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Native Plant Prejudice

Native Plant Prejudice

by Theodore W. Palmer 1/31/2012


It is ironic that the prejudice in favor of native plants is so strong around Eugene.  For many tens of thousands of years, this area has had no stable native flora.  I do not know what was here before the last (Wisconsin) ice age.  I also know relatively little of the fast changing ligneous flora during the relatively short period between the end of that ice age and the first substantial human settlement of the area.  Although there were no valley glaciers, the climate was very different here during the Wisconsin ice age.  (I believe others do have considerable knowledge of the flora in this period from palynological (pollen) studies.)  In my almost 40 years of nearly daily visits to the site, I have seen and been able to understand much of what has happened in the last couple of hundred years, and am beginning to see what climate change is already accomplishing.


Most of those who favor native plants prefer the flora present when Euro-Americans first arrived.  It had been created by a millenia long fire regime practiced by the original human population.  When Euro-American diseases reduced the original population and later settlement changed the local balance of power, annual fall fires were largely stopped.  Mount Pisgah had NO needle bearing coniferous trees at least on its west side in 1850 and possibly as late as 1900.  Climate change is already producing the next phase in this long history of change.


In the arboretum and botanical world the belief that only native plants are “good” peaked a decade or two ago.  Now most of those involved with botany are far more interested in trying to preserve all plants from extinction.


Here are three published articles.  I do not agree with everything these articles say but I do think they make more sense than the extreme nativism pushed by some local people.  In particular, I oppose introduction of invasive species.  Indeed I have done more than anyone else to remove the most troublesome non-native invasive species at the Arboretum.  But we have to be practical.  (Geranium lucidum is here to stay.)  Every now-common species moved here at some time in the past.  It is hard for me to understand how those who favor diversity in our human population can so passionately oppose diversity in our flora.





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