There are many interpretations of what is a native plant. A simple definition is a native plant is one that was growing in the region before European settlement. A problem with this definition is there is no way of knowing for sure what was growing here 400 years ago. The import thing is a native plant should fit in the flora and not be invasive.
Finding and growing native plants may not be easy. Most of the plants available at large home improvement stores have been developed to withstand poor planting, grow quickly, and easy to maintain. They can be grown with minimal watering, fertilization, spraying and other maintenance. Some natives take extra care and attention to get established. To find native plant you must seek out a local nursey that carries them or mail order.
There are a couple of reasons to go through the effort to grow native plants. The main benefit is for the birds and insects. Native animals rely on native plants to exist. Larvae of many butterflies and beetles will only eat native species. My hummingbird feeder with sugar water rarely gets visits. It’s exciting to watch hummingbirds dart around Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) and Hot Lips Sage (Salvia microphylla). It’s probably better for them. The other reason is emotional. Native plants are beautiful plants with attractive flowers, fruits, and foliage. They also give a sense of heritage. Growing native plants gives a sense of place by supporting plants that were common to this area over 400 years ago.
The Annual Cape Fear Native Plant Festival will take place in September. Many nurseries in the area participate in this festival with specials and presentations. Shelton Herb Farm at 340 Goodman Road in Leland has many native plants for sale. Other smaller nurseries may also be there. For a complete list of participating nurseries and presentation, visit The Friends of the Arboretum New Hanover website. You can also watch videos of prior year’s presentations on this website.
For More Information about Native Plants visit NC State Extension website and search on Native Plants for the North Carolina Master Gardener Handbook Chapter 12 on Native Plants. Another great source is Native Plants of the Southeast by Larry Mellichamp.