Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 23, 2014

Seedling sale promotes diverse beauty

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Weathered, slightly worse for the wear, but still feeding birds through the worst of the winter. That’s a Northern Michigan native plant for you.

“Those plants still have seeds on them — even after a winter like this,” Ben Purdy pointed to goldenrod and aster standing stalwart in an icy snowdrift outside the Grand Traverse Conservation District window. “They are pretty hearty plants.”

Pretty, hearty and ecologically sound are the hallmarks of native plants over their exotic — and often invasive — plant pals. Knowing the difference between them is a matter of education and habit, said Purdy, the district’s parkland program coordinator, and Robin Christensen, invasive species program coordinator.

Take Japanese barberry, for example.

Japanese barberry creates a dense, pricker-filled wall that changes the soil, displaces native plants and reduces wildlife habitat and forage. The plant is on the “least wanted” list but is so common, cities that once paid to plant the drought-resistant shrub are now paying to remove it — Traverse City included, Christensen said.

“We eliminated it (Japanese barberry) from Hickory Meadows,” Christensen said. But it encroaches from the private yards around the park. Japanese barberry is an opportunistic mega-seed producer, and “birds fly and the wind blows,” she said.

“Nature doesn’t respect our boundaries,” Purdy said.

Japanese barberry is also a nursery and commercial building standard, making people wonder “how bad could it be?” said Julie Sovereign. The owner of Traverse City’s Garden Goods got a large order from a commercial developer last year.

“I could have sold him the plants but I told him that I wouldn’t, and explained why,” Sovereign said. “They didn’t know anything about it, and, luckily, were willing to listen and switch out the order for something else. It was one of my biggest ‘feel-good’ moments.”

Providing native alternatives gets to the root of the issue, Christensen said.

The Grand Traverse Conservation District promotes this on several fronts. Twenty nurseries signed on to the “Go Beyond Beauty” campaign last year, agreeing not to sell some of the biggest offenders — often at a commercial cost, Christensen said. Garfield Township also recently enacted planting guidelines, which encourage native plants and discourages common invasive plants.

The conservation district also hosts its own native tree and shrub seedling sale with ordering available now through March 28. Native annuals and herbaceous plants headline the district’s native plant sale with an open house April 16 and a sale May 17 at the Boardman Nature Center. Conservation district experts are happy to talk to green thumbs about which native plants will work with their their specific conditions.

Proactive positivity works better than finger-shaking, Christensen said.

“It’s better for the water, for the soil, for the birds, butterflies and wildlife that live here,” Purdy said. “Most people want that once they realize it.”

Visit for more information or call 231-941-0960.

Conservation District Sales Around the Region Benzie Conservation District The Benzie Conservation District's annual spring seedling sale catalog is available at and the order deadline is Friday, April 11. Antrim Conservation District Tree sale catalogs are available for download on the ACD website or call 231-533-8363 for a catalog and order form by mail. April 1st is the deadline for order submissions. Order pick up is on April 25 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. and April 26 from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Bellaire office. Kalkaska Conservation District Call 231- 258-3307 or email: for more information. Leelanau Conservation District Catalogs are available online at the LCD website: The seedling sale distribution is April 25 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. The native plant sale is June 6 from 1 - 4 p.m.