The Pinelands’ Unique Botanical Heritage
The New Jersey Pinelands is home to plant communities found nowhere else on earth, and a growing number of individual species can be found only in our Pinelands, because they have been or are being wiped out in the rest of their natural range. The community of plants found here also does not exist anywhere else, as the New Jersey Pinelands is a unique mixture of southern and northern species which found a haven here after the last ice age and the warming cycles of the past 10,000 years. All this means that we have something very special to protect – and even cultivate. The New Jersey Pine Barrens isn’t barren at all. It’s just different from most other regions of North America. It was called “barren” by early European settlers who found they could not grow their row crops in the sandy, droughty, low-nutrient upland soils. The negative epithet stuck, creating the false impression that things don’t grow in the Pine Barrens.
Native species do better because they are adapted to Pine Barren’s unusual soil conditions.
In fact, beyond the familiar pines and oaks of our forests, the New Jersey Pine Barrens ecosystem has about 800 species of flowering plants and 25 species of fern. There are beautiful wildflowers – some common, some very rare even in the heart of the Pinelands – and several species of carnivorous plants, like the pitcher plant and sundews. Numerous species are commercially available and easily cultivated. The Pinelands also has beautiful and useful shrubs, like Highbush Blueberry and Lowbush Blueberry, Swamp Azalea, and Mountain Laurel.
Why Go Native in the Pinelands?
Your yard is a part of the wider landscape in which you live. It can be a haven for native plants and animals, or an island of alien species living here only because we have created high-maintenance artificial conditions in which they can survive and displace native flora. Your lawn can be at one with the natural Pinelands ecosystem, or it can be a beachhead for harmful invasive species and an opening through which human pollutants flow into the soil, aquifer, steams, and wetlands.
Most of our yards will fit both pictures to some degree. The Gardening with Nature guide developed by Pinelands Preservation Alliance aims to help you make your property an asset to the natural community of the Pinelands, while avoiding harm as much as possible.
There are lots of reasons to plant native plants anywhere you live – but these reasons are even stronger if you live in and around the Pinelands. In this region, the acidic, low-nutrient soils make it all the more important to go native. Native species do better because they are adapted to the unusual soil conditions, and taking care of these plants does not cause the environmental harm that fertilizing and watering non-natives can bring to our aquifers and the vulnerable Pine Barrens ecosystem.
Identifying Native Plants
You can use the Plant Database to search and identify plants that will work in your landscape if you live in the Pinelands. While some plants may be difficult to find in the garden centers of chain stores, there are a number of independent nurseries as well as online nurseries that supply New Jersey natives.
Check out the list of New Jersey garden centers that carry a supply of both Pinelands as well as New Jersey native plants.