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Native plants are a popular way to fight invasive species, support environment

New England Aster is one of 50 perennial plants the Otsego Conservation District native plant nursery has for sale.
Tom Potterfield
New England Aster is one of 50 perennial plants the Otsego Conservation District native plant nursery has for sale.

Since the Otsego County Native Plant Nursery first opened in 2008, more people have shown up every year - to get native plants and learn about their benefits.

Patricia Osburn is the native plant nursery manager for the Otsego Conservation District. She said native plants are an “investment” in protecting lakeshores, improving water quality and supporting pollinators.

“[Native plants] are just so popular lately,” Osburn said. “The last couple of years have just been really good, with a lot of interest in pollinator gardens, helping the native bees and monarchs. People just really do care.”

In the past, conservation districts once gave out autumn olive and barberry - plants that were thought to be a good source of food for wildlife. These invasive plants were even promoted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“They thought it was a good thing,” Osburn said. “Then over time, they saw how the plants reacted to our land and found out they were absolutely not a good thing … Humans have made a lot of bad judgment calls, but hopefully, we're gonna redeem ourselves by working hard to make a difference.”

Now, native plant nurseries and gardens seek to undo the damage of invasive species and educate people. In a press release, the Michigan Department of Agriculture warned people to be mindful of invasive plants when starting up gardens this season.

“It's not easy - it’s a lot of labor to deal with some invasive plants and then replace them with native ones so that the invasive ones don't come back,” she said. “It's been great to see people, just so passionate about it.”

Although taking care of native plants can be a difficult task, Osburn encourages people to start small and learn their plants’ needs.

The Otsego Conservation District’s native plant nursery has 50 different perennial species and will be open until the fall. For more information on Michigan native plants, visit the conservation district’s website.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.