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Native Plants Define Beauty In Landscapes
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Before beginning a program on landscaping with native plants, I asked some in the crowd what were some of their favorites. Plants like crape myrtles and camellias were high on their lists, as were several other plants from Japan and China.
Even though most of the plants they listed weren't natives, we as gardeners can create quite a landscape with home-style Southern plants. Mississippians can have an effective four-season landscape using native plants.
When you mention natives, the first thought that comes to the mind of many people is one of the Lee sisters, "Ug Lee." This is simply not the case. There is another strong virtue of native species and that is survivability. If they grow well in the wild without our help, then they will do well in our landscape. DUH! When you think about our extremes from heat to cold and wet to dry, it does make sense to use adapted plants.
This time of the year many natives really strut their stuff. The Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is Mother Nature's Christmas tree choice for the South. While we notice disease and insects taking out many imported conifers, the Eastern red cedar keeps on trucking.
Driving through neighborhoods, I quickly notice how statuesque the river birch (Betula nigra) looks in landscapes with its gorgeous peeling bark.
The bright red berries of our native hollies give some of our best winter color. The American holly (Ilex opaca), yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), possum haw (Ilex decidua), and the swamp or winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) deserve a place in the yard.
I also feel passionate about the Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). My neighborhood in Brandon used this evergreen effectively both as a specimen plantings and in clusters of three. The bluish berries overlooked by most are welcome food for the birds. Cold in North Mississippi may singe leaves, but I have seen enough of them to believe they can be grown statewide.
It will not be hard to determine when spring is here because the Eastern red bud (Cercis canadensis) and dogwood (Cornus florida) announce its arrival. These two trees really put on a show as understory plants in the forests and certainly do the same for our home.
You mention springtime in Mississippi and azaleas quickly come to mind, particularly the imports from Japan. Yet we have native azaleas that rival the beauty of those foreigners.
The first to come to mind is the Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum). This is a boldly colored azalea with fragrant flowers in orange, red and yellow. Another is the honeysuckle azalea (Rhododendron canescens), with fragrant white to pink and rose flowers.
In late spring, we are welcomed by the oak-leaf, one of the most beautiful hydrangeas anywhere. The 12-inch long, white blossoms and fall red leaf color give this plant superstar status.
This is just a tiny idea of the hundreds of native plants we could and should use in our landscapes, not only for adaptability but for beauty.