SUMMARY: a quicky tour of a child's garden, or
Something short and sweet to show the Ranger or Staff Officer.

Restlessness Among the Natives
An essay on the appropriate uses of native plants.
By Wayne R. Owen
Forest Botanist, Boise Nat. Forest (R04F02A)

In recent years, the planting of native species has become an important part of ecosystem management. This new focus brings with it new ideas and questions such as "what does it truly mean to be native". In the past, "native" meant native to the US or North America. A more technical definition of native considers that each population is in many ways genetically unique. This latter, more technical definition is being widely used today among restorationists of all stripes. While I am a great defender of the genetic definition of "native", I realize that there are situations in which it is not clear that genetically local natives would be the best choice of plant material.

Life in the swamp: We have been using genetically nonlocal material of some species for a long time (e.g., Mountain brome and Bluebunch wheatgrass). This practice has probably influenced the local genetic structure of true native populations so that it would be difficult in all cases to make a strong case for the use of local natives. Consult both your Range and Cultural Heritage Staffs for some assistance with this material.

Autoerotica: Many species of plants are self pollinating or asexual. Such species would pose a lower threat to the local genetic structure of native populations.

Its a small world after all: Plant breeding systems and the vagaries of individual species makes it difficult to define seed transfer zones. Additionally, the geographic and elevational ranges over which genetically determined characters diverge will vary with the specific trait being considered. Examples for conifers and herbaceous perennials are given.

...the smell of napalm in the morning: When landscapes are drastically disturbed, it will be difficult to determine what plant material may be most appropriate for the altered site. I take another (well deserved) swipe at Russian Olive in this section.

The way things ought to be: There are many legal, scientific, ethical, and aesthetic reasons to use genetically local plant material for almost every project that we do. The main reasons that we use exotics and cultivars is that to do so is easy and cheap. Shame on us. Many Forests throughout the nation are making the change to genetically local material and the individuals involved should be sought out and thanked for their efforts. In the mean time it is potentially useful to discuss the potential legitimate exceptions to the golden rule (Go Native!). The important thing is that we think in terms of ecosystem health, not bureaucratic obstructionism.

For full text (5 pages + 2 pages of literature cites) contact:

Wayne R. Owen, Ph.D.
Forest Botanist, Boise National Forest (R04F02A)