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WISDOM FROM THE WILD CHILD GARDEN: FEBRUARY 2023: TENNESSEE NATIVE PLANTS

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

WHY A NATIVE PLANT GARDEN? Restoring the native plant habitat is vital to preserving biodiversity. According to the Audubon Society, “By creating a native plant garden, each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.”


Over the past century, urbanization has taken intact, ecologically productive land, fragmented it, and transformed it with lawns and exotic ornamental plants. The continental U.S. has lost 150 million acres of habitat and farmland to urban sprawl. The modern obsession with highly manicured “perfect” lawns has created a green and monoculture carpet across the country that covers over 40 million acres. The human-dominated landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems, and the remaining isolated natural areas are not large enough to support wildlife.

WHAT IS A NATIVE PLANT? Native plants are those that occur naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. They are the ecological basis upon which animals, birds, insects, and people depend. Native plants form a symbiotic relationship with native wildlife and offer the most sustainable habitat. They are the cornerstone of biological diversity, and provide food and shelter for native birds, animals, and insects.


Native plants are hardy, withstand winter weather extremes, and do not suffer from die back.

BENEFITS OF NATIVE PLANTS:

Low maintenance: Once established, native plants require little maintenance.

Beauty: Many native plants offer beautiful showy flowers, produce abundant colorful fruits and seeds, and provide brilliant seasonal changes in colors from the pale, thin greens of early spring, to the vibrant yellows and reds of autumn.

Healthy Places for People: Lawns and bark-mulched landscapes are notorious for requiring profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for the landscape, a healthier place for people is achieved. Native plants are environmentally friendly and require fewer pesticides and fertilizers due to their natural adaptations.

Helping the Climate: Landscaping with native plants can combat climate change, reduce noise and carbon pollution from lawn mower exhaust, and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Conserving Water: Native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions and require less water, saving time, money, and the most valuable natural resource, water.

Helping Wildlife: Native plants provide a vital habitat for birds, insects, and many other species of wildlife. The colorful array of butterflies and moths, including the monarch, the swallowtails, tortoiseshells, and beautiful blues, are all dependent on very specific native plant species. Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals, and the native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.

NATIVE VS. NON-NATIVE PLANTS: Non-native plants are plants that are introduced to the U.S. from other parts of the world. These non-native plants are an important part of gardening and landscaping. Most of these plants are well-behaved and rarely stray beyond the garden, however, one percent of these non-native plants readily escape into wild and natural areas and pose a threat to the health and welfare of biological diversity.


Traits of a non-native plant include:

• Adaptation to the local climate.

• Rapid growth and rampant spread.

• Mature quickly to flower and set seed.

• Produce massive quantities of seed.

• Effective and efficient seed dispersal.

• Have no major pest or disease problems.


These traits give non-native plants an advantage in wild habitats like forests, wetlands, and grasslands. Non-native plants can overwhelm native plants and deprive them of nutrients, water, light, and space. This results in displacement of the native plants, and replacement of the diverse ecosystem. This causes a reduction of biodiversity, loss of endangered species and their habitats, loss of habitat and food for wildlife, and disruption of native plant and animal associations.

WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: HERBS: Most herbs will grow well in the local area because they usually only require full sun, good drainage, and dry “feet”.


Native herbs to grow in West Tennessee include:

• Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

• Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

• Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

• Marjoram (Origanum majorana)

• Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

• Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

• Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)

• Winter Savory (Satureja montana)

• Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

• Mexican/Texas Tarragon (Tagetes lucida)

• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: PLANTS: Native plant species are a great addition to the garden because they are already adapted to the local landscape. Native plants can improve the water quality of the community and its aquatic life.


Native plants to grow in West Tennessee include:

• Asters (Aster spp.)

• Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

• Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

• Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

• Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

• Lance-leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)

• Blue False Indigo (Amorpha fruitcosa)

• Sunburst (Hypericum frondosum)

• Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)

• Sweet White Trillium (Trillium simile)

• Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica)

• Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

• Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: SHRUBS: Native plant species are a great addition to the garden because they are already adapted to the local landscape. Native plants can improve the water quality of the community and its aquatic life.


Native shrubs to grow in West Tennessee include:

· American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

· Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

· Red Chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia)

· Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifoia)

· Ninebark (Physocarp opulifolius)

· Spicebush (Lindera bezoin)

· Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)

· Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: TREES: Native trees are a natural part of the local ecosystem and contribute to local energy flows and nutrient cycles.


Native trees to grow in West Tennessee include:

• Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

• Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

• White Oak (Quercus alba)

• Pawpaw (Asimina tribloba)

• Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

• Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

• Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

• Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES:

WILDCRAFTING & FORAGING GUIDELINES:

• Always properly identify plants. There are some great foraging field guides out there that can help with plant identification.

