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UMaine Today Magazine


Donglin Zhang

Donglin Zhang

Title: Associate Professor of Horticulture
Research focus: Conservation and utilization of plant germplasm, especially native and introduced ornamental plants
Years at UMaine: Eight
Milestones: Applied DNA markers on ornamental cultivar discrimination and genetic diversity (Japanese plum yew, boxwood, lilac and flowering peach). Found an effective way to propagate native plants, such as sweet fern, hobblebush viburnum, blue iris, etc.

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Native Plant Species

Question: What are the benefits of using New England's native plant species as ornamentals in the home landscape?

Answer: One of the main benefits is that plants that are native to this area are very easy to grow here. They have learned to survive in the Northeast over thousands of years, developing strategies to deal with the pests, pathogens and environmental conditions. Many of them are hardy and easy to maintain, and their beauty is often overlooked. Maine has a huge variety of native plants that, with the help of focused selection programs to develop new cultivars, are just as beautiful as the imported plant species that are so often seen in nurseries and garden stores. Because they thrive in the growing conditions found in our area, there really is no good reason not to plant them in the home landscape.

Question: What other advantages do natives have over other ornamentals?

Answer: One very important advantage has to do with the overall health of the environment. By using selected native plants and their cultivars, gardeners can be confident that what they are planting will not become an invasive plant. Many of the invasive species that threaten ecosystems in the Northeast came here as ornamental plantings from Europe and Asia. Natives also are adapted to local climate and, in some cases, require less care.

Question: What opportunities do you see for Maine's horticulture industry with regard to native plants?

Answer: There is tremendous potential for developing new, marketable cultivars of native plants in the Northeast. There hasn't been a lot of effort invested in the development of native species to emphasize their beauty. Cultivars that bring out the plants' unique colors, sizes, shapes and other qualities would appeal to a huge market. Their development represents a huge opportunity for horticulturists.

Question: What resources would you recommend to those interested in planting native species?

Answer: University of Maine Cooperative Extension has put out two excellent publications dealing with native plants: The Maine Native Plants Source List and Gardening to Conserve Maine's Landscape. These and other Extension publications can be ordered online (


UMaine Today Magazine
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