Native Plants Make Great Urban Neighbors

I have been impressed on several recent trips to New York City with the palette and emphasis on native plants in New York’s city parks. I’m not talking about the High Line, which in itself is a fabulous array of native plants in a linear park on an elevated rail bed. And I don’t even know if the High Line inspired the parks department or if they all just got Doug Tallamy’s message (Bringing Nature Home at the same time. But from Central Park’s Hallett Nature Sanctuary, to Governer’s Island new installation “The Hills”,

Governer’s Island in New York

or the waterfront park at Randall’s Island , New York City Parks department has installed some very impressive beds dominated by native plants.

Randall’s Island in New York City

Additionally impressive is that NYC Parks have planned for interpretive signage explaining what visitors are seeing and why it is important. These parks are attractive and inviting to both human and wildlife visitors. Some parks include both saltwater and freshwater mitigation and reclamation with appropriate signage explaining the process and identifying wildlife.

Wildflower Meadow signage, Randall’s Island

These beds are mixed among soccer fields, greenway paths, concert lawns, golf courses, baseball fields, picnic areas, and reclaimed land such as in The Hills.

All I can say is….C’mon Charlotte….take this as a challenge! Incorporate broad sweeps of locally sourced native plants that benefit wildlife, that are attractive and interesting and different. Almost all of the foliage beds in in ALL of the NYC parks that I have seen over recent years feature huge sweeps of Heuchera, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Lobelia, and many more native plants. Grasses are used extensively to blend the beds together. It’s inspiring on so many levels, and beneficial in a city, that is undoubtedly covered in concrete. Charlotte is the city of trees….but we can do so much more.


The Ivy Issue and Mosquitos

Sometimes it really does feel as if English Ivy is taking over the South. Yes it is more attractive and better behaved than Kudzu, but only marginally. At the recent Cullowhee Native Plant Conference,  Eli Dickerson, Ecologist at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta talked about Fernbank’s efforts to tackle the years of English Ivy, in his presentation, “Saving an Old Growth Forest from the Vicious Grip of Invasive Plants.”

Fernbank owns a 67 acre urban old growth forest and Eli was hired to restore it to health. Fortunately for Fernbank, they were able to obtain grants to fund this expensive and labor intensive process. And a great deal of their efforts were spent tackling two common Piedmont invasive exotics–English Ivy (Hedera helix) and Monkey Grass (Liriope spicata).

IMG_5435With the help of a private contractor known as Machete Man, Trees Atlanta, and thousands of volunteer hours, they were able to begin to restore parts of the forest. Once the Ivy and Monkey Grass were cleared, Eli’s philosophy is to let nature take its course, and see what will emerge from the existing seed bank. You can see in the before and after photos below the results of all of this effort. If you are visiting Atlanta, I encourage you to visit Fernbank’s Nature Museum. 12c progress photos

Removing mosquito habitat

Controlling or replacing English Ivy and Monkey Grass can also help you with mosquito issues, because most pest control companies will target these areas in your yard with spray. Mosquitos love to live in the moist shady environment provided by this very thick ground cover. If you have felt that it is necessary to spray for mosquitos in your yard and have subsequently noticed fewer butterflies and other pollinators, removing this mosquito habitat might be an option to wide spread spraying, which harms all types of insects including the beneficial ones.

Native Alternatives to English Ivy

Eli Dickerson has graciously allowed us to share Fernbank’s list of native alternatives to English Ivy to help you with ideas for your own back yard.

Native groundcover alternatives to English Ivy:

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)
Carex species (C. plantaginea, C. flaccosperma)                                                     Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)                                                        Mouse-Eared Coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata)
Galax (Galax urceolata)
Alum Root (Heuchera americana)
Wild Gingers (Hexastylis arifolia and Asarum canadense)                         Partridgeberry (Mitchella )
Moss Phlox or Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)                                               Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Lyre-leaf Sage (Salvia lyrata)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)
Stokes’ Aster (Stokesia laevis)
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Moss (many species)

Deciduous groundcover options: Allegheny Spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris crestata), Deciduous Ginger (Asarum canadense), Broad Beech Fern (Thelypteris hexagonoptera), Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula).

