April 28, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

The annual Native Plant Sale will feature a wide array of native plants, shrubs and grasses.

On Saturday, May 7, the Bunker Interpretive Center will host the sixth-annual Native Plant Sale from 10 a.m.–12 p.m. Customers are encouraged to arrive early, as plants generally sell out quickly. Recently, Calvin professor of biology Dave Warners, who organizes the sale, talked about the benefits of growing native plants.

What species of native plants will be for sale and what do they cost?

The really exciting thing to highlight this year [is that] we will have a lot of native shrubs which we haven’t done much of previously—shrubs like Black Chokeberry, Bog Birch, and Swamp rose. We will have dry prairie plants like Indian Grass, Smooth Aster and Black-eyed Susans. For shade, there will be Canada Anemone and Zig-zag Goldenrod. Plants like Joe-pye Weed, Cardinal Flower and Missouri Ironweed will be available for various degrees of wetness and sunny to light shade. Plants will cost $1.50 each or $4 for small pots. Large pots are $3 each or 4 for $10, and shrubs are $1.50-$15 each.

What are the benefits of native plants?

The plants at the sale are all grown from seeds collected in West Michigan and germinated in Calvin’s greenhouses on campus. [The plants] are from local lineages, and they have adapted to growing in West Michigan. If you put the plant in the right habitat … they don’t need any care. You don’t have to water them or fertilize them. They also attract native pollinators.

What would you like to see accomplished with this sale?

We want to have this event help educate the community about the beauty and utility of these native plants in urban places. I think in general we have been raised to think that we have places for people to live and places for nature to live. When we want to experience nature, we get up and remove ourselves from where we live and go out to where nature is. I really think that mindset needs disassembling—that nature ought to be something that we fit ourselves into. And the way do to that is to bring nature back to our cities.

We would love to have this [sale] start to help people recognize that they can plant native plants around their homes. And, we can support native pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. That’s the whole idea of promoting native plants: to rethink our place, what we have done to our landscape, and ways that we can do better. If we can think of our yards as sanctuaries, we can start planting our yards to be blessings to other creatures besides Homo sapiens.  

Are non-native plants harmful to the native species growing around Calvin’s campus and in Michigan?

A lot of the plants that have been planted in people’s yards have become threats. They are aggressive and spread to natural areas. It’s actually referred to as biological pollution when non-native plants spread to natural areas. Non-native plants also require a lot of care. When we plant any plant in our yard, we don’t know what is going to happen. A lot of times nothing happens. Both Buckthorn, a non-native shrub from Europe, and Privet make berries that birds spread [which] become[s] problematic. The bottom line is when you plant something that’s native, you don’t have the question of what will happen once it’s planted.

Are there other ways the Bunker Interpretive Center works to inform people about the importance of native plant growth?

All of the plant sale proceeds go to the Wetlands and Woodlands Summer Camps, which provide hands on experiences that connect children to the beauty of creation. During the camps, students get well indoctrinated. They learn of the value of native plants. Additionally, the van Reken dorm was built in a native-plant area, so it doesn’t get irrigation and chemical fertilizers.  It is a much more earth-friendly way to do landscaping, and energy costs of the building will be lower. Calvin has been pretty good about allowing areas on campus to be more natural.

It’s a paradigm shift, really. People have been raised to think about beauty in an urban context. And, to shift away from that is very difficult. Van Reken gets complaints because [people] think it looks messy. To get people to recognize that the native plants are beautiful is a hard shift to make. But I think part of it is just education. Once people realize what goes into maintaining a well-manicured lawn, they might see it in terms of chemicals and fertilizers which come from factories that use a lot of energy. Then (fertilizers) get shipped and then put on the grass. And what does it do to the soil? When it rains, it may wash off in the nearby creek. There are all of these hidden costs to make a beautiful yard that don’t come to mind. Not to mention the mowers and blowers that are burning fossil fuels and putting them in the air.
... And the other thing that is so important is the animals that benefit ... At van Reken or the rain garden in Devries Hall, there are so many species that benefit. In the summer, the sounds from the insects and the birds are so amazing. When you walk around the lawn, you don’t hear much. So with education you can whittle away at the aesthetic of what people think is beautiful and what isn’t.

Is there anything else that you would like the community to know about this sale?

I would strongly encourage people to try. Start with a small area of their yard. You could make landscape look the same, but just have native plants versus non-native. For people new at this, think about one-to-one replacements instead of a whole-scale habitat. Put it out there, and see how it goes. There is so much we don’t know about what Grand Rapids was like before we settled here. You can start learning as you introduce native plants back in. In a way it’s sort of silly that we live in this place but are surrounding ourselves with plants from somewhere else. As long as we are living here, let’s use the plants that are from here. It just makes sense.

Golden Alexander

A native plant shopper

Cardinal Flower

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