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Learn from experts and more at the Central Pennsylvania Native Plant Festival and Sale

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The Central Pennsylvania Native Plant Festival and Sale is coming up, and offers gardeners the chance to learn from experts about native plants and pick some up to take home.

Held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 4, is the second year that the festival and sale has been held at the Boal Mansion in Boalsburg. Diane Albright, an avid native plant gardener, said that they have over 400 varieties of native plants for sale, as well as native plant experts to advise you and educational walks and presentations. Also, there is plenty of parking and there will be local organic food concessions for ones enjoyment and the nice thing is that the event is free. Bring a wagon if you have one to haul your new purchases.

This event will certainly help you celebrate the arrival of spring, the return of many wildflowers and the beginning of another gardening season.

So just what is a native plant in your landscape? A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. In the eastern United States, native species are usually considered to be flora present at the time Europeans arrived and began settling in North America. Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses, mushrooms, lichen and ferns to wildflowers, vines, shrubs, and trees. How about wild columbine, trilliums, bluebells and redbuds and hundreds more native beauties? At the festival you’ll meet them all and after you been wowed by their splendor and diversity, you’ll be blown away by their practicality and benefits to your yard, community and planet Earth. That leaves you with the delightful task of deciding which ones to take home with you.

Native plants are adapted to the growing conditions where you live so they are often easier to grow and less susceptible to challenging conditions than non-native plants. Easier can mean less watering, less fertilizing, fewer pests and weeds (so less pesticides and herbicides) and — when you trade a spot of grass for a native ground cover — less mowing and leaf-blowing. All in all, natives can be less demanding of resources.

Native plants are essential links in the life cycle of many insects, birds, and other animals. The more native plants in your community, the healthier your ecosystem, and the more likely you’ll attract birds and wildlife to your yard. Plus, many non-native species are invasive and can “jump ship” from landscapes to grow with abandon in field and forest, out-competing and threatening our native plant species.

In the over 400 varieties of native plants that will be for sale you will find ferns, perennials, shrubs and trees and Pennsylvania Native Plant Society members at the ready to advise and suggest plant best suited for your yard. You’ll find plenty of inspiration and information in the educational programs and walks, including how to create a butterfly garden and plant native shrubs and trees to attract birds. The featured plant this year is the Jack in the Pulpit. These dramatic plants can add a statement to your shade garden. In late March or early April, a brown spike will appear and gradually unfurl to display two three-part compound leaves. The “flower” emerges in between these two leaves. This is the “pulpit” (or spathe) from which “Jack” preaches. “Jack” is actually called a spadix, and contains the actual flowers. The hooded spathe can vary from all green to purple and green-striped. Pollination produces red berries, which appear in the fall in a cluster and look like a lollipop. Jack in the Pulpit is relatively easy to grow and can spread to form an interesting colony in your shade garden. This is just one of the many native plants that can be easily incorporated into the home landscape.

I would definitely encourage you to visit the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society website, PaNativePlantSociety.org, for details, schedule of activities, a listing of vendors and a listing of plants as well as helpful links to national plant databases, native plant resources in Pennsylvania, and landscape help. If you are short on time, you can contact the vendors and pre-order your plants and they will be ready for you to pick up and go.

The plant sale will be held 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 4. Visit http://www.panativeplantsociety.org for more information.

Bill Lamont is a professor emeritus in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.
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