There are many good reasons for growing native plants. Native plants are adapted to local growing conditions, they promote biodiversity and support local wildlife, and in general they need less maintenance. Besides, native plants are Vineyard vernacular — they just look right in our gardens and landscapes.
In 2006 the Polly Hill Arboretum introduced a fledgling program called MV Wildtype, to meet the demand for native plants in the Vineyard community. Our primary goal is the production of native plants from local wild-collected seed. Now, six years later, our program produces native plant species that we make available for sale to gardeners, homeowners, landscapers and conservation groups, for landscaping with native plants, gardening, restoring habitat and maintaining biological corridors and augmenting cultural landscapes.
The program began with arboretum staff collecting seed from principal Island habitats. We were fortunate to receive support from the Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fund, an organization that funds Island students committed to sustainability issues. An intern from the program was trained on how to collect, process, store and germinate seed in our greenhouse. While our focus was initially on charismatic natives with conspicuous blooms, like butterfly weed, in successive years we have collected less showy plants as well as grasses, sedges and woody plants.
In addition to the production of local native plants, our MV Wildtype program encourages the greater use of native plants to facilitate the connection of fragmented habitats on-Island. On a global scale, and locally — yes, right here on Martha’s Vineyard — habit fragmentation is cited as a major factor in the extinction of species.
A key component to the success of MV Wildtype is educating the community on the role native plants play in supporting native insects, in addition to overcoming the aversion some people have to insects, caterpillars, and bugs in general. Native insects and native plants need each other, and w need both!
Another objective of the MV Wildtype is increasing people’s comfort level with native plants in their home landscapes, and defusing the argument that it is an either-or proposition. Simply not true! If you decide to use native plants, you do not have to rule out planting exotic (non-native) plants; you can plant both and have a beautiful, dynamic and responsible garden.
The arboretum is facilitating the effort to document and promote plant diversity on the Island. While our mission includes the general sharing of knowledge of plants and scientific procedure through education, research, plant conservation and exploration, we are taking specific actions to preserve, conserve and improve the local environment; this is one example.
If you want to support Island biodiversity in your garden, consider joining a new initiative called the MV Habitat Network, a program begun recently by The Nature Conservancy. The program educates Vineyard residents on how they can get involved promoting biodiversity in their own backyard. The arboretum is providing many of the plants for this new program.
There is a website for the program; the address follows inside parentheses: (nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/massachusetts/explore/vineyard-habitat-network.xml).