Many plants we see everyday, but they weren’t always here.
Many “exotics” came to the North American continent with the Europeans. These came from all over the world! Camellias are from China, azaleas are from Japan, and crape myrtles are from Southeast Asia. Despite what its name suggests, even Confederate Jasmine is not native.
Native plants require less attention, can be subjected to the saltwater’s edge to absorb rain runoff and benefit indigenous animals and the Lowcountry ecosystem. Most non-native plants coexisting in the Lowcountry are considered naturalized or non-invasive. And, since they have become established, are not a detriment. However, they aren’t as resilient as the saw palms, yuccas, sand spurs and bull thistles.
Other natives include:
- the Southern magnolia
- American holly
- cabbage palmetto
- black-eyed Susan
- Carolina jessamine
- beauty berry and others
Native plants do fine without any extra irrigation or fertilizer.
This is a great advantage when considering the local marine environment. And they’re cheaper! Many new developments have incorporated sweetgrass around parking lots and in medians. The Gullah use sweetgrass to make their baskets.
The saw palmetto stalks have spines that scratch. Have you ever run into one of these? Or tried to yank it out of the soil? They are sharp and tough. Deer do not eat palms, unless they are really desperate. Not only is the plant protected from would-be trampling, it also serves as a dense shelter for small ground dwellers. Saw palmetto extract has been used in the medical field to reduce urinary problems resulting from an enlarged prostate.
Non-native plants which interfere with the growth of native plants are considered invasive.
Kudzu comes to mind, as well as the tallow tree and honeysuckle vine. Tallow trees are very thirsty. They can dry up a small swamp, leaving little water for competing native species. This tree is everywhere! One good look at its unique leaf, followed by an observant glance at our woodlands will quickly yield a tallow tree sighting.
All our native plants have unique characteristics that make them perfect for the Southern coastal plains or Lowcountry landscape. The website mentioned above provides a concise list. You will even find there are two species of azalea that are native, but not exactly familiar.
By Amber Hester Kuehn