Native Plants & The Wild Seed Project

The hybridization of native plants has lead to an increasing number of flowers that are inaccessible to pollinators. Many double-flowered cultivars have become so frilly that bees can’t even crawl into them to access pollen. Bees need unadorned single flowers. Despite the fact that many hybrids are no longer attractive to bees, they’re often still branded as pollinator plants. You won’t find any hybrid coneflowers here!

One hybrid gone wrong is that of the Northern Bush Honeysuckle, Diervilla lonicera, a vital host plant for five species of caterpillars. Heather McCargo, Executive Director of the Wild Seed Project, gave a fascinating talk at the Portland Public Library in which she described how recent introductions of Diervilla hybrids with red foliage actually deter the insects that depend on them. Plants have developed red foliage as an evolutionary trait to fend off defoliating insects, making red cultivars unappealing to native caterpillars and thus no longer a source of food. We’re offering the straight species here.

If you’re planting for insects and birds, avoid native ornamental hybrids. Some can be fun to throw in here and there, but they’re just for humans. The garden is an opportunity to create space where natural processes can occur. Microorganisms exist in the duff, so allow leaf mulch to build up. Accept that sometimes insects are going to defoliate our favorite plants. Not all caterpillars are pests!

The Maine-based non-profit Wild Seed Project is a great place to learn about growing native plants from seed and incorporating them into the landscape. Wild Seed Project works to increase the use of native plants in all settings in order to conserve biodiversity, encourage plant adaptation in the face of climate change, safeguard wildlife habitat and create pollination and migration corridors for insects and birds. As a small cooperative seeking to provide ethically sourced plants to our customers, we at Fedco have been deeply appreciative of guidance from Wild Seed in helping us determine which plants are at-risk of being pillaged in the wild.