Acquiring native plants 

     This is, of course, an ethical as well as a practical question. Also, consider your motives for collecting. Are you collecting for educational purposes, enjoyment, to compete with your neighbor or other plant enthusiasts, for conservation of the species or other reasons? In any case, supply your gardens with propagules that originate mostly through nurseries and garden centers. In this way, ecological costs associated with collection are (theoretically) accounted for by the person or business doing the propagating-though this does (and should) get passed on to the consumer.

     However, not all regions or states have good supply chains for native plants. Also, some people may enjoy growing unusual native plants and that should be encouraged. However, please don’t collect plant material (seeds, rhizomes, cuttings, whole plants) in any public places (Botanical Gardens, Local, State and National Parks, Arboreta) without written permission or permits and of course, in some of these locations, permits are not possible at all-nor should they be! Having observed people stealing plants out of Botanical Gardens, I can’t state this loud enough! In other places, it is illegal to collect plants-even off the side of the road. Familiarize yourself with local/state/federal laws associated with this and requirements by the facility (if they exist). Even in collecting from the property of friends, it is best to obtain written permission from the owner(s).

     Once you have obtained permission, be especially careful of taking propagules from the wild. Take just enough to supply your need, but not enough to damage the existing population. Never harvest in a situation with only one individual plant!  If possible, collect from multiple small populations to lessen the impact across the wider distribution of the plants.

     Never, never, ever harvest rare, endangered or threatened plants!! Leave propagation of these important plants to the experts. 

     Also, some plants that may be common are difficult to propagate. Be aware of these. In particular, the orchids are difficult to propagate because of their mycorrhizal affiliations. Never attempt to move an orchid! Leave propagation of this highly specialized plant family to the experts! It’s difficult enough for these species to persist in their home environs.

     Some native plant clubs regularly hold plant ‘rescues’ from sites that are slated for development or destruction and they may or may not allow the collection for home landscapes. If allowed, this is a great way to acquire plants cheaply for your home environment, but be careful that they have obtained permission and are conducting their practices ethically and in an ecologically sound manner. Consider this code of ethics from The Wild Ones (natural landscapers) non-profit specifically for plant rescues.

Two quick sources of information on native plants:
USFS on ethics and wildflowers
Washington State University Cooperative Extension webpage on collecting plants.

Native plant sources:
See this list of links by the South Carolina Native Plant Society and this one by the North Carolina Native Plant Society.

© Karen C. Hall, 2010