Admittedly, mentioning a trivial controversy in the gardening world today – with everything that’s happening!! – seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly what I thought when I saw this graphic posted to a local gardening Facebook group.

And accompanying the graphic, this text:

Recently, I spent the weekend on a property with a lot of native cultivars and there were no pollinators on those plants.

Buy from your native plant society and you’ll get the true species. Or find a native plant nursery that grows the straight species!

EXCELLENT ARTICLE HERE.  The big nurseries will mostly or only have cultivars. Your native plant society will sell the straight species. Find yours here:.

Reactions

First, “Just say no” is most famously what Nancy Reagan said about drugs. I was fine with that, and I’m fine with “Just say no to racism” and anything else that’s actually consequential.

So are cultivars of native plants SO bad that we must “Just say no” to them? To quote another First Lady, “Give me a f*** break!”

My actual response to the post on Facebook was: “I’ll speak up for one cultivar – ‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye Weed. It’s short enough to fit in my tiny garden and is a pollinator MAGNET. The straight species MAY be even better, but I wouldn’t buy it for my garden. So thanks, breeders!”

My point being that insistence on purity can be self-defeating, another example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

A couple of commenters supported the attack on cultivars, but most did not. Some examples:

  • “I think it’s more complicated than ‘native good cultivar bad.’ Even the linked article mentions that some cultivars are better for wildlife than the native species.”
  • “Is this a 100% true fact? Pollinators will not, ever, use cultivars as a food source? Or is this over-hyped propaganda of some kind?”
  • “Balanced – it depends. Some cultivars are more beneficial than others. There is ongoing research on specific native cultivars, or nativars, and which provide benefits that are equal or greater than the wild type, and which are worse. I personally try to stick to locally sourced natives when possible, but also have some nativars such as hello yellow butterfly milkweed and phlox Jeanna.”