Butterflies Know: These Native Plants Aren’t Weeds

The first time I met Neil Diboll, he set his front yard on fire. On purpose.

It was part of a lesson that Mr. Diboll, a prairie ecologist and nurseryman, was eager to share about native plant communities. The prairie species that had replaced his lawn were adapted to fire, he informed me, because regular wildfires had influenced their evolution.

That was more than 30 years ago. Since then, Mr. Diboll has continued to find dramatic ways to capture gardeners’ attention and educate them. That’s essential, he knows, when you’re dealing with ideas that are unfamiliar to most people.

Mr. Diboll is now 42 years into the business of propagating and selling seeds and plants of native Midwestern and Eastern species at his Prairie Nursery, in Westfield, Wis. And we find ourselves in the age of the pollinator plant, and the pollinator garden, and interest keeps growing. But it wasn’t always so.

Mr. Diboll remembers way back when — when native plants were referred to as weeds, for example.

Gardeners often pass over white-flowered perennials like wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), although it offers up to three months of bloom to delight humans and an impressive diversity of pollinators.Credit…Courtesy of Prairie Nursery

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