Native plants are species of trees, shrubs, vines, wild flowers, grasses, and ferns that grew in eastern North America before Colonial times and coevolved, over millennia, with the region’s animals, insects, amphibians, bacteria, and fungi. Many of these native species depend on one another for survival, and their interrelationships help sustain ecosystems.
The naturally occurring form of a native plant is called a native species, also referred to as a “true native” or “wild-type.” Most plants reproduce by seed in the wild, with seeds developing when flowers are pollinated, mixing genes from multiple individuals. This genetic diversity leads to variations in how individual plants respond to conditions such as heat, drought, excessive rain, cold, and pollution, helping the species as a whole cope with environmental change.
A selected form of a native plant (chosen for ornamental traits such as double flowers, novel color, or short stature) is labeled as a cultivar and often given a commercial name in quotes, such as Aster “Purple Dome.” Cultivars may result from a natural or artificial mutation or from hybridizing two species. They are then reproduced by cloning and lack the genetic diversity (and resulting resilience) of seed-grown native species. Increasingly, cultivars are patented and may not be propagated by individuals or nurseries. Recent research confirms that many cultivars do not support the needs of pollinators and other wildlife as well as true natives do.
A wild plant, whether native or exotic to a particular region, grows and reproduces without human assistance. A domesticated plant depends on humans to reproduce and grow.
What makes nature resilient is the interconnected web of relationships among living creatures — plant, animal, fungal, microbial — and their environments. To function, ecosystems depend on plants, and not just any plants. Scientists are demonstrating that native plant species are essential to keeping ecosystems thriving. Recent research published by entomologist Doug Tallamy demonstrates that for a landscape to support food webs, native plant species must represent at least 70 percent of the landscape’s plant biomass. When the proportion of native plants falls below that critical threshold, food webs unravel. Boosting the native biomass in our yards and neighborhoods helps to sustain a diversity of species, from microorganisms in the soil to the pollinators that enable life.
Wild Seed Project does not have a physical storefront, but you can purchase our seeds, magazines, or merchandise through our online store. We also sell many of our products at our workshops, in-person events, and MOFGA’s annual Common Ground Country Fair.
You can be a part of the solution by joining Wild Seed Project as a member. Your membership immediately turns into action to support raising awareness about the importance of native plants and teaching a wide range of community members to sow native seeds. Plus, Wild Seed Project members receive a discount on seed packets, a copy of our annual magazine, Wild Seed, and other great member benefits. Learn more about membership.
Know someone else who might dig Wild Seed Project (no pun intended)? We have gift memberships, too!
Already a member? Consider a donation to Wild Seed Project.
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The most simple way to get involved is to stay informed! Sign up for our enewsletter or follow us on Facebook to keep current. To learn even more, attend one of our walks, talks, or workshops. Share our information with others who may be interested in our organization. Help us build our membership so we can expand our work!
We welcome volunteers for events, magazine distribution, office support, and seed cleaning and packaging. Learn more about our volunteer opportunities.
Black elderberry, blueberry, blue cohosh, boneset, bunchberry, butternut, hazelnut, hickory, large-leaved wood aster, nodding onion, Northern red oak, ostrich fern, purple flowering raspberry, ramps, shadbush, spicebush, sugar maple, wild cherry, wild strawberry, witch-hazel
All native species support bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects as sources of food and habitat. Pollinators forage on the nectar and pollen from these plants, and the stems and foliage serve as important sites for egg-laying and caterpillar growth – something that non-native plants cannot provide. Cultivars of native species with double flowers or other distortions like red foliage, for example, also do not support pollinators, as they usually have no nectar or pollen, and may be unpalatable to foraging caterpillars.
It doesn’t take a large plot of land to help pollinator populations. Planting patches of native species in suburban and urban areas along sidewalks, parking lots, and roadways creates an important connective corridor for pollinators.
For more information please refer to the following:
In Maine, Eurasian grasses often dominate meadows, especially if mowing has been frequent. These exotic grasses grow differently than our native species – exotic grasses spread from their roots to make tight mats whereas native species form in clumps, leaving room for wildflowers in the spaces between. The mat-forming habit of Eurasian grasses makes it difficult for native wildflowers to fit in. Therefore, it is important to choose tougher native wildflowers to reestablish in these areas. Here are some species to try (linked species are available through our online store):
These species can be planted into an existing meadow as small plants, or may be successfully established by seed if an abundance of seed is sown.
For detailed information, check out the following resources:
Fall, winter, and early spring are the best times to sow native seeds. In Maine, the yearly cycle for seed ripening and germination is different from common vegetable and garden seeds, many of which originated in tropical or Mediterranean climates. With our native species, many seeds need to have a winter period of cold, moist temperatures to break dormancy and germinate. Read below for more information:
In nature, seeds are dispersed in this random way, but typically less than one percent of the seeds a plant produces germinate and grow to maturity. This is because the seeds may be eaten, washed away in a heavy rain, etc. By sowing native seeds in pots or in a prepared seedbed, you’ll be much more likely to experience germination success.