! Some of my restoration sites have old garbage dumps and other issues. Many are very degraded due to past actions. I’m sure metals in the soil could be an issue. I have overtime found certain native plants to be very adaptable – shore pine is one of them and I have shifted to using those adaptable plants a lot more.

Erica – I grew up with quail too and one of my goals is to get some to live on my property.

Cris – Thanks for sharing! I would say that area is very vibrant – looks great!

Rebecca – Thank you!

Victor – Thanks for the great comment! It is really interesting to learn what was being grown before we started shipping food all over. Pawpaw is a great example – it may not be native to my area, but I do have 2 on order that I will be planting in a couple months 😊 There are 2 native elderberries in my area and I have planted both.

Mick – Happy I could provide some useful information 😊 I agree – permies is a great resource! There are a lot of ways people have impacted the environment. Hard to say at the local scale which are having the biggest impact – could easily be a mix of several. Over using water is a major issue in a lot of places as you mentioned.

Bunny – Thanks for the great post! I’m excited to get my pawpaws in a couple months. I hope they do well here in western WA. I really want to setup my place to support native bees – thanks for sharing the link! Sounds like you have some great native flowers growing at your place.

James – Ya it can be hard to determine the exact cause of the observed issues. Though some pollutants are traveling through the air. My understanding is mercury has gotten into most environments that way. But that is a discussion for another thread.
 
James Landreth
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The population in my area has declined. You are right in that rainfall has remained the same overall, but it has essentially stopped raining half the year. We now get all our rain over just a few months which makes for a wetter winter. The intense heat and drought coupled with no rainfall seem to be the culprit for pulling the water out, as between depopulation and a vast reduction in local agriculture, there is certainly less water being pulled out than before by human beings.

It is also not just my area, but across the region that we are seeing this stress and die off. Water isn't being pulled out of the ground in the relatively vast protected areas of the northwest, many of which are hilly or mountainous and would not be affected by water mining elsewhere
 
Tyler Ludens
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Mick Fisch wrote:
Rather than blame climate change, which is hard to get a handle on, there may be a major water thief in the area.



My area used to have lots of springs and year-round creeks.  Now most of the springs are gone and many of the creeks are only seasonally flowing.  This has been caused partly by wells being dug but mostly by damage to the watershed from poor land management.  Much of this area used to be Tallgrass Prairie but is now scrubby Oak and Juniper woodland and eaten-down rangeland.  Even if the Prairie couldn't be restored, the watersheds could be restored by some fairly simple practices as described by, among others, Brad Lancaster.  https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/  We've only been implementing these techniques seriously for a few years but we're already seeing improvement in the amount of water our land is capturing and the number of native plants we're being able to reintroduce.
 
Daron Williams
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I really like Brad Lancaster's books. Lots of great information in them for retaining water on your properties. I'm slowly implementing some of his techniques on my property.
 
pollinator
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A quick look on the internet seemed to show no great drop in rainfall in your area over the last few decades.  The lowest year I saw was several years ago with 33 inches, which is about 10 inches lower than the next several years.  I wonder if part of the problem is not climate change, but rather lots of water being pulled out of the water table for human agricultural, domestic and industrial consumption?  As was noted in another thread, the regional population increase has been huge, and people suck up lots of water for a wide variety of reasons.  Could it be that the water table is dropping partly due to water mining?  (I realize this is the wet side of Oregon and there is quite a bit of rain so it's not like Tucson, AZ, but I think my question is reasonable).  


The ground water draw down is a problem but the drought problem is the increasing length and warmth of our dry season.  Historically the dry season started after the 4th of July to the mid September now it is starting in May or early June. These months did not have heavy rain but sufficient to prevent the soil drying down.  My ponds would have water in them through July The last 2 years they were dry in June. This winter they fill and then draw down to mud by the next rain storm.
This has been a problem for the wild edible I was going to mention: Thimble berry.  This is a dissiduos shrub with large maple shaped leaves and large white pettel flower that form into thin thimble shaped raspberry type berries.  The seeds are so fine they make exilent dried berries with sweet/tart flavor and will often dry right on the plant in hot weather. I don't have any pictures but perhaps when they bloom I can edit one in.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I've been watering my thimbleberries the last few years. The ones that get full sun get too stressed by the heat and make dried up berries. If I water them, they do alright, and the ones in the shadier areas do okay. But, I'm pretty sure they shouldn't need supplemental water!

My pond also has been drying up. When we moved in 6 years ago, it was pretty full all the way into August. We'd thought we could have some native fish in there, maybe. Two summers back, it was dried down to a mud puddle! This summer it continued to have a depth of about a foot of water, rather than 8 feet. Our homestead is in the foothills, so if it rains anywhere, it rains at my place. Other neighbors complained about the rain--I'm just glad my plants don't die! Of course, with all the "rural cluster housing developments" going in everywhere, I don't know how long my rainy (and snowy!) microclimate will last. They're putting in a 30 house subdivision on  on our street. We walked up there last summer, and it was a good 20 degrees hotter than at our place, just due to that black asphalt, bare earth, and lack of trees .
 
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GREAT thread. Very inspiring, and started topically by a person in my region.

I am unsure in ordering natives, where i should locate them optimally. In totally disturbed regions, like on swales, supporting trees? Integrated into veg gardens? Or, perhaps obviously, in areas such as where they'd normally grow. I have planned locations for wapato and can think of existing areas for many other natives, but I'd like to order natives in multiples and plant them in different places to see who does best...but ideally no one would die.

I also feel like this question is hopelessly general.
 
