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Exploring the Underused Potential in our Native Forests

Rick J. Lewandowski
Director, Mt. Cuba Center, Inc.

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 3570
3120 Barley Mill Road
Greenville, DE 19807

A paper from the Proceedings of the 12th Metropolitan Tree Improvement Alliance Conference (METRIA 12), Landscape Plant Symposium: Plant Development And Utilization, held in Asheville, NC, May 23-25, 2002, co-sponsored by the North Carolina State University, North Carolina Division of Forest Resources, USDA Forest Service Southern Region, North Carolina Landscape Association, North Carolina Association of Nurserymen, The Landscape Plant Development Center, The North American Branch of The Maple Society, and The International Ornamental Crabapple Society.


For those of you who attended the pre-conference field trip to experience North Carolina's incredible diversity, it's clear that there are ample examples of diversity in our forests that remain under-appreciated and under-exploited. Tapping these natural resources for use in the garden through propagation and production techniques, evaluation, breeding and/or selection has been done to a limited degree, but many more opportunities exist.

Today, I'd like to highlight some of the enormous diversity found in the forests and fields of the eastern U.S. I hope this sampling of some native plants provides further evidence of their potential as superior landscape plants.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mt. Cuba Center, it officially became a non-profit horticultural institution this past year following the death of our founder Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland in January, 2001. However, during her life, she and her husband developed and refined their interest in gardening and growing native plants. In the early 1980s they created and privately funded Mt. Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora in an effort to plan for the future of their estate as a non-profit organization. Since that time, the gardens have become renowned as one of the finest woodland wildflower gardens in the mid-Atlantic region and, under the leadership of our first director, Dr. Richard Lighty, a number of plant introductions came into the marketplace.


Our mission as a non-profit organization is to continue and expand upon this early activity. At the same time we want to evaluate many of the fine introductions coming into the trade and assess them for use in our region of northern Delaware and the mid-Atlantic, collaborate with others on research and plant introduction and be a source of high quality plants for garden use.

Native Plants

Some of the horticultural industry's most common and successful plants are native plants-red maple, oaks, southern magnolia, flowering dogwood, winterberry holly and many perennials to mention just a few. And, yet, we've only scratched the surface. As we continue to work in the development of good plants for the American and international marketplace, there are many native plants that can be incorporated into our planning and development.

For the most part, I won't discuss plants where considerable plant introduction and/or breeding work has been done with them; however, there are still many opportunities to develop landscape plants in new directions in these groups including: Amelanchier working with stoloniferous species; developing Aesculus with smaller stature and disease resistance; and improving Kalmia for disease, heat and moisture tolerance.

Some of the plants discussed during this lecture include:

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