There are several steps to choosing native plants for your area. First, you’ll need to determine whether the plants you are considering historically grew near where you are thinking about planting them. Next, you’ll need to be sure the species of plant will thrive with the amount of sunlight and moisture at the site. Finally, you’ll need to make a decision about whether you buy native plants or seed from a source near where you’ll be planting them, known as “local genotype.” We also have resources from our research at Michigan State University that can help you select a variety of native plants that will bloom throughout the season with consideration of their ability to attract beneficial insects, including pollinators. Visit the plant facts and regional plant lists sections of this website for in-depth information on specific native plants.
Was it native to this place?
A species is generally considered native if it historically grew without human introduction in the geographic area of interest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has information about whether a species is native to a particular state or county (http://plants.usda.gov/). Moreover, within any geographic area, a species might be native to particular habitats but not others. For example, common boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum is native throughout Michigan and while it will happily grow in a variety of wet to dry garden settings, in the wild it is typically only found in wetlands. You need to decide if a plant is appropriate to your setting based on the goals of a particular project.
Sunlight and soil conditions
All plants have a range of sunlight and soil conditions under which they will thrive, and generally a broader range that they can tolerate. Sunlight ranges from bright areas with full sun all day long, to deeply shaded areas. Soil conditions include pH, soil organic matter, nutrients, and water availability. Most native species will tolerate a range of both sunlight and soil conditions but a few are best suited to particular conditions. During the planning process it is advisable to have your soil tested and to record light availability at the site. With this information, plant suppliers will be able to guide you in selecting plants that fit the conditions of your land.
Use local vs. non-local genotypes?
Plant species become adapted to their local environments by passing on those genes that favor survival in a particular place. Over time, plants of the same species from different parts of their range may develop different genetic makeups called genotypes, even if they look very similar. Mixing plants of different genotypes could cause problems by introducing less well adapted genes into the population. One way to reduce those problems is to use what is known as a local genotype. This means using plants propagated from sources from as close as possible to where you will be planting or seeding. Using local genotype material helps ensure that you get plants that are well adapted to your region. A number of native plant producers focus on using local genotypes. The Michigan Native Plant Producers Association is one resource for those in Michigan.
If you are planting in an urban area, the ecosystem services provided by the plant likely outweigh whether or not it is a local genotype plant, but it is especially important to consider genotype in natural and semi-natural settings.
Our plant facts can help you compare and select native plants to suit your purposes.