Hans Quistorff
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I also feel like this question is hopelessly general.


That is why the replies should give specifics of the conditions the plants did well in or the conditions where you want to plant.
Much of Mason
county is sand and gravel left in irregular heaps with scattered ponds an lakes. So I have observed extremes of habitat there.

As a side note here is a listing of native plant nurseries. http://www.plantnative.org/nd_wa.htm
 
Nicole Alderman
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Fredy Perlman wrote:GREAT thread. Very inspiring, and started topically by a person in my region.

I am unsure in ordering natives, where i should locate them optimally. In totally disturbed regions, like on swales, supporting trees? Integrated into veg gardens? Or, perhaps obviously, in areas such as where they'd normally grow. I have planned locations for wapato and can think of existing areas for many other natives, but I'd like to order natives in multiples and plant them in different places to see who does best...but ideally no one would die.

I also feel like this question is hopelessly general.



When I plant my natives, I try to first plant them near wild areas--in wetlands, etc that are disturbed--so that they can increase the diversity of the area. If they are particularly tasty (or I paid a lot of money for them), I'll plant them right in my zone 1 and 2 so I can ensure that they survive, and enjoy their tastiness. I've got a wildflower mix that I've been sewing wherever I have disturbed ground due to digging. Also, when I get a multiples of a new plant I've never grown before, I try and plant it in as many places as I can, in hopes that ONE of them will work, and then the plant will reproduce and I can spread the plant via it's offspring.

If I were in your shoes, I would probably split the plantings between all three areas, with a higher percentage of the tasty/expensive natives planted where you can keep an eye on them and nurture them as need be.
 
Daron Williams
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Fredy Perlman wrote:GREAT thread. Very inspiring, and started topically by a person in my region.

I am unsure in ordering natives, where i should locate them optimally. In totally disturbed regions, like on swales, supporting trees? Integrated into veg gardens? Or, perhaps obviously, in areas such as where they'd normally grow. I have planned locations for wapato and can think of existing areas for many other natives, but I'd like to order natives in multiples and plant them in different places to see who does best...but ideally no one would die.

I also feel like this question is hopelessly general.



I have a general rule for my homestead - every planting area must have at least 1 native plant mixed in and ideally multiple native plants. I tend to favor nitrogen fixers and edible native plants but I do plant plenty that don't fit those 2 categories.

Some areas like my vegetable garden will be primarily non-native but like I mentioned in the first post I have at least 7 native edible veggies that I plan to include in and around the garden.

I think a key thing is to not think about native plants any differently than non-native plants. How do you decide where to plant non-native plants? The same process works for native ones. The advantage of native plants is they support a wider range of wildlife than non-native ones. Otherwise, they really can be treated as any other plant each with their own pros and cons.

As far as where to order them (for Western Washington) here are some options:

- Burnt Ridge Nursery: Mostly non-native but do have natives - retail not wholesale.
- Fourth Corner Nursery: Wholesale nursery so the plants are sold in bundles.
- Sound Native Plants: Located in Olympia, not sure if they ever mail plants - I don't think so. I get a lot of plants from them - retail for most people and wholesale for organizations.
- Woodbrook Nursery: Retail or wholesale (owner is picky who gets wholesale pricing) and you need to pick up the plants as a homeowner. Located in Gig Harbor.
- Washington Association of Conservation Districts Plant Materials Center: Good for bareroot plants at wholesale prices but you need to order a minimum of $200 worth of plants. Plants come in bundles and orders are normally placed in summer or fall and delivered starting in February until mid-spring.

Another option is to see if the conservation district for your county does a yearly native plant sale. A lot do that and it can be a good way to get plants. There may be local community groups that also do native plant sales. One in the Olympia area is Native Plant Salvage. They also run salvage events where you can volunteer to dig up plants in areas that are being developed. I get a fair number of free native plants that way.

Hope that helps!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Daron Williams wrote:The advantage of native plants is they support a wider range of wildlife than non-native ones. Otherwise, they really can be treated as any other plant each with their own pros and cons.



I love visiting an ecosystem, and actually counting the number of species of insects, birds, plants, etc. What I observe with my own eyes, is that ecosystems containing plants that are not endemic to this continent are often very supportive of plant and animal life. For example, when I counted species in a stand of willows compared to a nearby stand of tamarisk, the tamarisk attracted many more birds, plants, and insects than the willows. It was like 3X to 8X more species associated with the tamarisk than with the willows.



 
Daron Williams
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I'm not arguing that you should only plant natives so really no need for a debate here. I'm just suggesting to include natives too and not just on the edges of our homesteads or where they just happen to show up. Lets design with them in a purposeful way that can truly take advantage of the benefits they provide.

I don't doubt your observations but I also don't doubt the many observations made over the years by scientists studying insects and birds and which habitats they find the highest diversity of life.

My main point is let's include natives and non-natives and be purposeful about both. That way we can enjoy the abundance both groups create.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:Part of it is also a lack of knowledge – it is hard for a PDC to teach about native plants and it is a lot of work to learn about native plants. Most gardening books don’t talk about them and most plant nurseries don’t carry them. The Master Gardener programs don’t help much either.



I think it's quite odd at times to see what is considered "native" and what isn't. According to some, the whole of the American continent must have been a desert before the European settlers arrived because EVERYTHING is listed as coming from somewhere else. I saw one idiot say that pine trees aren't native. Name nearly any useful plant, and you'll find someone (supposedly authoritative) who says that it was imported from Europe, or Asia, or whatever.
 
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