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Va. group promotes interest in use of native plants

By JANE W. GRAHAM

The Virginia Native Plants Marketing Partnership, formed in 2011, is looking for ways to bring back the native species that made this continent the land of plenty that it has been for many centuries.
One of these ways is to encourage landscapers and horticulturists to offer more native plants to their clients while educating them to the advantages of using them in their gardens and landscapes.
Much of their approach has been developed while working on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and is providing an example for other regions, according to Virginia Witmer, outreach coordinator, Virginia Costal Management Program of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“Native plants are those that are indigenous to a region and possess traits that make them uniquely adapted to local conditions,” the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation recently reported. “They have evolved over time, adapting to factors specific to their region such as climate, moisture, soils and interactions with plants, animals and insects.”
The spotlight was on this concept at the Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association meeting in July when Douglas W. Tallamy, scientist and author, shared his views of why bringing back native plants is so important.
Tallamy is professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark and author of Bringing Nature Home: How you Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.
Throughout his talks at the meeting at Virginia Tech, Tallamy stressed the huge green lawns that have become status symbols in this country and the use of exotic plants from other countries have made it difficult for native insects to survive.  The insects cannot find food in these foreign plants and thus cannot survive.  This means the wildlife that feed on the insects cannot survive either.
The Virginia Native Plants Marketing Partnership has become a reality as state agencies have worked on the Costal Zone Management efforts, part of the on-going recovery of the Chesapeake Bay.
“Although the Virginia CZM Program’s federal CZMA funding must be spent in Virginia’s costal zone, the efforts [of] the program and its partners have generated interest in western areas of the state, and presented an opportunity for the program to encourage and support state-wide coordination and collaboration on native plant marketing,” the group reports.
One of the major accomplishments of the group in stretching westward from the coast has been the formation of the Virginia Native Plant Marketing Partnership Steering Team.  As of July, the team consists of members from various governmental, environmental private and public groups represented.
In an interview this fall, Jay Austin, horticulturist at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, said, “We’re trying to figure out ways to foster increased demand for native plants.”
Austin represents the gardens on the steering team. He is hopeful that Virginia growers will be able to provide the native plants to customers as the demand increases from the efforts of the team.
Witmer said, “Over the next few months we — the Steering Team of the Partnership — will be focused on drafting an action plan. In January, Carol Heiser, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (who is co-coordinating the group with me); Shereen Hughes and I will be on a panel at the Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Short Course (in Newport News, Va.), providing an overview of the partnership and where we are in the process of developing the plan and the goals and strategies it lays out. We are particularly excited about the receipt of funds to develop and pilot, in Maryland and Virginia, a bay-wide Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional Certification.”
Witmer expects that many Virginia Native Plants Marketing partnership members are and will be engaged in this endeavor. She sees them supporting the development of the marketing certification.
Hughes is assistant director of Wetlands Watch and will be the Virginia Coordinator of the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council. The council is in the process of hiring a bay-wide/Maryland Coordinator. 
Hughes said, “Through this certification, local government, NGOs and property owners will have access to consistently trained, conservation landscape professionals whom they can trust to correctly design, install, and/or maintain Chesapeake Bay Program and state-approved, small-scale storm water best management practices and conservation landscapes.”
She added the initial list of practices include the following:
• Rain barrels and cisterns
• Rain gardens and bio swales
• Conservation landscaping with native plants
• Tree and shoreline/riparian buf-fer planting
• Urban nutrient/turf manage-ment
• Invasive management
• Permeable hardscapes
• Impervious cover removal
“With a collective funding effort from NFWF, Campbell Foundation, Maryland Sea Grant, Virginia Environmental Endowment, Prince Charitable Trust and contributions from many other partners,” Hughes reported, “consortium partners plan to develop a bay-wide, common curriculum and a self-sustaining certifying organization, work with training and pilot partners to align curriculum, training, and hands-on experience and test the certification candidates (first in Maryland and Virginia and eventually bay-wide).