An increasing number of people are starting to agree.
When Plyler, 47, began growing native plants 22 years ago, he was one of few doing so. Even five years ago, the big nurseries that supply landscapers offered no natives for sale, said Angela Palmer, a horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Today, the nursery catalogs are 20 to 30 percent native, she said.
Plyler "was one of the first in that area" to sell natives, said Palmer, who used to work in Chester County. "It's catching on all over the country."
Proponents say native plants have many benefits, including their positive effect on the environment. If a plant is adapted to a particular area, then it likely will not need pesticides, fertilizers and excessive watering.
Moreover, native plants are said to make the best hosts for local birds, butterflies and bumblebees.
Plyler acknowledges those virtues. But during a recent tour of his Natural Landscapes Nursery, it's clear that he is equally attracted to the plants' appearance.
One of his specialties is native azaleas. Not for him the usual spectrum of white, purple and magenta, found in shrubs that originate from Asia.
Instead, Plyler's selection includes bright-orange flame azaleas from the Appalachians in northwestern North Carolina. Fragrant coast azaleas from the Delmarva Peninsula, white with a blush of pink. Sweet azaleas from the Susquehanna River, below Holtwood, Pa.
"Can you get any better than this?" he exclaimed, handling one of the blooms.
Most of his plants are grown from seed, originally collected during thrice-yearly car trips with his partner and fiancee, Bethany Beliveau, across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states.
There are varying definitions of "native." The ones in the big catalogs are generally grown from cuttings and are clones of the parent plant. Plyler prefers the healthy diversity that comes from using seed.
Then there are the ultra-purists, who won't grow anything unless it comes from seeds collected in the immediate area.
Plyler casts a broader net, selling plants from as far south as Alabama to a range of high-end landscape contractors, arboretums, and public gardens on the East Coast. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Chester County, is a customer.
The plants aren't cheap, costing two or three times as much as their mass-produced counterparts. It requires more labor to grow plants in small batches in the ground, as opposed to large batches in pots.
In addition to ornamental shrubs, Plyler grows trees small and large. Sweet bay magnolias, sourwoods, white fringe, American chestnuts and scrub oaks from New Jersey's Pine Barrens, to name a few.
Plyler, who grew up in Thornton, Delaware County, got interested in native plants after studying ecology at West Chester University.
Two decades later, others seek out his expertise. This week, Plyler is to speak at a native-plant conference at Millersville University in Lancaster County. (Palmer is director of the three-day event, which begins today.)
Plyler's interests apparently extend to other things native as well.
When buying a ring for his fiancee - who studied botany in Highlands, N.C. - he didn't even think of getting a traditional diamond from Africa. Instead, Beliveau's ring is set with a star ruby from the Appalachians of North Carolina.
Contact staff writer Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Native Plant Conference
Millersville University is hosting a native plant conference today through Saturday. For information, call 717-872-3030 or visit www.millersvillenativeplants.org.