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Native or nativar? What’s the difference? And does Maryland have native fruits?

I’m aiming to plant 70% natives. I want to plant a fothergilla shrub, and the ‘Mt. Airy’ variety sounds perfect, but is it a nativar?

Currently, for gardeners trying to increase the native plants in their gardens, it’s difficult to impossible to find a native that is not a nativar. Nativars are native plant cultivars, i.e. cultivated to accentuate particular traits, such as large bloom size.

It’s possible nativars could breed with naturally occurring natives and change, or somehow weaken, the DNA of the local gene pool. Extensive research is needed to determine that. However, recent research seems to show, at least in the respect of supporting native insects (which, in turn, native wildlife need), that nativars function fine in the landscape — with one big exception. Red or purple-leaved nativars were inedible to native insects and could be downright damaging to them.

For your purposes, fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ was discovered growing naturally, not commercially hybridized. It’s a southeast U.S. native, renowned for its funny honey-scented spring blooms and spectacular fall colors. It’s also deer resistant with virtually no pest problems — a great plant.

Are any fruit-bearing trees native to Maryland?

Paw paws (Asimina triloba) and persimmons (Diospyros) are native to Maryland.

Other native plants bear fruit that is small, bitter or may need processing to make palatable for human consumption, but all provide good sources of food for native wildlife. These include elderberry (Sambucus), chokeberry (Aronia), black cherry (Prunus serrotina), wild plum (Prunus americana), crabapple (Malus), and serviceberry (Amelanchier).

Check out the Maryland Department of Natural Resources program for tree rebates — $25 off when you purchase trees on their recommended list (from approved nurseries). Search: Marylanders plant trees for the coupon.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.