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.”