What??! Native Plants are Not Pretty...

The Sea Oats chapter's table with lots of literature,
and sample native plants including this lovely
white-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
When I read last week’s post about Diane Neill's landscape transformation, “Keyhole Garden In –Lawn Out,” I was surprised at the landscape guys’ comments that native plants weren’t pretty ("The doom and gloom guys"), but last weekend I heard a grower say the exact same thing and more.

I was a vendor at the Garden and Home Show in St. Augustine October 1 & 2. While I’m not on an official book tour, it was fairly close to home and I was available with a box of books to sell. The weather was gorgeous and a fair number of folks came out to buy plants, participate in the 4-H activities, and to hear presentations. The Sea Oats FNPS chapter had a table at the entrance to the hall.

A swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) next to my
table with a Sleepy Orange butterfly guest. I'd also bought
a big pot of coontie and I borrowed a pot of muhly grass.
The natives attract attention and provide talking points
when trying to sell my book.
It doesn’t take long to set up my book table, so I roamed around the plants offered for sale. Two vendors had asparagus fern (Asparagus spp) to sell, although one guy said that this was a non-invasive form; one vendor was selling the invasive lantana (Lantana camera); and the master gardeners were selling the invasive golden rain trees (Koelreuteria elegans spp formosana). Not being shy I talked to all of the vendors—some argued, others did not have any comment, and the master gardeners said they would remove the golden raintrees—but they didn’t.

Then I talked to the event coordinator and politely suggested that for future events that it would be a good idea to stipulate, “No invasive plants.” He replied that they couldn’t do that unless the plants were determined to be illegal. I asked for further clarification and he said there was some other list besides FLEPPC’s (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council) but couldn’t remember what it was. I asked again about why they couldn’t use the agreed-upon list from FLEPPC; he got mad and stalked off.

Renee Stambaugh, a member of the Sea Oats chapter and owner of
Native Plant Consulting attracted a lot of attention and she ended up
with more than 30 leads for people wishing to redo their landscapes with natives.
Renee also found a local grower to work with--good for the grower to have a
ready market and good for Renee to have a ready supply.
Events like this are great networking opportunities.

I’m on the planning committee for FNPS’s 2013 conference, which will be in Jacksonville. So during the event I talked to all the growers and asked if they’d be interested in participating in the conference plant sale. A couple of local growers said that they were interested and appreciated the lead-time so they could get started now. What other event can deliver 400+ educated and motivated consumers?  But the vendor next to my table flatly refused and said, “I grow pretty plants and natives are NOT pretty. Yes, I sell some Muhly grass and a few others, but generally I can’t sell natives.” I was so surprised that I did not have an answer.

The view from my booth mid-day on Saturday including a bit of the
"I only grow pretty plants" grower's booth.

We Still Have A Lot of Work To Do!

· Don’t be shy: speak up when you see invasives for sale. If enough of us protest, it will eventually make a difference. It’s important to be polite and respectful.

· Ask for native plants wherever and whenever plants are sold. Again, don’t be shy.

· Increase your own outreach by talking to reporters, local groups, HOAs, politicians who are making decisions on vegetation installations, landscape & roadside maintenance. Be prepared with printed materials or at least provide a list of resources where folks can find plants and further information. Ask to be a guest blogger on blogs with a local audience and share photos of your beautiful native plants.

· Increase your chapter’s outreach to the general population. The Sea Oats chapter had an information table for this show and the previous weekend they held a native plant sale at the “Estuary Day” celebration on September 24th at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. If you read about Diane Neill's experience (above), you may recall that she learned about native plants at a green market and persisted in her choice of natives even though the mainstream landscapers tried to convince her otherwise—someone was doing a good job of outreach at that green market.

If we all work together to reduce sales of invasive plants, increase awareness of the problems they create, and if we promote sales and awareness of native plants, then maybe, just maybe, the grower at the next table will start to come around.

Ginny Stibolt

Michael mans the Sea Oats chapter table at the entrance to the building.

If you have a story about your work along these lines, please share with us here—your actions may inspire others who may inspire their own circles and so forth until we have even more real momentum. Contact us at fnps.online@gmail.com

Some additional photos from the St. Augustine garden show

Early Saturday when the outside vendors are ready for the crowds...

4-Hers--start them early...

And down by the pond...

Hempvine  (Mikania scandens)

A great white heron belly-deep in dollarweed (Hydrocotyle spp).
FYI, this post was reposted with a new title.  


Anonymous said…
Wow, what a story. I'm particularly disappointed that the master gardeners are promoting invasive plants. And I assume that it was an IFAS person who said that they cannot stipulate no invasives. The program needs to be updated.

And you're right we do have A LOT more work to do!
Loret said…
I'm please to report that the Osceola County Master Gardeners were in complete agreement not to see any Class I FLEPPC listed plants at their upcoming Sale, Nov. 4 and 5th. The FNPS Pine Lily Chapter has had an information table at their twice annual sales for several years and we are welcome with open arms. I'm also pleased to report that our chapter routinely participates in most local events to get the word out to the public. We are partners with the school system and share our knowledge with the children....get them while they are young! Sometimes they know more than we do about ecology! ~~Loret
Anonymous said…
You might not like politics but as FNPS members and other fellow conservationists were advised some years ago, if you don't do politics, politics will still be done to you. And that's what has happened with "lists of invasive plants," fertilizer ordinances, sustainable landscaping regulation and everything else. The businesses that sell this stuff invest in the political system to make sure their rights (to sell this stuff) are represented. What are you investing to make sure your rights to a healthy environment are protected?
Pretty is as pretty does, goes the old wise grandma saying :-) And what's pretty to one is not to another etc. That said, we in the native plant world need to (1) work on better communicating the beauty of our plants (thanks for this blog which does an excellent job) and (2) improve the visible quality of our plants offered in the marketplace. We know this. Fortunately, it's a relatively pleasant if not always financially rewarding occupation.
Anonymous said…
I wish that garden centers would place all native plants in one section and make sure that they were marked plain and clearly. I am so tired of having to google in the garden department.

I feel like people really want to do the right thing by having native plants in their yards. But when you go out to a garden center you are hard pressed to find someone who knows anything about plants. I have come across a few who are very helpful. Most avoid you or are hard to find. I am just the type of person to learn all I can and educate myself. Most do not have time and I am sure just pick the pretty ones, invasive or not.
What a great opportunity for master gardeners interested in natives to volunteer their time at local garden centers, assist the ordering department with appropriate plants, and then to be available to help people as they came into the center and wanted the help.
Port Orange Lowes had more native plants than I have seen at other places. I am creating a native garden and butterfly garden at my seminole county school. I am so wishing there were more native plant "stores" around. Especially those that deal with endangered species of plants. What better way to help those species than to educate the very young in how to care for them!? :)
Anyone with a desire to offer advice or direction I am willing to listen!
Jessica Carter
Hi Jessica,
I'm glad to hear that you're paying attention when plant shopping. Yes, it is frustrating. Fortunately, there are quite a few native plant nurseries in Florida with knowledgeable staff. You can find out which are closest to you at the following website: http://plantrealflorida.org/professionals/3

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