• Know the sustainability status of the herbs to be included in the harvest. United Plant Savers is an organization that works to protect at-risk plants and preserve them for future generations. If a plant is on the to-watch or at-risk list, find a sustainably cultivated source to use instead of harvesting it from the wild.

• Be sure to harvest plants growing in clean soil.

• Stay away from roadsides, places where chemicals or animal feces run off or are dumped, and areas close to city buildings and businesses. These places can be contaminated with chemicals and other toxins that will also be contained in the plants.

• Be sure to have permission to harvest on private property.

• Don’t harvest all of the plant in one given area. The forager’s rule of thumb is to only harvest ⅓ of the plant growing in any given area. This is to ensure that there’s more for other foragers, for animals that survive on plants, and for the plant’s life cycle to continue.

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: FLOWERS & LEAVES: Many spring leaves and flowers will make another appearance in the fall, and a few summer flowers will persist into fall. Although most flowers are waning in fall, there are a few that are available in the cooler weather.


Edible flowers to harvest in West Tennessee include:

• Calendula

• Elderflower

• Goldenrod

• Hops

• Marigold

• Plantain

• Red Clover

• Violet

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: FRUITS: Fruit harvested in wild areas is also food the animals need to survive the cold winter, therefore, don’t over harvest. Most fruits should be harvested before the first frost, when they are squishy and soft. The cold winter temperatures help freeze fruit on the plant. If there is a good freeze and thaw cycle, some fruits will freeze dry and preserve well into spring.


Edible fruits to harvest in West Tennessee include:

• Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

• Black Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

• Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

• Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

• American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

• Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa)

• Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis)

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: HERBS: Most herbs are best foraged in the spring and summer; however, some herbs are cold hardy and can be harvested in the fall before a hard freeze. Always make a positive identification of any new medicinal herb, using at least 3 references, before foraging for the first time. Many medicinal herbs reach their peak potency in the fall months.


Edible herbs to harvest in West Tennessee include:

• Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

• Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia)

• Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

• Black Mustard

• Wild Rose Hips (Rosa Carolina)

• Skullcap (Scutellaria)

• Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

• Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

• Sweet Flag (Calamus spp.)

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: MUSHROOMS: Some of the tastiest mushrooms of the year can be found in the fall. The first and most important rule when foraging mushrooms is to get to know a few species well, using a field guide. A quality guide should contain the following subheadings: description, edibility, season, habitat, range and look-alikes. Fall mushrooms have different flavors and textures.


Edible mushrooms to harvest in West Tennessee include:

• Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

• Chicken (Laetiporus sulphureus)

• Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)

• Honey (Armillaria mellea)

• Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)

• Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Mushroom Foraging Safety:

• If on-the-spot identification of a harvested mushroom is not possible, separate it from the rest of the harvest.

• Ask an expert or field guide to verify the edibility of the suspect fungi.

• Do not consume wild mushrooms raw. They are indigestible when uncooked.

• Soak and rinse the mushrooms thoroughly to remove any residue.

• If side effects follow the consumption of mushrooms, contact a doctor!

• If susceptible to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, pay attention to its presence!

• Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat to discourage ticks.

• Don't walk through heavily wooded terrain after dark.

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: ROOTS: According to the Herbal Academy, “fall is all about root medicine. As plants ready themselves for winter, many of them draw their energy down into the roots to wait out a season of cold and rest. With roots at their peak strength, ready to keep the plants vital and healthy until spring, now is the best time to harvest underground allies.


Edible roots to harvest in West Tennessee include:

• Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)

• Burdock (Arctium lappa)

• Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

• Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

• Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

• Gentian (Gentiana lutea)

• Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

• Nettle (Urtica dioica)

• Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

• Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

• Yellow Dock Root (Rumex crispus)

When harvesting roots:

• Harvest from clean land away from roadsides.

• Keep the plant’s whole life cycle in mind before harvesting.

• When harvesting roots from a plant that has seeds, plant them.

• Check the endangered plant list before foraging.

• Do not harvest roots from plants on the list.

• Purchase endangered roots from a sustainable grower.

• Clean roots in the sink using a vegetable brush.

• Dry roots by slicing into thin slices and drying below 95 degrees.

• Store roots in a cool, dry place out of direct light.

FORAGING WEST TENNESSEE NATIVES: SEEDS & NUTS: The fall months are the season of seeds and nuts which reach their peak this time. Seeds are tiny little energy packages bursting with potential. Seeds and nuts are at their peak in the fall season. They are a high calorie food that have historically been a staple in native people’s diets. Nuts and seeds are also an important food source for animals, so keep that in mind as you are harvesting. Seeds are nutrient dense and tend to store well. Harvest when the plant goes to seed, and the seedpods are dry.


Edible seeds and nuts to harvest in West Tennessee include:

• Acorn (Quercus alba)

• Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

• Fennel Seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)

• Pine Nuts (Pinus edulis)

• Sunflower Seeds (Helianthus annuus)








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