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Wake County wants you to stop planting crepe myrtles and other nonnative plants

A crape myrtle
A crape myrtle newsobserver.com

Some local leaders think it’s time to ditch the crepe myrtles and bradford pears in Wake County.

Foreign and sometimes invasive plants have been staples of developers and governments throughout North Carolina and the South. But now some Wake County commissioners want to stop using these types of plants and require grasses, shrubs and trees native to Wake County and the Southeast.

“We love Wake County because of our green space,” Commissioner Sig Hutchinson said. “And here is an opportunity to celebrate and support it.”

The native plant requirement would only apply to county-funded projects like new library branches and parks and projects that have to go through a county rezoning, but supporters hope that private developers and homeowners will voluntarily start using native plants, he said.

Native plants encourage biodiversity, provide natural food and shelter for wildlife and create a unique sense of place, said Eric Staehle, Wake County’s senior facilities project manager. Alien and invasive species of plants can destroy native trees, shrubs and grasses, and may not provide enough food for animals.

There are hundreds of trees and shrubs that Wake County would like to see more of. They include the American holly, flowering dogwood, tiarella commonly known as the foam flower, big and little bluestems and the American beautyberry.

The county’s unified development ordinance and design standards would be updated if the board of county commissioners approves the proposal this fall. It got the full backing of the county’s growth, land-use and environment committee Monday morning.

The first project would focus on the Fuquay-Varina Public Library and require that 70 percent of the species of plants be native to Wake County and the Southeast. Signs and markers would be placed near the native species to educate visitors about the plants. The branch is under construction and set to open in summer 2019.

Tom Earnhardt, host of of public UNC-TV’s “Exploring North Carolina,” applauded the committee’s recommendation and said he’d spent most of his life encouraging people to plant native species.

People won’t find caterpillars or butterflies on most of the trees now planted on roadsides, he said.

“We aren’t going to have the education opportunities, biodiversity or wildlife unless we put native plants back into the urban landscape,” Earnhardt said, adding that native species can help brand of Wake County and make it a place people want to live.

Wake County was uniquely designed and its buildings offer more to residents and visitors than cookie-cutter “Any-town, USA,” and the plants should match the area’s uniqueness, Hutchinson said.

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