Natives & Nativars

Native gardening is becoming increasingly popular in conventional and organic gardening. The two main reasons generally cited for using native plants are because they are adapted to our environment therefore requiring less maintenance, and also because they attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

We often get inquiries about what constitutes a native plant, as well as what a nativar is. Nativar is a blend of two words: Native and Cultivar. A cultivar is a variety which has been selected by humans for a particular desirable trait.  Simply put, a nativar is a variety of native plant which has been selected as an improvement of the wild species. The improvement may be a change in flower size/color, foliage, or growth habit.

The answer to what qualifies as a native plant is a bit more nuanced. We use the term specifically for those plants who’s natural range includes Western Washington. Others may use the term to refer to any plant native to the state, or even more broadly to refer to any native of the US or the entirety of North America. For example, Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa)  and Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis) are native to the Eastern side of the Cascade Range. They dislike Western WA’s wet winters, and as a result they often do poorly in this region.  Some examples of awesome PNW Nativars include Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Vancouver Jade’, Camassia leichtlinii ‘Alba’ and ‘Blue Danube’, Dicentra formosa ‘Spring Gold’, and Symphoricarpus albus ‘Magical Avalanche’.

Another adjacent category which doesn’t quite qualify as a nativar are native Hybrids. An example would be Athyrium ‘Ghost’, which is a hybrid of our native Athyrium felix-femina (Lady Fern) and the Japanese species Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Painted Fern). While very garden worthy, we wouldn’t count Athyrium ‘Ghost’ as a native, despite it having a native parent.


Plants native to the Pacific Northwest evolved over thousands of years to meet the specific needs of the surrounding ecosystems which include our climate, soil conditions, and weather patterns that also  affect the presence of wild life and their food sources.  However, the conditions that were present then have changed over time. This is where non-native plants come in. Many of these plants are adapted to our current environment and provide diversity in beauty and functionality.  Example:  The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), a prairie wildflower native to E. North America, thrives in the PNW as long as they’re given a sunny well drained location.


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