[permaculture] The Effect of Cultivars on Native Species Gene Pools

Jacque Greenleaf jacque at book-woman.net
Thu Dec 31 12:23:32 EST 2009

On Dec 30, 2009, at 3:00 PM, dwoodard at becon.org wrote:

> If you don't do your permaculture thing successfully on your land,  
> what is
> its alternative fate? I doubt that you have enough land to support  
> your
> family with "unimproved" native species for food.
> For ornamentals, I think there is a good argument for relying mostly  
> on
> native species of fairly local genetic origin.
> If you have a significant area of forest that you manage sustainably  
> and
> restore to  a diverse species mix of the area, and if you establish  
> native
> and more or less local herbaceous species on your land, and you farm
> organically, you will be of great benefit to your local ecosystem.  
> Don't
> sweat the details too much.

I agree with this. Unless it's known for sure that a particular  
cultivar is displacing natives, I think there's little point in  
worrying about it.  Your county and/or extension service will have a  
list of plants known to be aggressively invasive in your area. Don't  
plant those guys, and if you already have them, work to change the  
conditions that are conducive to them.

Honey bees are not native to the Americas. As my partner and I plant,  
I will be concerned to include species and cultivars that are  
important to mason bees and bumblebees. I know for a fact that the  
native bumblers in our area are drawn to pansies, so I intend to plant  
lots of them, as well as the native violets. Both bumblers and mason  
bees are active in colder temps than honey bees, so those early  
bloomers are really important. And we do have the room for an acre or  
two of permaculture zone 4/5, where, as I learn more, I will try  
(re)introducing natives that "ought" to be growing in that vegetation  

I also intend to experiment with plants from warmer climate zones,  
both warmer and wetter as well as warmer and drier. Global climate  
change will cause massive plant movement in any case, so the more  
plant material that is already present, the better.

Lest you think that I am too cavalier about this, in a previous life I  
made a (very poor) living chasing endangered plants for various state  
and federal land ownership agencies. I gained a great respect for the  
natural resilience of plant populations. The idea that there is a  
fixed list of plants that "should" be growing in a particular area,  
and that you can debar plants not on that list is a bit simplistic,  
especially on already disturbed land. Let the genes flow! (they will  
anyway, regardless of whether you "let" them.) If your land's original  
condition was prairie or wetlands, and you have the room for a zone  
4/5, contact your local native plant society, and start learning from  
them how to re-establish at least some of the natives. You have a lot  
of fun ahead of you!

Change happens, whether we will or no. Diversity is, as always, your  

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers,  
having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and  
that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed  
law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most  
beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. - -  
Charles Darwin

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