Going Native With A Plant Society

Pacific rhododendron, the state flower of Washington, is an evergreen shrub with pale purple blooms.

It's the fun and companionship, Catherine Hovanic says, that has made the Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS) thrive. Assemble people who delight in getting to know native plants in the wild, and they will form strong friendships around the effort to protect and ex pand native plant habitat.

WNPS has more than 1800 members with chapters throughout the state. They learn about and propagate northwest native plants, enjoy field trips, get involved in restoration projects, and advocate for native plant habitat protection.

Catherine Hovanic makes some strong arguments for getting rid of your lawn in favor of native shrubs and ground covers. Natives, after the first year, can do without the fertilizer and pesticides that you would be pouring on a grass lawn (and that find their way into your local salmon stream), not to mention the high-priced drinking water that grass lawns thirst for.

Native plant landscaping has soared in Washington, says Catherine, WNPS's Administrator. One consequence: attendance at the organization's annual native plant sale has tripled in recent years. To help satisfy the surge in popularity, members propagate natives from seeds and cuttings in hundreds of backyard beds throughout the Puget Sound Region. Members promise not to collect plants in the wild, but do-after thorough training-help salvage natives from development sites about to be bulldozed.

Native plants are especially popular among those trying to establish or improve wildlife habitat. "Our native wildlife co-evolved with our native plants," Hovanic points out, "and natives are the best habitat you can provide for the species you want to keep here. Exotics may work well for bird habitat or as a source of food in certain locations, but at the same time they may be crowding out native species that would work better."

In other words, just because birds are feeding on English ivy or Himalayan blackberry doesn't mean that's what they prefer. These invaders crowd out native plants and with them any number of beneficial insects or other organisms that are beneficial to birds.

The plant society advocated successfully for the official listing of English ivy as a noxious weed, and helped organize the "ivy out" campaign in Seattle. Volunteers are currently working the hard way to remove English ivy from local parks and greenspaces-by yanking it out.

Asked to define her organization, Catherine says, "We're the voice of Washington native plants, trying to protect the incredible plant diversity we have here. We'll keep on doing that, and enjoying native plants with others sharing the same interest."

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