by David Hopman, ASLA, PLA
There is an ongoing debate in the landscape architecture profession between plants as structural and amenity elements, primarily for human enjoyment and services, and plants that perform these vital human functions while also supporting the complex ecological relationships in a local biome. Sara Tangren and Edward Toth of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB) have contributed very valuable research-based information to this debate in their new report Native Plant Materials Use and Commercial Availability in the Eastern United States.
The report is the result of a survey of native plant material users from across the entire Eastern United States, with 760 respondents, and includes written comments. The respondents are drawn from NGOs, government, and commercial entities involved in ecological restoration projects and native plant production.
The report addresses the issues surrounding definitions of native plants and local ecotypes, the availability of technical information, lead times required for implementation, the perceived benefits and problems of local ecotypes, “nativars” and clones, and many more. It is a valuable read for all landscape architects, especially experienced planting designers who may have come to similar conclusions through careful observation of plants on their projects over a period of years. I know that I have found it frustrating that species plants are rarely available and that the selections available are usually less resilient, as a trade-off for a particular ornamental trait that I am frequently not looking for.
This paper documents and informs a thoughtful discussion of the problem and offers a few potential solutions. It is a good example of how we can elevate our thinking about native plants by looking outside of traditional landscape architecture discourse.
David Hopman, ASLA, PLA, is an Associate Professor, Landscape Architect, at The University of Texas at Arlington, and an Officer and Past Chair of the ASLA Planting Design Professional Practice Network (PPN).