1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Firebush: Native or Not? The Burning Question of Plant Miscegenation

A native (I hope) Firebush, Hamelia patens
Adam was but human--this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake; he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.  (Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson)

Gardening seems to be the net that captures much of my attention and folly, often at the same time for some reason. Since laying the blame at someone else's feet seems to be the fashion these days, in politics and elsewhere, why shouldn't I play along and try to fit in?

So, it all started years ago when I helped my parents with their vegetable garden. It was never complicated then. Plant seeds or seedlings, tend the plants to adulthood, eat them or their progeny. Consume, consume, consume! The carnage continued in later years but on a more sophisticated level within the slick pages of plant catalogues. See that beautiful plant pictured here in all of its impeccably air-brushed glory? Buy it, buy it, buy it! The more exotic the name, the better. Especially if it ended in sinensis. If the Chinese were having smashing success in their country with a certain plant, why not give it a go here in the good ol' U.S. of A.? If they can make it grow, we can make it flourish. Then I started hearing cries--very faint at first and gradually getting louder--DON'T BUY IMPORTED PLANTS! USE NATIVE PLANTS! Would I succumb to my hedonistic, Adam-ant, consumerist instincts or listen to reason?

I bought the plant pictured above at a Master Gardener plant sale earlier this year. As far as I can tell, based on this UF/IFAS article about firebush, it has orange-red flowers and hairy leaves. It must be a native firebush. Hooray! For once, I had chosen well and listened to reason. But wait...There's more.

Hamelia patens, var. glabra?

Three additional shrubs purchased a few months later at one of the big box stores and also labelled Hamelia patens joined their sister (brother? cousin?) in the garden. Only now do I discover that the blooms start out red but turn into trumpets of yellow. And--worst of all!--I finally notice that the leaves are hairless. Could it be the dreaded Hamelia patens var. glabra?

So, what's the harm in putting native and non-native firebushes together in the landscape? Could there be a possibility of plant miscegenation beginning its insidious work here, gradually corrupting the native population and confusing a bunch of pollinators? Read the article and decide for yourself. Don't believe me. I'm just a gardening fool, and I like reading, especially Pudd'nhead Wilson. Don't read it! I forbid it! You might end up liking it too.


  1. Dear Walk2write,
    giggle: that was a funny post, thank you! I always wonder at the purists - of course we have them here in Germany too - they would be very astonished when they find out how many of seemingly 'native' plants are not - people only were getting used to them over the centuries.
    Puddin'head Wilson I like - Mark Twain was a great writer.

  2. I know that's true, but I only know it because I wrote for the paper and interviewed master gardeners from time to time. Good for you trying to get the word out! And LOL at the Puddinhead... :o) <3

  3. I like non-natives. Natives I can see everywhere.

    I once went to a zoological park in Northern Thailand because I wanted to see the gibbons in a semi-natural setting. No one was looking at them, despite them being hugely entertaining. I sat and watched them for a few hours, to the point where Mrs IG started moaning about wanting to eat!

    As we left the park we saw a huge group of excited locals, so walked over to see what was causing all the fuss.

    It was a donkey!

  4. Ah, the thrill of the forbidden. We have 2 burning bush trees in our driveway, planted by a previous owner. I spend my whole time pulling out little saplings from our native woods, but I admit to secretly loving those 2 burning bush and our native birds would agree.

  5. Britta, I always have to wonder how someone decides exactly when a plant crosses that line into the native category. One hundred years, two hundred? Explorers have been transporting plants since they began exploring. I know there have been some major blunders along the way like kudzu. Florida and the warmer regions of the U.S. are especially vulnerable to invasive plants because of the extended growing season. But not all non-natives are invasive or even aggressive. It's wise to be careful, I agree, and I do my best to not introduce something that appears harmful here. If I learn that it is, I rip it out without delay.

    Good for you too, Leigh! You're a saint for putting up with a master gardener:)

    IG, how funny that the Thai locals were fascinated with a jackass. They should try visiting the States when there's a major election going on. I'm with you for liking the non-natives as long as they're not trying to seize control of their situation. I'm easygoing, live-and-let-live, and I figure plants ought to do the same.

    Sarah, we had burning bush (Euonymous) shrubs in the landscape when we lived in Illinois as well as Kentucky. We weren't very close to a wooded area so I guess if there were any seedlings they were nipped in the bud by the lawnmower. Come autumn, I was pretty attached to the sight of them and wouldn't have traded them for any other shrub in China.

  6. It seems to me that whether native or not some plants can behave really nastily in a garden and seize control of the place where they had been planted so I find it necessary to be cautious every time when buying a flower, shrub or tree - native or not...

    It may be really confusing that under one name you can find two quite different plants!

  7. What's a gardener to do? I'm not knowledgeable enough to look at a plant and identify one cultivar from another; I depend on those labels. But so often they're wrong. As long as the non-native isn't some invasive species like kudzu or honeysuckle, I don't see any problems with it mixing with a native. After all, this country is a melting pot anyway.

    I love Mark Twain, but I've never read "Pudd'nhead Wilson." For some reason, I have this sudden urge to read it...

  8. Like Rose, I rely on tags for info. I buy it, stick it in the ground and hope for the best. I wish garden centers would cater to natives but not going to happen. We go on vacaiotn and want what we see there in our gardens no matter the price to nature. Ah, the forbidden fruit is always so much more desiring. For Shame for shame for shame….

  9. Yikes. I try to stay native in my shady woodland gardens But THE LADY IN CHARGE love hostas..... We have lots of hostas. :)

  10. Petra, I hope I'm getting wiser about plant selection. The big box stores make things difficult for people to choose wisely, though. I've decided that unless I'm very familiar with a particular cultivar (can't trust the labels), I will not purchase any more plants from those places.

    Rose, I tend to agree with you. A person can get paranoid about this question of plant origin and its right to claim native superiority. Same thing applies to other creatures. The honeybee isn't native to this country. Life just wouldn't be as sweet if they weren't here. I'm glad I got you interested in the "Pudd'nhead." You won't be disappointed!

    Skeeter, usually garden centers care only about the bottom line and satisfying the latest consumer desires. I've always wondered who decides what the consumer really wants? You would think that with all of the successful garden blogs out there like IN THE GARDEN, big nurseries would conduct surveys and try to get some honest feedback from the front lines of gardening. I do know that the nurseries and garden centers around Tallahassee work closely with university researchers to develop their market focus (not so much here). I wish the big box stores would do the same.

    TB, hostas aren't so bad, are they? I confess to a certain fondness for them myself.

  11. Hi w2w,

    I know keeping a garden tidy and tasteful and full of flowers all through the year is quite a demanding job, even a tiny garden like mine. Now I leave them to "the survival of the fittest"

    As for Kudzu, it's a shame they are out of control. As you might know,their roots are versatile and useful as from ingredients of dishes, desserts, teas to medicine but a genuine and quality Kudzu powder is extracted only in a limited area with clear cold water and dry climate. Actually my brother-in-law worked on the efficient way of extracting and making quality powder decades ago and is still studying the possible way of using it.

  12. Cosmos, as you said, gardening is a challenge no matter where you live. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I had heard about kudzu's usefulness, and it's a shame that we don't take advantage of its medicinal properties here in the States. Usually when it pops up along the roadsides, it's sprayed with herbicides and promptly destroyed. I believe it was brought here to the States many years ago as fast-growing forage for cattle, but I guess they don't like the taste of it.