Native vine groundcovers: Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Wood Vamp or native Climbing Hydrangea (Decumaria barbara), and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

Compiled by Fernbank Museum of Natural History with resources from Georgia Native Plant Society. November, 2015. For more information, contact Used with permission.


Often we get questions from NCNPS members and friends. We thought it would be a good idea to keep a running list of these frequently asked questions, so we can all learn something new.

Q July 1, 2017:What kind of bushes would be a good choice for a hedge? It’s a small area and I’d prefer something that doesn’t get higher than 5′ and that stays green year round that doesn’t need a ton of trimming and that grows quickly. Not asking much 😬

A: Lisa suggests…Dwarf Yaupon Holly but they get pretty wide. Inkberry Holly but they’re pretty slow. She doesn’t say whether it’s sun or shade. Leucothoe, if shade. Viburnum obovatum is a possibility but a bit hard to find. That”s a tricky one.

Beth would add….perhaps Illicium parviflorum or I. floridanum…I use both of these in shade border situations where I need an evergreen privacy screen. They may not qualify as a “hedge” but they certainly provide 12 month screening and interesting flowers.

Or you could consider a vertical screen with support of some type and use Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens.

Q: I am a stormwater engineer working on erosion and soil stabilization issues.  Could you please recommend a few types of grasses or shrubs that could thrive in the Charlotte area.  The soils on the site include Cecil sandy clay loam and Bethlehem gravelly sandy clay loam.  I believe the soils are pretty well drained on most of the site. We would like to have hearty plants with significant root structures that like to be mowed hard every 6 months or annually.    Does anything come to mind?

A: Larry suggests…Andropogon virginicus or Andropogon glomeratus can take wet or dry. These are clump-forming. Also try this link for HARP–Habitat Assessment and Restoration Professionals.

A: Lisa suggests…I was going to recommend contacting Hoffman Nursery, an NC grower that’s been at it for a long time, or using some of their excellent resources. Particularly ‘green infrastructure’. If you want only native grasses and the like, you’ll need to select for that. They also have an excellent newsletter.

Also, Mecklenburg County will provide information and review. I had to fish around a bit but located plant lists here. Charlotte is in zone 7B-8.

Do you have questions about native plants….leave a note in the comment section or visit our Facebook page. There is an active an ongoing plant question discussion on the Southern Piedmont Chapter page or the NC Native Plant Society state page too.

Making seed bombs–the native plant way

Thank you to Dennis Testerman, Margaret Genkins, Carrie DeJaco, and Allison Pittman for teaching kids and family how to make seed bombs and sharing our “Favorite Plants of the Piedmont” list. It’s amazing how interested and engaged our neighbors can be once we start connecting the dots…plants are caterpillar food, birds eat caterpillars, you enjoy the birds in your backyard…so feed them native plants!20170415_124741.jpgNCNPS President Larry Mellichamp challenged members at the 2016 Annual Picnic  to share botany lore and native plants with our communities and most importantly with children. So how to make a seed bomb? Mix equal parts modeling clay and compost, and then roll it around in the seed mix. Let it dry at home, and then “bomb” a bare patch of soil. Try to keep the area moist for about 2 weeks to allow the seeds to germinate. Thank you also to Kelly Lojk for designing the bookmark to go with our Aquilegia canadensis seed packets.  Eastern Columbine is incredibly easy to grow from seed…come visit us and purchase your seed packet for only $1 and start your own native plant garden with seeds or a bomb right away!

NCNPS will also be appearing at the following locations in April:

  • March for Science, Marshall Park, Charlotte April 22
  • Earthfest, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on April 29
  • Statesville Earth Festival on April 29

There’s still time to volunteer if you want to get your hands dirty, and tell stories about plants. Email if you are interested.