Sources for Native Plants

I am frequently asked, “Where can I get native plants?” As a result, I thought it might be helpful to provide some basic information, pointers, and advice on the different sources of native plants--something that might be especially helpful to beginning native plant gardeners.

Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS)

Local Chapters: Presently, there are 35 FNPS chapters scattered throughout Florida and most chapters engage in some form of activity whereby members can obtain native plants. The Palm Beach County Chapter, for example, has monthly plant raffles, an annual auction, and a vendor's table at the John D. MacArthur Beach State Park Earth Day celebration known as NatureScaping. Some chapters go beyond merely hosting a vendor's table and, as one example, the Paynes Prairie Chapter sponsors a very popular native plant sale every spring and autumn.

Silphium asteriscus seedlings were unexpectedly obtained during a native garden tour sponsored by the Palm Beach County Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.
Local FNPS chapters also promote, and are a source of information regarding, plant sales in other ways: chapter newsletters may carry advertisements from local businesses selling native plants; monthly speakers, especially nursery owners, may bring plants for sale; and the local FNPS chapter is a great way of meeting like-minded people with whom to trade plants, cuttings, and seeds. Even events that do not seem to be in any way connected with obtaining plants can yield new treasures. This spring, I went to the Palm Beach County Chapter's garden walk of native gardens. At one garden, the owner allowed me to collect Silphium asteriscus seedlings out of his yard and, in a little out-of-the-way corner, he had potted plants for sale, including Scutellaria havanensis, a compact-growing, state-listed endangered member of the mint family that bears masses of violet-blue flowers in late winter and spring.

The Annual Conference: FNPS has an annual conference and, to many attendees, the highlight of the conference is the numerous and varied plant nurseries with native plants for sale, often with fairly unusual or rare plants available. To obtain the most up-to-date information on the annual FNPS conference, go to the FNPS home page and click on the word Conference in the navigation menu on the left side of the page. The next annual conference is scheduled for May 19–22, 2011, in Maitland, Florida, and it's not too early to start your plans for attending the conference.

Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN)

AFNN has a website with a complete listing of its members as well as a search engine for locating specific plants that AFNN members are growing. AFNN also publishes a very useful and informative Guide for Real Florida Gardeners. The latter is an all color publication with inspirational photographs of native plants used in home, commercial, and institutional settings. It also has advertisements from each member, ranging from a simple business card to full page spreads, that provide additional information about the nurseries that belong to AFNN.

Although the AFNN member nurseries and the AFNN website are invaluable resources for the native plant gardener, you should bear in mind that the plant lists on the website are not always up-to-date. Thus, some listed plants may no longer be in stock and plants that are not listed may very well be in stock. The only way to know for sure is to contact the various nurseries. Also, most of the nurseries tend to focus on specific groups of native plants, such as butterfly plants, wildflowers, trees, wetland plants, etc. By way of example, imagine that you are seeking Acer negundo, an uncommon tree of north and central Florida. It is unlikely that you would find it by making inquiries at AFNN member nurseries in South Florida that specialize in wetland mitigation plants. However, your chances of finding it will increase substantially if you make inquiries at AFNN member nurseries located in northern and central Florida (where Acer negundo naturally occurs) and if you focus specifically on nurseries that specialize in woody plants (trees and shrubs).

Opuntia triacanthos, a tiny 3-inch tall prickly-pear, was found at the nursery of the Institute for Regional Conservation.
Institutional Nurseries
To the surprise of many, some of the most unusual and rare native plants are available at nurseries run by various non-profit institutions where the income from selling native plants is used to supplement the institutions' budgets. For example, The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) is best known for its outstanding work on plant conservation. But how many know that IRC has a small nursery that makes available to the public such rarities as Opuntia triacanthos, a tiny prickly-pear on the state's endangered species list? Another excellent nursery is run by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservtaion Foundation, while the nursery at Bok Tower Gardens usually has for sale plants native to sand scrub or sandhill habitats that are difficult to obtain anywhere else.

Berlandiera subacaulis, a wildflower that occurs nowhere else on earth except in Florida, was a delightful surprise when it was found for sale at the native plant nursery run by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Sources That Are Not Recommended

Collecting from the Wild: I do not recommend collecting plants from empty lots, roadsides, or natural areas because such activities are often illegal and the perpetrator may be guilty of trespassing, theft, or both. Also, all land in Florida belongs to someone, even if that someone is the State of Florida, and, unless you have obtained permission, taking anything from land you yourself do not own is indeed stealing. Compounding the problem is that fact that there is now an incredibly large number of non-native plants growing in Florida and I have seen native plant gardeners bring home an exotic pest plant or non-native weed that they assumed was native because it was "growing in the wild."

Mailorder Nurseries: There are many mailorder nurseries, especially throughout the southeastern United States, that carry at least a few Florida native plants; however, mailorder nurseries need to be viewed with extreme caution as a source of native plants. In my experience, it is not uncommon for such nurseries to also sell non-native invasive, or potentially invasive, plants. Thus, the unwary can easily end up doing business with a nursery that is promulgating the spread of invasive plants. For reasons that I find inexplicable, there are mailorder nurseries whose stock is made up entirely of native plants except for one or two non-native, invasive pest plants. Most customers assume that everything such nurseries sell are native and, unless their product list is very carefully scrutinized, it is easy to overlook the fact that the nursery is indeed offering for sale an invasvise pest plant.

Additional Sources

The sources I’ve mentioned do not exhaust all the possibilities and native plants can show up in the most unlikely places. For instance, while shopping at Lowe’s hardware store, I once encountered Helenium amarum (Spanish daisy) for sale, a colorful native annual. And how many people would expect Sears to be a source of native plants? Yet, in Pompano Beach, the local Sears leases the space outside one of its entrances to Donna Torrey, who runs a micro-nursery called The Garden Gate with a wide variety of native plants for sale.

This pot of Helenium amarum, a native annual of sunny sites, was found for sale at a local Lowe's hardware store.

Are there interesting, novel, or unusual sources of native plants where you live? Please don’t keep them such valuable information a secret and we welcome your comments below.


Ginny Stibolt said…
Fabulous photos and good information on sources. I've attended quite a few FNPS chapter meetings this past year and loved seeing all the native plants offered as raffle or door prizes. I ended up with a good assortment of new natives, which have been added to my landscape. Now as some of them have multiplied, I'll be bringing back the offspring to share at future meetings.
Anonymous said…
Excellent article. Thank you. - Jane Thompson, President, Indian Trails Native Nursery, West Lake Worth

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