Q & A with Charlotte Adelman, Co-Author of “Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees”

By Shelley Pierce | August 20, 2017
by Shelley Pierce
August 20, 2017

Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz are the authors of Prairie Directory of North America – The United States, Canada, and Mexico, The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants, winner of the 2012 Helen Hull Award from the National Garden Clubs, and Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees: Gardening Alternatives to Nonnative Species. In 2014, Adelman was awarded an Audubon Chicago Region Habitat Project Conservation Leadership Award.

In their latest book, Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees: Gardening Alternatives to Nonnative Species, they offer an indispensible guide to replacing nonnative plants with native alternatives with a focus on native woody species that are the backbone of our gardens and landscapes.  Read on to learn more about this Ohio University Press book and enter below to win one of two copies!

1a. Why did we ever move away from native species plantings in the first place?

We can trace American’s current landscaping and gardening practices back to our immigrant origins. The immigrants did not value North America’s native plants. Names like sneezeweed, ironweed, rosinweed, butterfly weed, and all milkweeds, including the double whammy received by common milkweed, attest to this.

“The first white settlers in America came into a land which was strange to them. The familiar trees and flowers and other forms of life were not present,” wrote scientist Melvin R. Gilmore in 1926. According to Gilmore, early Americans’ ornamental horticultural practices sought “the eradication of native vegetation” in “an effort to change the face of the landscape and make it conform to that which they had known and loved at home.” The evolving American nursery industry played into this desire by selling plants from Europe.

1b. Why is there renewed interest in “going native”?

Historically, interest in “going native” developed the late 1800s Midwest, and persisted, through ups and downs, for about 100 years. An important strand in the development of landscape architecture was the prairie style of landscape design, which was particularly popular in the Midwest. People were aware even then that native plants had ecological benefits. But the interest in native gardening receded sometime in the mid-twentieth century.

Thanks the mainstreaming of environmental messages, the public is increasingly aware of the ecological benefits of native plants, which accounts for renewed interest. But profound change rarely occurs overnight. I believe that native gardening proponents should recognize and understand why Americans value gardening with exotics. Early immigrant Americans brought horticultural values and habits from the old countries. These habits still influence us today, and gardeners and landscapers continue to pass them onto their children, students, and employees. Because people are often resistant to change, however beneficial, mainstream adoption of native gardening is challenging.

1c. Why is this movement towards “going native” vitally important?

For a healthy human world, we must restore a healthy plant world, including our regional native plant communities. Without them, humans will lose the native wildlife that rely on the plants. Most pollinators need native plants to survive. About 90 percent of our butterflies/moths lay their eggs on the native plants with which they co-evolved. About 96 percent of land birds feed their offspring insects, including the all-important protein and fat-rich butterfly/moth caterpillars the baby birds must eat to survive.

To save the ecosystems on which humans and other creatures depend, we have to figure out how to get the message across to the many people for whom this issue remains unfamiliar or abstract.

2. Will gardeners well beyond the Midwest find value in this book?

Yes””the ecological principles of native gardening apply in any region, and many of the species are not Midwest-specific. Reviews of our previous book with Ohio University Press, The Midwestern Native Garden, often commented on the relevance to other regions. For example, one reviewer wrote, “Many of the natives it recommends are found in other parts of the continent, or have closely related counterparts. As a result, [the book] is useful to gardeners well beyond the Midwest,” and Library Journal noted that gardeners in adjacent states would find a lot to work with as well. The same is true of this book.

3. How easy or difficult is it to locate true native species for your landscape?

It is easy to obtain true native species by ordering online from native plant nurseries. They actually deliver the plants to your door! Increased interest in native plants has also made it easy to order, and purchase in person, from local native plant sales. I am fortunate to be able to hire a native plant landscaper to acquire and install shrubs I could not otherwise handle.

In the Chicago area, where I live, municipalities, schools, and parks can obtain true native species from the excellent local nurseries. But these nurseries generally require making an appointment and cater to wholesale, not retail, buyers.

The lack of local native plant nurseries for individuals is””I think””presents the greatest obstacle to widespread native gardening and landscaping by many who would love to do it. I have urged some environmental organizations to look at obtaining grants and examining the issues involved with opening their own native plant nurseries/stores in big cities and suburbs. Without a solution to the lack of Midwestern native plant retailers, I fear, large scale gardening and landscaping will continue to have trouble taking off.

4. Does substituting natives for nonnative species require a drastic overhaul of the garden?

If your garden is large and chock-full of nonnative plants, and you want it to consist solely of native species, then substituting natives for nonnative species requires a drastic overhaul. However, as I point out in The Midwestern Native Garden and in Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees, you can gradually substitute native species for nonnative species.

Your approach can include removing particularly harmful plants, like naturalized and/or invasive species, or removing plants that take up too much space, considering their limited or non-existent benefits to the ecosystem. You can choose replacements based on whether they serve as host plants to the butterflies/moths that reproduce where your garden is located. Or you might want to first include the native species that produce the fruits and nuts that benefit birds that live in or pass through the area during their migrations.

5. What does your book have to offer? What features of this book will gardeners find particularly helpful?

We explain what native species share cultivation requirements with the nonnative plants. Entries are grouped and cross-referenced to make this information readily available. Readers can easily locate practical native alternatives to the usual nonnative species and/or nativars. Ours are the only books for the Midwest that suggest native alternatives to nonnative species.

We also put native plants in the context of local wildlife and their natural ecological environment. Our “Nature Notes” give concise information about the important bees, butterflies, moths, birds, fireflies, ants, and other native wildlife that native alternatives benefit. We also provide the number of species of butterflies/moths hosted by each native shrub or tree or vine, and discuss the historical uses and attitudes toward the various plants.

6. What’s in your garden?
It’s quite a list!

Canadian anemone
Yellow avens
White Avens
Virginia bluebells
American columbine
Cut leaf toothwort
Early meadow rue
Yellow trout lily
White trout lily
Common violet
Golden Alexanders
Purple angelica
Wild geranium
Virginia waterleaf
Virginia spiderwort
Cinnamon fern
Wild Lily of the Valley
Shooting Stars – Midland and Amethyst
Solomon’s seal
Great white trillium
Red trillium
Yellow trillium
Canadian Brides fathers, Goatsbeard
Wild GingerSpikenard
Forked aster
Wild bee balm
American/tall bellflower
Common dogbane
American elderberry
Long headed thimbleweed
Virgin’s bower
Orange butterflyweed (milkweed)
Common milkweed
Blue wild indigo
Sweet black-eyed Susan
Virginia creeper
Cup plant
Tall coreopsis
Green cut leaf coneflower
Trumpet creeper
Bottlebrush grass
River oats, Northern sea oats
Blue giant hyssop
Zig-zag goldenrod
Cow parsnip
Joe Pye weed
Queen of the Prairie
Prairie wild rose
Purple flowering raspberry
Culver’s root
Glade mallow
Shrubby St. John’s wort
New England aster
American pokeweed/pokeberry
White snakeroot
Black chokeberry
Sweet shrub, Carolina allspice
Gray dogwood
Arrowwood viburnum
Blackhaw viburnum
Nannyberry vibrunum
Ozark witch hazel
American plum
Black locust
American hazelnut
Fringe tree
Cockspur hawthorn
Washington hawthorn
Cottonwood tree
Hackberry trees
Silver maple
Bur oak
White oak
Swamp white oak
Several natural oak hybrids
Black walnut tree
Eastern burning bush, American burning bush
Osage orange
WIN ONE OF TWO COPIES OF “Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees”!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, August 27.  Be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What is one of your favorite native plants in your garden?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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