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I recently removed some goldenrod that had started to take over the pollinator habitat in my front garden. In researching plants that will do well to replace it, I'm having trouble determining what plants are native. Lots of gardening websites tell me if it will grow in my area, but I want to know if it is native. Many lists of invasive species focus on plants that are aggressively invasive, but there seems to be a gap in information about plants that aren't native, but aren't aggressive either. Just because it won't cause readily apparent ecosystem disruption, doesn't mean it's okay to plant a foreign species.

Is there a good resource to determine the native territories of plants I am thinking about planting in my garden?

I'm located in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., but hoping for resources that cover a broad range of territories.

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  • Frame challenge - not everyone agrees native=good, non-native=bad. And "native" is not a yes/no thing - native since when? The end of the last ice age is sometimes considered the baseline, but that's arbitrary. goodreads.com/book/show/22716462-the-new-wild
    – aucuparia
    Sep 28 at 13:10
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There is a beta website by The National Wildlife Federation that claims to list native plants for North America by zip code. For zip code 53011, it produced this page. Which lists:

  • goldenrod Solidago Asterales
  • strawberry Fragaria Rosales
  • sunflower Helianthus Asterales
  • deer vetch, trefoil Lotus Fabales

Along with others.

The website for The Biota of North America Program North American Vascular Flora may be useful.

Alternatively you could contact the Native Plant Society for the State where you live.

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  • +1. Lots of great resources -- I'll have to spend some time with these!
    – LShaver
    Aug 10 at 13:25
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Fairly authorative sources would be books used typically by botanists/biologists/ecologists/... to determine native plant species: these so-called 'floras' aim to include literally all native species, as wel as non-native ones which are fairly common and/or problematic. Principle:

  • if it's mentioned in the book it wil either not explicitly state anything in which case it is a native plant, or otherwise will explicitly say non-native and perhaps specify additional details like whether the plant is used (and escaped) as a crop or garden plant
  • if it's not in the book it is not native

Some of these books might also be available in digital form on a website (i.e. including the determination tables), and there might be official (state-funded) and other websites listing all these species as well but just not providing the determination.

Instead of turning to reading material you could also figure out which nature organizations are active in your area and contact them. Usually they'll already have answers on their websites for the typical 'how do I get my garden to fit into the local native ecosystem as good as possible' questions, because these questions are rather common.

I post this as an answer because it is too long for a comment, and know all of the above-mentioned material for my area, but the problem is I do not know which are the de-facto standard books for the U.S. (or better yet: for your particular state). This might help though: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/features/books/index.shtml. Likewise for the websites: a simple search for 'us online plant recognition' yields a ton f result but I cannot account for how well they work (i.e. can they correctly determine the species?) nor how good the provided information is.

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  • +1 for the approach. Someone actually gifted me one of the books for Wisconsin, but I'll keep my eyes peeled for the other recommendations as well.
    – LShaver
    Aug 10 at 13:26
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The USDA PLANTS Database. https://plants.usda.gov/home

The PLANTS Database provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories. It includes names, plant symbols, checklists, distributional data, species abstracts, characteristics, images, crop information, automated tools, onward Web links, and references. This information primarily promotes land conservation in the United States and its territories, but academic, educational, and general use is encouraged.

This database has a dizzying array of search criteria and filters by most any characteristic you can think of, including native status and location, as well as the ability to download your filtered list.

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