Embracing an “invasive native”


Like many beginning gardeners, I was initially attracted by easy, “do it all” solutions. I soon learned that there are no such things, but that was after I bought a can of “wildflowers for shade.” I sprinkled the seeds into an impossible spot between a big maple, our back wall, and the neighbor’s boundary fence. (The great thing about these seed cans is that there is no indoor-starting, soaking, stratification or any of that geeky seed stuff. They are just assumed to work if directly sown, no matter what they are.)

(with the gallium, hellebore, and a few other things)

Eventually a few plants came up, but I only remember the hesperis matronalis (Dame’s Rocket), a known thug around here that did not survive for long. The sole plant that remains, eighteen years after I sprinkled those seeds, is anemone canadensis, which, at first, I took for some kind of geranium (cranesbill), but eventually looked up and found its true identity. For a while, it stayed where it was sown, putting up a discreet clump every year. It got sick of its admittedly cruddy, northeast-facing position though, and, over the last five years, has sidled around the tree trunk and is now westward bound. The anemone is duking it out with a huge hellebore clump and rampant gallium odoratum (sweet woodruff) that has long held this space. And it’s more than holding its own—even against the gallium!

This is a native plant that is found in a pretty wide distribution throughout the Northeast and Midwest, in spite of having Canada in its name. (They have it there too.) It laughs at shade and doesn’t requite nearly as much moisture as its descriptions suggest.

I know that Canada is looking pretty good to many of us these days. I wouldn’t go so far as to consider emigration, but I do welcome this indigenous product to my garden.

P.S.: Some commenters have, understandably, questioned the term “invasive native” in the title of this post. I deliberately used it, as it is the term used by a native plant vendor when I asked for the plant. It is a weird term to use, admittedly. So I put it in quotes, as it is not my term.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Not meaning to be snarky, but please don’t use the term “invasive” for a native plant such as Canada Anemone, especially when planted within its natural range. Aggressive would be a better word choice. Despite recent assertions to the contrary, words still have specific meanings.

    I personally love the aggressive nature of Canada Anemone and have planted it extensively in several school pollinator gardens. I use it in areas that are prone to erosion, knowing that in a year or two it will fill in the space.

  2. Words have meaning, and “aggressive” would be a far better choice than “invasive” in the title of this post. The plant’s indigenous to your region and has benefits for local fauna and your garden.

  3. I deliberately called it that because that is the term a native plant vendor used when I asked for it. I could clarify that.

  4. I love my Canada anemone, and I have joyfully grown it in my Connecticut, Maryland, and Kentucky gardens! I don’t care what the vendor called it, it is inaccurate to call any native plant ‘invasive,’ when grown in their own regional environment. You cannot ‘invade’ your own home! Native plants can be assertive, exuberant, spreading, colonizing, or even aggressive, but not invasive. Native plants are beneficial and a crucial element in the ecological web, whereas spreading alien plants are not, and they more often damage the balance of nature. Your hellebores and gallium can (and are, in some areas) properly considered invasive.

  5. I love Anemone canadensis. For me in my cold climate Quebec garden this plant is neither invasive nor aggressive — or at least, not yet. I plant it with pulmonaria and like the combo of white blossoms and white spots on dark leaves. Both shine out from a dark corner.

  6. Canada anemone is not the only agresive/invasive native. I would add bloodroot, twin leaf, snakeroot, wild ginger, mayapple, ramps, Solomon seal, and even trillium to the list. But, who’s complaining.

  7. I also love this plant! It hasn’t become too aggressive in my garden, filling in nicely in a part shade situation, and providing graceful white flowers just blooming now.

  8. Often, I react too quickly when I hear that some plant is invasive. When I do further research, sometimes the fact is that the plant is only invasive in some conditions. I wish plant labels would reflect this. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I planted gallium in my garden last spring, learned that it was “invasive” and pulled a lot of it up. Then I found out that it’s less invasive in drier conditions. So, I’m leaving what remains of it in my garden. I think it’s a beautiful ground cover.

  9. Invasive, aggressive, tomato, tomatah, whatever. There are some natives I am happy to let spread (columbine), others I root out with a vengeance (silver maple), some I just try to keep under control (Virginia creeper, flea bane, Indian hemp). Milkweed can take over if you let it (but probably not if you want it). (Personally, I like Dame’s rocket.)


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