After a shopping excursion, I exited the small strip mall in a different direction. Lo and behold, growing right there on the side of the busy street, I saw a row of tall, striking flowers I had never noticed before.
To correctly identify these gorgeous golden blooms, I went to one of my favorite Facebook pages – the Mississippi Native Plant Society Group.
Sure enough! There it was, identified by the webmaster of the society and admin for its Facebook page, Nate Venarske, as Solidago altissima, or tall goldenrod.
For those who have never visited this page, it is a valuable resource for identifying and enjoying some of Mississippi’s most beautiful treasures – her native plants.
I recently interviewed Venarske about his work with the group and his interest in our state’s native plants. It was such an informative and enjoyable experience that I plan to share tidbits of his insight throughout the summer.
First of all, Venarske explained that he not only researches pollinators and pollinator plants, but he has been growing and selling Mississippi’s native plants since 2019. That love of our state’s plants has carried over into his desire to bring new plant species to the market and provide his customers with alternative lawn solutions.
His passion for our state’s flora prompted me to ask Venarske for an exact definition of a native plant.
“A plant is native if it occurs naturally in a given area,” he explained. “That area could be large, like a country or a region, or it could be small, like a county or a specific creek bank.
“Everyone has a slightly different idea of what qualifies as a native plant. A good rule of thumb is to specify where the plant is native to avoid ambiguity.”
Venarske added that a handy tool for correctly identifying plants native to Mississippi is Alan S. Weakley’s 2022 Flora of the Southeastern United States and an accompanying website: fsus.ncbg.unc.edu/index.php. He also suggested the use of multiple print and online resources, including plant location and distribution maps, provided by the Biota of North America Project (BONAP), found at bonap.org.
And of course, the Mississippi Native Plant Society is a trusted resource. Founded on April 15, 1980, by botanically inclined people across the state, the original objective of the society was to provide a forum for mutual education and discovery, and anyone can join the society, no matter their age or experience.
Check out their treasure trove of helpful links and archived newsletters at mississippinativeplantsociety.org, or follow some of our state’s most talented botanists and ask your own questions about native plants by searching for the Mississippi Native Plant Society Group (MNPSG) on Facebook.
Also, be on the watch for another summer session with Venarske and learn about his top five favorites from the more than 3,000 plant species and varieties found in the 21 diverse ecoregions of our state. Just wait until you learn about one plant that is native to nowhere else on Earth except Mississippi!
In case you cannot wait that long, go to the MNPSG Facebook page, and explore some of our state’s beautiful native flora for yourself.