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PowWow Wild Berry Echinacea

Dig In: Understanding Native Species vs. Native Cultivars

At American Meadows, we offer a broad range of native plants, and we're always working to expand our selection. Native plants are essential when it comes to supporting birds, beneficial insects, and wildlife. So what's the difference between wild native species, or indigenous species, when compared to a native hybrid, or native cultivar? Read on to learn more. 

Native Species

  • What's a native species? At American Meadows, we define a native species as one that is native to North America, and continues to grow and evolve in the wild. The USDA defines a native plant as one "that is a part of the balance of nature that has developed over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular region or ecosystem."
  • Native species respond to the web of life, and they are part of the evolving landscape. They're a part of Mother Nature's continual process, evolving with the shifting climate, soils, microorganisms, pollinators, birds, and other organisms (such as people).
  • In the wild, these factors influence the shape and forms that exist today, and how those forms will survive (or not) in the future.
  • As a result, Native species are wild and genetically robust, with variation from plant to plant, showing mutations and latent genes that may be expressed in different growing conditions.
  • Learn More: 5 Reasons Why Every Garden Needs Native Plants


Native Cultivars or Native Hybrids

  • ·What’s a native cultivar? At American Meadows, we define a native cultivar as a plant that exists in the horticultural trade, as a result of development by humans. Native cultivars are selections or improvements of native species parents. Cultivars of native plants are sometimes referred to as "nativars."
  • A native cultivar could be selected in one of two ways:
    • First, a native cultivar could be a hybrid of two related species, where the pollen of one parent plant is used to manually pollinate the flower of the other. The resulting seed is grown into a new plant with traits from both parents.
    • Or, it could be a selection of a wild plant with a naturally occurring variation. For instance, there may have been a wild plant population with a unique color or form. It would be collected by a botanist or gardener, and then propagated by cuttings to clone the genetics and reproduce the plant. In this instance, you'll see less diversity in the mutations that you may see in a native species. 
  • One easy way to identify a native cultivar is by its name. If it has a cultivar name, and/or if its name has a trademark (™) or registered symbol (®), those are indicators that the plant is a hybrid or cultivar. For instance, 'Balmy™ Purple' Bee Balm has a trademarked cultivar name. Another sure bet is when the botanical name listed gives a proper name alongside the genus and species. For example, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’  Echinacea is the genus, purpurea is the species, ‘Magnus’ is the name of the cultivar.

When it comes to the impact on pollinators and wildlife, is there a difference between the benefit of native cultivars and native hybrids? The answer is, sometimes, and it depends on the plant. Nativars share many traits with their wild source species, but they are sometimes missing a big component of what makes them work for non-human elements of the natural world. For example, in many cases, cultivars are sterile, and will not make seeds; that can reduce their value in the wider ecosystem, for instance, but keep them from spreading more than you like in your garden space. While we know and love a lot of fun and beautiful native cultivars, it's also a good idea to include wild species in your garden or landscape design, to bolster the ecosystem benefits of your planting.

For in-depth answers on the differences between wild native species and native cultivars, dig in to some expert research!


Other Helpful Plant Terms To Know

  • A Non-Native Plant is one that has been "introduced with human help (intentionally or accidentally) to a new place or new type of habitat where it was not previously found," as defined by the USDA. Many non-native ornamental plants have been introduced around the world for use in gardening, agriculture, and beyond.
  • A Naturalized Plant is a non-native plant that has escaped the garden, and reproduces on its own in the wild. 
  • A Translocated Plant is a plant that is being grown within in the same continent where it is native, but in a region that is outside of its natural native range. 

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