Native, wild or... both?

A native plant can be wild, but a wild plant isn’t necessarily native. So unless you keep the Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers by your bedside, you might mix both up sometimes. We call “native”plant species that were growing here prior to European contact, the same way we call “native” indigenous people who lived here before European settlement.

Wild plants come from other countries, but adapted so well to our climate that they reproduce and grow spontaneously without human intervention. So the fact that a plant is familiar and common doesn’t mean it’s native. It could have been introduced by European settlers coming to the New World, bringing with them edible as well as medicinal seeds. Colonies of coltsfoot growing around 18th century buildings are a great example. We can still see them around, including close to Montreal’s Hotel-Dieu Hospital, since coltsfoot was said to cure different ailments, like coughs and lung illnesses.

Did you know the dandelion is from Europe? And what about burdock, also known in Quebec folklore as fetid hellebore and skunk cabbage? And plantain, so prolific it grows everywhere, even in the cracks on the sidewalk, was called “white man steps” by the native! Those plants are wild, but not native.

Whereas nettle, hated by farmers and hikers alike –for whom touches it will feel a sharp pain–, is native. Horsetail, very common on poor soil or close to waterways, is also native.

To confuse things further, many native plants in Quebec are also found in Europe. However, they can be differentiated by their Latin name. An example amongst many is angelica. This native plant used in Oneka care products comes from the Angelica atropurpurea variety, while the European variety is called Angelica archangelica. Both have the same properties.

The few plants mentioned here are too often called weeds, and yet, those pretty wild ones have their place in our gardens and flowerbeds. They are so generous: undemanding, they need little care and have no watering or fertilising needs. And remember, many of them are edible and medicinal!