The Midwest Wildflower Mix pictured above has 18 species. Nine are non-native and 1 is invasive. This is typical of many mixes
In recent years there has been increasing interest in using native plant species for landscaping, pollinator habitat and habitat restoration. Because a native plant species existed and evolved in a particular location, the soil biome, other plants, and animals, including insects, have developed associations with these species on which they depend for continued existence. Therefore, native plants are favored because they will be adapted to soil and moisture conditions and interact with local insect populations.
While the use of native plants is a positive trend, the way that the term “native” is interpreted varies widely. In a broad sense, “native” can apply to species originating in North America. North American species are certainly preferable to those, for instance, of European or Asian origin; most of us know of plants of European origin that have become invasive weeds, such as purple loosestrife or dandelion.
We advocate applying a much narrower definition of “native,” particularly if your goal is to improve habitat for native pollinators. Seeking plant species that are native to and originated within your local ecological region, (i.e, typically within 200-300 miles), also known as local-ecotype, will make it more likely that your planting benefits the native pollinator species in your area. You will also want to make sure the plants are appropriate for the wetness and soil type of your area as those factors can change within an ecoregion.
When purchasing seed, a seed mix, or plants, do not assume that all the plant species are native to your area because it says so on the package or because the person at the feed store or the landscaper said they are. DO check the label! Also avoid using cultivars of native species, because these are selected for certain traits such as color or flower size and may not be as beneficial to native insect populations. A cultivar will have a scientific name with a cultivar name in single quotes, for example, Achillea millefolium ‘pink pastel’.
Below is an example of what I mean. This list of species came from the label of a “native” seed mix sold from a bulk barrel (and that is another issue; in bulk the seed settles and separates so that smaller seed falls to the bottom and you may not get all the species listed). In this mix, only 1/3 of the species listed are native to Nebraska where it was sold. Two are invasive. This mix should never be listed as native to ANYWHERE in North America given the inclusion of European species. N means Native; Underlined is exotic; bold is invasive.
- N Black sampson (Echinacea angustifolia)
- Blue coneflower (Centaurea cyanus) Native to Europe. Naturalized here, meaning it has become established itself among native prairie flora.
- N Flax (Linum sp.) Some species are native, but the species was not given here and could be any number of species native or non-native.
- Clasping coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis) Native to Georgia, Texas, Missouri and southern Kansas.
- Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) Native to central Europe. DO NOT PLANT THIS.
- Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) If you bought this species, it is likely that it did not come from a source native to Nebraska. Native to southern US and as far north as Nebraska. However, this species has not been found in Nebraska in recent years. It is believed to be extirpated from Nebraska by this botanist. If you have a population near you in an area you believe to have never been planted please let me know. It is possible that some plantings done by Prairie Plains Institute may contain plants derived from local ecotype plants.
- Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)* Native as close as Northern Kansas, and rare. Introduced into Nebraska. This is not an undesirable species but not necessarily considered native in Nebraska.
- Lemon mint (Monarda citriodora)* Native as close as Northern Kansas. Again, not undesirable, but technically not native to Nebraska.
- Mixed cornflower (Centaurea spp.) Native to Europe and who knows which species it may be. The genus Centaurea is otherwise known as bachelor button and knapweed, several of which are noxious. Better to be safe and NOT plant this either.
- Mixed poppy (Papaver spp.) Could be any one of many species of Poppy native to Europe, Africa, Eurasia or North America. These are not native to Nebraska.
- N Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
- N Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
- Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)* Not native to Nebraska, but native to Northern Missouri and not an undesirable species.
- Red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) Native in the Eastern Mediterranean. Present as an introduced species in most states.
- Rocket larkspur (Consolida ajacis) Native to Southern Europe.
- Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum or Leucanthemum vulgare, oxeye daisy) When species are listed with a common name only, it can be difficult to determine exactly which species it really is. Both of these species can be invasive and should be avoided.
- Showy primrose (Oenothera speciosa) Native to Kansas, NOT Nebraska as some sources say. It has become naturalized in most states.
- N Upright coneflower (Ratibida columnifera)
- N Yarrow (Achllea millefolium)
- N Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
*Species that are native just to the South of Nebraska may be included in a mix and would be desirable to help mitigate the effects of climate change since many of our pollinators will be drifting north as the climate becomes warmer.
Another big offender is European clover (Trifolium spp.). This group of species is often promoted and sold to provide good honeybee habitat or as a border for your taller pollinator habitat. There ARE NO low-growing clovers native in Nebraska. DON’T go for it. These clovers will eventually invade your pollinator patch and any remnant prairie to which they happen to be adjacent. If you have it in your urban lawn, don’t worry about it. It is not likely to invade a prairie remnant unless you are near one.
So how do you protect yourself and the environment from exotic species? Double check information you find on the label or on the internet. Keep in mind that “Native” seed in most States is defined as native to North America. Know which local experts and resources have the correct information. In Nebraska, some resources you can trust are the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program, The book, Flora Of Nebraska, Prairie Plains Resource Center publications and website, Prairie Legacy Inc. publications and website, several tallgrass prairie books printed for the region. You can always do an internet search for the (species name native range). If the species is found in North America, you can find it on a map on the BONAP (Biota of North America) site. http://bonap.net/NAPA/Genus/Traditional/County Follow the legend to determine if it is native in your State or County.
If you have questions about the packet of seed you bought or are about to buy, send us a picture of the label in the body of an email and we will help you determine if the mix is right for your area. firstname.lastname@example.org.Prairie Legacy Seed Mixes