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What Are Nativars?

Each new edition of the dictionary adds a longer and longer list of new words. Some are coined words but many are compound words or, in horticultural terms, hybrid words. One such word that has begun to creep into our vocabulary is “Nativar.”

A nativar is a cultivar of a native species. The name is, generally, attributed to Dr. Allan Armitage, a well known author, lecturer and horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, Athens.

Dr. Armitage has been quoted as saying about nativars, “They should rule the garden” since nativars can provide the best of both worlds: a landscape improved by the ecological impact of natives and a way to address problems that usually plague certain native species.

Nativars represent a good compromise for those who want to plant native plants but are concerned about certain traits that native species exhibit. Such traits include attracting insects and diseases or becoming invasive. Conversely, Nativars may also be bred to display bigger, brighter, nicer blooms or more fruit and vegetables. The big plus is that they are native plants. Or are they?

Not everyone shares Dr. Armitage’s enthusiasm about nativars. Those who express the most concern are native plant purists. It is important to define native, first. The most commonly accepted definition of native plants is those that have grown naturally in an area since before the Europeans arrived. But then, what area are we talking about? Your yard? Your community, state, region, the United States or all of North America?

In biology, there are few absolutes, including the definition of a native plant. Those most  critical of nativars are those who define a native plant as one that has always grown in a carefully defined ecosystem. They fear that hybridizing these plants, even with other native plants, will result in non-local genotypes, which will not be identifiable to the wildlife that depend on local native plants for food.

You will know my opinion on the subject of native plants if you click December 2012 on the sidebar and read the first blog – Native Plants Are The Only Plants – True or False. Hint: I agree with Allan Armitage.

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