80606thumbOf course, to the plants who do it, naturalizing is an advantage. To the rest of us, it is often a problem. The advantage to the plants who do it is that they move into new territory, make themselves at home, and probably do quite well with the new place. The disadvantage to everyone else is that naturalizing plants may not play well with others, and consequently interfere with the ecosystem.

Most of the naturalizing plants whom we are aware of are aggressively invasive exotic (non-native) specie, such as Acacia dealbata, pampas grass, blue gum, broom and reed. They move in and compete with or exclude native vegetation. Some might interfere with native fauna as well. (All those monarch butterflies who swarm blue gum are ignoring specie who rely on them for pollination.)

Locally native plants can not naturalize because they are naturally there already. Therefore, all plants who naturalize are exotic. However, not all naturalized exotic specie are aggressively invasive. Some who can not survive without irrigation in the local chaparral climate may never get farther than being a weed in landscaped areas. Some bulbs may not spread from where they are planted.

Rose campion, sweet alyssum, cosmos, forget-me-not, four-o’-clock and nasturtium can replace themselves faster than they die out, but only where they get enough water. Some of the seedlings are likely to appear in situations where they are not wanted. Some might grow into situations where they might be desirable. There is no shame in allowing the desirable ones to continue growing.

Many of the most extensively bred garden varieties eventually revert to something more similar to their ancestors. For example, most of the fancier modern varieties of nasturtium, after a few generations, will bloom with more of the basic yellow and orange than they did when they were new. Eventually, almost all flowers will be yellow or orange. Such seedlings are known as ‘feral’, because they are more similar to the wild ancestry of nasturtium, than to the genetically unstable modern variety that was originally sown.

12 thoughts on “Naturalizing Might Be An Advantage

    1. Some people on the coast dislike them because the vining types climb over things and spread into the wild. I do not think that they are too invasive outside of landscaped areas. I also like how they fill up empty space before weeds do.

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  1. Our nasturtiums are also growing, some have just started to flower and others have been munched by the white spotted cabbage butterfly, which is our only alien butterfly. Pampas grass, blue gum and broom are all considered invasive here too.

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    1. Thank you. Much of the slang we use was invented while we were in school. My colleague and I were never the sort to go along with trends (and I have a nasty habit of exposing some of them as hooey), so it is ironic that the rest of our colleagues who treated us like social outcasts use the lingo that we invented.

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  2. Thanks for clarifying the difference between “exotic” and ” invasive” plants. it’s not well understood. Under disturbed conditions where a niche is left unstocked, aggressive natives like White Snakeroot, or Ageratum, (poisonous and deerproof) can behave invasively. There is a West coast movement to accept invasive plants as the new normal in disturbed landscapes. Website: https://milliontrees.me/ They have their points and I’m not unsympathetic, but here isn the east there’ll be nothing but Bush Honeysuckle, Privet, Wintercreeper and Porcelainberry in the woodlands if we leave well enough alone.

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    1. Their points are very wrong, and mostly inaccurate. I am a native here, and I know what the area has been through. Environmentalists very often do more damage than those who do nothing. No one wants to be reminded that most of the region (inland from San Francisco) is a chaparral climate. The Santa Clara Valley was quite barren, and is much more lush with urban development now than it has ever been! I want more trees there merely because they are pretty. However, cutting trees down would be more environmentally responsible. No one wants to hear that. I should write more article about it. I just do not like the response from uneducated people.

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  3. I have learned the hard way to avoid anything that is labeled as “naturalizes easily”! It doesn’t matter to me if they are native or not. I have a yard full of Yarrow now, and I would like much of it to go away!!

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    1. When I was a kid, I found a small packet of wildflower seed in a Sunset magazine in a waiting room in a hospital and took it. I felt guilty for taking it, since no one else had done so. Anyway, I planted the seed, and they grew and bloomed nicely; but the alyssum that was in it is still all over the garden. Fortunately, everyone likes it.

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  4. I love the way Nasturtiums grow in California. They are relatively feeble around here. I agree that naturalizing exotics should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Some are useful in the garden.

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    1. Yes, pampas grass is such a serious weed here, but garden varieties are quite nice in Los Angeles, where they are not expected to spread into the surrounding ecosystem. They have naturalized in all the places they can naturalize in, so will not get any worse.

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