Allan Armitage on the Trifecta of Pollinators, Natives, and Deer Resistance

Baptisia australis Chanticleer, May 16, 2011 April 2024

Baptisia australis attract an array of pollinators. Photo: Allan Armitage

Oh my, trends, trends, trends. They are always around — we wonder if they are real, what they are, and how long they will be valid. Real-life market gurus are always telling us what the next great crisis will be, from Y2K, to the scarcity of toilet paper and disinfectant in 2020. In horticulture, remember the grafted tomato, recycled tires as garden containers, and thank goodness, we are seeing less and less colored mulch. How awful is that stuff!

In fact, the Color of the Year, as cool as the concept is, is not a trend any more — if it ever was. In 2022, the Pantone Color of the Year was Very Peri. In 2023,it was Viva Magenta. This year, it is Peach Fuzz. I don’t even think contestants on “Jeopardy!” would get these right, and I know my daughters or my landscape friends simply don’t have time to try to find color matches for their landscapes.

New trends will always be touted by market people, and they may have their fingers on the pulse of horticulture better than I do. But perhaps I reside in the trenches a bit more than they, and I still hear the same big three time and time again: Deer, pollinators, and natives.

I don’t mean to flog a dead horse, but these three have been around for so long, a curious trend is evolving. They are morphing into a megatrend. People don’t only want to know about a native or a pollinator or even a plant that deer don’t crave — they want The Trifecta, that is; “tell me some plants that are native, good pollinators, and deer won’t eat.”

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Landscape designers and landscape architects are fielding more of these questions and are turning to the nurseries for solutions. Gardeners and retailers have already merged natives and pollinators (even though doing so is wobbly business) but they want their polli-natives to also be deer-proof.

We are a pretty smart group, but it is hard for us to get our arms around this, and even more difficult to come up with a list. So, allow me to take The Trifecta trend and start off with three choices. There are many more, but here is a start.

  • Baptisia, false indigo: Common false indigo (B. australis) is native throughout the country, in the Southeast, lower Midwest and mid-Atlantic, and into the Plains states. They attract an array of pollinators and nativars continue to be introduced in a dazzling array of corms and colors. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being filet, 1 being ignored), baptisia is rated a 2.
  • Coreopsis, tickseed: Common tickseed (C. grandiflora) has a wide range of nativity, nearly throughout the country, while whorled coreopsis (C. verticillata) is native mainly to the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. However, pollinators are copious; the flowers acting as landing pads for larger butterflies and insects. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being filet, 1 being ignored), coreopsis verticillata is rated a 2, common coreopsis perhaps a 2.5.
  • Panicum, switch grass: Common switchgrass (P. virgatum) has become a go-to grass for professionals wanting native grasses in the design. The USDA shows that switchgrass is native to all states and most of Canada except for California, Oregon, Washington, Alberta, and British Columbia. Acceptance of switchgrass for gardens, landscapes, and bioremediation is well established, and nativars continue to be introduced. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being filet, 1 being ignored), P. virgatum is rated a 1.5.

There are a good number of plants we grow and sell that satisfy The Trifecta, here is a list of five more.

  1. Adiantum, Northern maiden hair fern
  2. Amsonia, blue star flower
  3. Echinacea, purple cone flower
  4. Rudbeckia, yellow cone flower
  5. Vernonia, iron weed


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