Space Invaders: Asheville Green Drinks encounters non-native plant species

Who knew that a pastime as pedestrian as gardening could be downright dangerous? On Wednesday night, around 20 people took refuge from November’s bluster at the Green Sage Café to hear Bill Jones, president of Carolina Native Nursery, explain both the risks of importing non-native species plants and the benefits of proliferating indigenous plant-life.

The informal presentation, which was equal parts lecture and question-and-answer session, drew a diverse crowd that included a hydro-engineer, a sustainability expert, a member of the Asheville Tree Commission and a number of home gardeners interested in getting their thumbs green.

Jones, who has worked at Carolina Native Nursery for the last 12 years, said that his organization specializes in selling shrubbery, perennials, ferns and other species indigenous to the Southern Appalachian region. As he started what he termed his “birds-and-bees talk,” Jones said that “if we do not put native plants into our landscape, we will not have the beautiful ecosystem that people move here for.”

In the straightforward manner that defined his presentation, Jones continued, “I don’t have a slide show with lots of pretty pictures — I’m here to talk about sustainability.”

And talk about sustainability he did. “A sustainable landscape is designed to be attractive to you, but also to native insects, birds and other wildlife,” Jones explained. He emphasized the importance of insects to a healthy ecosystem and drove home the point that “plants that aren’t from around here don’t support native insects.”

Jones then discussed the advantages of sustainable land design and sustainable development — pointing out that these two strategies are “functional, cost-effective and visually pleasing.” Moreover, Jones said, sustainable development reduces waste, requires less pest control and preserves limited resources — especially water. “Having an irrigation system installed is not necessary for a natural landscape,” he said.

The remainder of Jones’ presentation focused on five points that he said people need to know about native versus invasive species. To summarize, Jones said that native plants are suited to this region because they evolved here, they’re environmentally friendly, they’re naturally hardy, they can withstand climatic fluctuations and they prevent exotic plant invasion and plant diseases — as chestnut blight.

“Diseases and insects that can be brought in with exotic species are more dangerous than the plants themselves,” Jones said.

Most importantly, though, Jones said that native plants help bees, insects and wildlife. “Without native plants, we’re not going to have those things,” Jones said. He also argued that a dearth of native plants resulted in a reduction in the numbers of pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.) and in wild bird populations. “By installing a native landscape, the wildlife around your house will increase,” Jones posited. In other words, it all comes down to the birds and the bees.

Following his talk, curious audience members peppered Jones with a variety of questions, and he had a wealth of information to share. Among other things, Jones endorsed hazelnut trees. He recommended hemlocks, white pines, rhododendron and laurel for fast-growing “privacy” plants. For medium-sized trees, he advocated using dogwoods, hazelnuts, rhododendrons and American holly.

Jones also imparted a number of tips regarding soil. For people living in developed areas, he suggested using bags of leaves or pine needles mixed with fertilizer to replace the topsoil. He also cautioned against using straight manure and recommended trying a 10-10-10 fertilizer instead. One audience member even asked about the potential upside of urinating on his shrubbery. To that, Jones replied laughingly, “Sometimes guys just can’t help themselves.”

As for edible plants, Jones said that blueberries and paw-paws were native. And for groundcover, he suggested removing ivy and encouraging the growth of Virginia creeper. He also recommended a Woodland Steward Series website for information on plants for specific ecosystems.

One attendee said that he had a yard full of bamboo. To remedy that situation, Jones at first suggested a flamethrower. Failing such an extreme measure, he explained that perseverance was the only real cure. “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite,” Jones quipped.

All in all, the evening was both practical and informative. Jones summed it up by saying, “I just want you guys to realize how native plants support the ecosystem we all love.”

Next week, Asheville Green Drinks will team up with Lenoir-Rhyne University as part of the Bioneers Conference. More information can be found at or at  



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About Erik Peake
Writing is my craft, my passion, my solace - and my livelihood. As a professional writer, I have worked in an array of venues and filled a variety of roles. Since I moved to Asheville, NC, I have enjoyed a freelance career as a grant writer, a technical writer, a Web-content writer, a copy editor, and an English tutor. I am currently specializing in web-content writing, blogging, and tutoring. Although an obsessive-compulsive nature inclines me toward proselytizing on behalf of English grammar, I also pursue forays into creative writing (as a balance, I suppose). Creative non-fiction is a field of particular interest to me, and I hope someday to publish a collection of short stories that circumnavigates the vicissitudes of my unorthodox youth.

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