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Calvin Hosts Native Plants Sale
May 2, 2006

The Bunker Interpretive Center at Calvin College will hold a native plant sale from 10 am to noon on Saturday, May 6.

The sale, featuring species indigenous to Michigan, will benefit the center’s “Wetland and Woodland” summer camps.

“We also want to increase the presence of native plants in people’s gardens,” says Calvin biology professor Dave Warners, one of the sale’s organizers.

The plants, all local genotypes, will be priced at half of what they fetch when sold by native plant dealers.

A six to 10 inch pot size will sell for $2–$3 each, while a four-celled tray will cost $2.50.

All of the plants featured in the sale were germinated from seed collected from natural areas in West Michigan (“with proper permission,” Warners adds, laughing) and raised in greenhouses in the Ecosystem Preserve at Calvin.

Wild Columbine, two species of Black-eyed Susans, four species of milkweed, Joe Pye Weed, four species of goldenrod, Canada anemone, big-leaf aster, wild strawberry, native prairie grasses, sunflower and silphium are some of the species that will be available at Saturday’s sale.

Warners is a big fan of native plants and quick to praise their many benefits for gardeners, one of which is their hardiness.

“These plants have been here for a really, really long time, so they’re well adapted to a West Michigan climate," he says. "When they’re planted in the proper soil type and sun conditions they need very little care — virtually no fertilizer and minimum pesticides.”

Another benefit of using native plants, he says, is that they support native pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. One such plant is butterfly weed, a species of milkweed.

“It’s the primary nectar source for monarch butterflies,” Warners says. "They lay their eggs on the plant, and the butterfly larvae eat the leaves of the plants. The milkweeds are essential for monarch butterflies.”

Whereas non-native plants, like wild buckthorn, garlic mustard and purple loosestrife, will grow aggressively, crowding out other species, native plants don’t cause those kinds of problems, Warners says.

He notes too that native plants get more and more scarce as development overtakes natural areas, and the gene pool for the native plants gets smaller and smaller.

"By planting native plants within developed areas, we create islands of potential gene sources that can be used for cross pollination with native populations, thereby increasing genetic diversity,” he says.

Not the least of the benefits of native plants, he said, is their historical authenticity.

“They connect us to our natural heritage of Michigan. They are the plants grew here before we were here.”

Warners even defends the much-maligned goldenrod.

“When people hear goldenrod," he says, "they think Canada goldenrod because it flowers at the same time as rag weed. People start to sneeze and they look out and see all this yellow and they blame Canada goldenrod. Canada goldenrod has a bad reputation that it doesn’t deserve. It’s amazing how some of these myths get perpetuated.”

Warners efforts to promote native plant species are one of the reasons he won a 2006 Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award. He is hoping for a good turnout at Saturday’s sale.

“I think a helpful way to think about using native plants is to think about planting birdfeeders,” he said. “Instead of buying bird feeders, you plant the plants. You benefit from the flowers, and the birds benefit from the seeds. They’re like living bird feeders.”

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson