I am a passionate advocate of native plants. And I’m not the only one. Native plants are as popular now as ever, which may explain why there are so many misconceptions about natives. So I wanted to dedicate a few postings to busting some myths about native plants. Now to the first myth.
Here’s the problem: it’s simply not true. At least not as a categorical statement.
Myth #1: Native plants are more drought-tolerant than their exotic counterparts.
One of the top reasons people give for using native plants over exotics is that natives are more tolerant of drought than their exotic counterparts. You hear this claim spread even by knowledgeable gardeners and horticulturalists.
|Hibiscus in its native wetland habitat|
Why not? The claim is based in the assumption that plants in their native habitats do not require artificial watering; therefore, native plants are more drought-tolerant than exotic garden plants. The problem with this assumption is that native plants refer to any plant indigenous to a local area. This includes mesic (wet-loving) plants and xeric (dry) plants. So if you are to compare a wet-loving native Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), for example, with your average Japanese azalea, the azalea would be more drought-tolerant. Native plants are too broad a term to categorically say that they are more drought tolerant than exotics. Some natives are tolerant of drought; others are not.
What people mean to say when they make this claim is that plants perfectly suited to their environments are more drought tolerant than plants that are not. The issue is not about native or exotic, but about pairing the right plant with the right environment. Just because a plant is native to your local region does not mean it’s better adapted to your yard than an exotic. It helps, of course, but gardeners need to match the plant’s ecosystem of origin with its new environment.