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Plants that are native to an area often have advantages over those introduced from other regions, because the natives are adapted to the specific climate. They also form the base of unique ecosystems, creating critical habitat and food for native insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
However, the relationship between gardening and plant species conservation is complex and laws are confusing.
Here are some things to think about, if you want to grow native and help conserve those species. There are many interesting and important things to know. We've broken them up to spare your eyes and limit scrolling, and because we expect to be adding to these subtopics.
Well meaning people have done a lot to protect at-risk plants. With laws in place that make it illegal to collect seeds or plants of endangered and threatened species, authorities can prosecute those who go into parklands to dig ginseng and other species -- a practice that was pushing plants to extinction.
So it's a matter of great frustration to many that many of those laws aren't clear about whether individuals may collect seed or move/disturb plants of these species on their own property.
That's unfortunate, if it inhibits conservation. Excellent plantspeople, among them Fred Case (Orchids of the Great Lakes Region) and Bob Stewart (founder, Arrowhead Alpines) who studied these plants for a lifetime and assisted in obtaining protection for various species, simultaneously urged gardeners with appropriate habitat to grow and propagate these plants. As Case said at a presentation about native plants at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens, "Until we stop and reverse the loss of environment that has put these plants in danger, we must keep them somewhere!"
We embrace that principle, and promote native species for gardens (you can download our list). We hope conservationists work out ways to produce enough plants of endangered species to repopulate wild areas. We encourage individuals who have property in natural areas to learn to identify natives so they can preserve and encourage the spread of at-risk plants where they are most likely to thrive. We also do what we can to support official land use policies that preserve natural ecosystems and native species.
The shooting star known as Pride of Ohio (Primula meadia, also known as Dodecatheon meadia) is endangered in Michigan. (Go figure that, you Buckeyes and Wolverines!) Search for such a plant using its scientific name plus search qualifiers "native habitat" to find guides such as this from the University of Michigan Herbarium (curated by someone you may meet on our Forum!)
Click to browse the Herbarium's site by plant genus, checking other species' maps