What's That Mean? - Naturalized Plant

October 23, 2017

By: Barb Holtz

I went to grad school in North Carolina. I distinctly remember a conversation regarding toboggans. It was winter and had actually snowed. A friend spoke of donning his toboggan and I thought, " How does one put a large, wooden sled on his head? Do they careen down snow-laden slopes differently here than us Yankees?" Who knew a toboggan was a ski hat! Vocabulary matters.

I previously blogged about the term 'native plant', sharing the importance of words, and more so, understanding meaning. A native plant at many a garden center may include cultivars of said plant. To the natural landscaping community, this doesn't fly.

So, let's tackle another term - naturalized plant. Think chicory, dandelion or ground ivy. Not native (remember what that means?), but naturalized. These plants that have been present on local land for some time, but not before European settlement.  They reproduce and maintain life without human intervention. However, it doesn't matter how long they've lived here, they will never be part native plant.

Naturalized citizens of the landscape are not bad plants. Many traveled with pioneers or surveyors as tokens of home for medicine or sustenance or souvenirs. Take dandelions, for instance. Euorpean transplants with a resume that includes culinary and curative properties. Would you leave such a staple plant behind if traveling across the globe to a new world? Dandelions are firmly planted in the American landscape. The bane of most "lawn ranger" existence. Spray and pull and spray some more.

To the natural gardener or ecologist, dandelions are somewhat of a non-entity.  They stay put in "turf grass farms", namely, lawns. The yellow disks dotting suburban yards are not a threat to natural areas and actually provide nectar a-plenty for pollinators. Think about it...do you notice dandelions blanketing established forest or floodplain habitat? Nope.

The naturalized are not real threats to native flora. There are bigger weeds to tackle. Stay tuned to our time with terms as we define 'non-native, invasive'!

(Fade into Jaws theme as blog fades out....)