Garden Talk: Immigrant Plants

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show
JCVD100 (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Like the melting pot of cultures in the U.S., our gardens too are a melting pot—of plants. Immigrant plants can add variety and beauty to gardens.

Featured in this Show

  • Horticulture Educator Details History Of 'Immigrant Plants' Coming To Midwest

    Immigrants brought their favorite plants to North America in the 18th century, but now, the plants are known as “plant immigrants.”

    Today, the Midwest is home to various immigrant plants like dandelions, crabgrass and chrysanthemum, according to Barb Larson, University of Wisconsin-Extension horticulture educator of Kenosha County.

    “A lot of the plants that we think of as kind of typical garden plants and very common in our gardens aren’t natives,” Larson said.

    A couple of great examples are lilacs and daylilies because they are very prevalent in the region. They were both introduced in the early 1700s, brought over by early colonists from Europe, Larson said.

    She shared an interesting story regarding the immigrant plants. The pioneers knew daylilies and lilacs were easy to move so they would plant them all around their homes. Today, when people are trying to spot old Midwestern homesteads, seeing daylilies and lilacs are a clear sign that the area is where the colonists used to live. Though the barns and houses are gone, the immigrant plants remain, she said.

    There are some immigrant plants that don’t have the same sweet connotations as daylilies and lilacs.

    “There’s the crabgrass, which was actually brought to North America by Czechs, Poles and Hungarians and it was a grain crop that was really easy to grow in Central Europe and so they brought crabgrass because it was good for them and that’s what they knew,” Larson said.

    After a few years of growing crabgrass, they found that wheat and corn proved to be much more profitable and grew just as easily. Larson said it was too late because the crabgrass had already started to spread.

    “By that time, the crabgrass was everywhere, but they gave it up and just started growing wheat and corn instead,” Larson said.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Cheyenne Lentz Producer
  • Barb Larson Guest

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