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Natives and Native Varieties

Echinacea purpurea

The native plants of Avonlea Gardens have been categorized using the terms
“native” and “native variety.”

What is a native?

Native is synonymous with the term “straight species”. I like this definition of a
native from the University of Maryland Extension: “A native plant is one that
occurs naturally in an ecoregion and habitat, where over the course of evolutionary
time, it has adapted to the physical conditions and co-evolved with the other
species in the ecosystem.”

The word native is usually used with a geographic qualifier, such as “native to
North America” or “native to Ohio.” The more definite and specific the nativity,
the better for the environment. For Avonlea Gardens, when I list a plant in our
inventory as native, I generally mean native to North America.

However, I have created a list identifying those plants in our inventory that are
native specifically to Ohio – and I am happy to say, most of our native plants are!
(This Excel spreadsheet is available for download – just click the button above!)

If you wish to be even more geographically specific, I recommend visiting the
website USDA PLANTS database at https://plants.usda.gov/home. Zoom in on the
distribution map to see if a plant is native to your county.

What is a native variety?

A native variety is a cultivar of a native plant, also referred to as a “nativar.” A
cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced by humans via selective breeding.

Do native varieties or cultivars provide for our native wildlife? It depends on
which plant trait of the straight species was genetically modified.

A research team including Doug Tallamy, Professor in the Department of
Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, performed a study
funded by the Mt. Cuba Center to test this question. Six commonly cultivated
plant characteristics of woody plants were tested for effect on insect herbivory:
compactness of size, disease resistance, increased berry size, enhanced fall color,
changing leaf color from green to red or purple, and variegation of leaf color.
The only cultivated characteristic that consistently deterred insect feeding (and
reduced the wildlife value) was changing the color of a green leaf to red or purple.
(To make a leaf red or purple is to change the leaf chemistry, adding anthocyanin
pigments which are feeding deterrents.) “Among other studied
characteristics—enhanced fruiting, fall color, leaf variegation, disease resistance,
and altered growth habit—there was no observable decrease in insect foraging, and
in some cases the cultivars were more attractive than the wild types.”
For the full research paper, please visit:

When deciding to buy a cultivar, it is a good idea to research how the plant has
been changed from the straight species to ensure that cultivation has not
decreased the wildlife value.

Should you have any questions on this or anything else, please feel free to

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