Supporting the native plant industry

 You can’t have a native garden without native plants!

Red maple seeds.

Red maples grown from Florida stock will know that they should be at this stage at the beginning of Feb.

If you crave a native or mostly native landscape to better support the butterflies and the birds and to be a better steward of your land, you will need a good source of locally grown natives.  To illustrate the importance of provenance, take the red maple (Acer rubrum), which is native to Florida and all the way up into the Canadian provinces.

Here in north Florida at the beginning of February, the maples bloomed a month ago and the seeds are ready to drop. (This photo was taken yesterday.) The leaves will be coming out in another couple of weeks.  If I would like to purchase a maple, I could buy one from a mail order, an online company, or maybe even a local big box store that might receive its stock from the Midwest.  But a maple from Canadian or Midwestern stock would not do well here because its bloom and leaf cycle would be too late in our season.  Of course, the maple example is a theoretical question, since maple seedlings are weeds in my yard.

Dogwood blooms.

This photo of the dogwood blooms was taken yesterday here in north Florida.

It’s the same situation for dogwoods (Cornus florida).  (This photo was also taken yesterday.) It has a wide distribution, but our dogwoods are blooming now, so plants grown from more northern stock would not do well here.  For instance, the Arbor Day Foundation offers their Nebraska-grown dogwoods as part of their membership package.  I advised that Floridians not take any trees from them in my post Arbor Day Foundation & Florida. And then there are all the plants that are indigenous here that will not be available at nationwide distributors. So what can you do?

To have native plants, you need a local source  Florida native plant tag.

With few exceptions, you’re unlikely to find a wide selection of native plants in big box stores. Plus, many of the native plants they do offer are likely to be native cultivars such as a Little Gem Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’), which is a smaller, more compact version of the wild plant.  Many people don’t consider the cultivars to be true natives. And the distributors for the big box stores may obtain their trees in bulk from distant sources.

If you’re lucky, a local garden center will have some locally-grown native plants, but in most cases, your best solution is to find a local nursery that specializes in growing natives.

To find such nurseries, you could start by joining your local native plant society, whose members will probably know good local sources, plus you’ll learn a lot and have a chance to be part of the local native initiatives.  See my post My Name is Ginny and I’m addicted to the Florida Native Plant Society for more details on what this organization does.

Also, here in Florida, many of the state’s native nurseries have banded together in the Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN) and their retail-oriented website has a tool to find members or a specific plant.  The members adhere to rules, sorta like the BBB, so we know what we are getting when we shop for plants. Read my post on FANN and other Florida resources in Getting Started with Native Plants in Florida.

It’s not easy being green

Running a native nursery is a difficult business.  Many customers expect that plants will be inexpensive and will “pop” just like the faux plants the big box stores, which are bred to look good on the shelf in the store and not necessarily to do well in your garden.  Some natives take a long time to germinate or become established and so are not inexpensive to grow to a size that will make an impact in the landscape.  Plus many customers are looking for the mythical “no maintenance” landscape and are disappointed that this will not be the situation–low maintenance when compared to a lawn, but not no maintenance. A couple of years ago Sue Dingwell summarized some of the problems facing the native plant nurseries in Economics in the Native Plant Industry and Ecotypes: Considerations in Restoration.

Kari Ruder of Naturewise

Kari Ruder held an extreme plant sale at her nursery, Naturewise in Cocoa. Here she is explaining plants to one of her clients.

Doing my part…

So a few weeks ago, I was heading south for a long weekend.  Kari Ruder of Naturewise Nursery in Cocoa had posted a notice of a plant sale on Facebook on the Friday I was heading south.  I left a couple of hours early and stopped at her sale.  I was there right as she opened in the morning.

She had recently closed down an offsite location.  This was an extreme sale and she had priced some plants as low as $1, $2, or $3.  Many of these plants had outgrown their pots and most needed to be weeded, but still, how could I resist?  And I bought a quart of fresh strawberries, too–an unexpected hostess gift. (Update: Here is Kari’s response: Challenges of a Native Plant Nursery.)

A native plant crowd.

It was a busy morning. I asked around and most had heard about Kari’s sale because they are on her email list.

seed packs

Various seeds for both natives and edibles were available.

Ginny take home

Here is what I bought: various bunching grasses, rayless sunflowers, coreopsis, and a couple of small coonties.



In addition to native plants, Kari offered locally grown strawberries and fresh eggs.








I was excited to find two small Florida coonties for $2 each.  Normally, they are much more expensive because of their extremely slow growth rate.  These native cycads have an interesting history. The Seminoles made a starch from the roots and later coonties were widely harvested for their roots. It was also known as arrowroot and was used in the manufacture of Animal Crackers! Since it grows so slowly, the native populations could not keep up with the harvest and the atala hairstreak butterfly almost became extinct as the native coonties became rare. For more information see another of Sue’s articles, Coonties: Captivating Cycads.

A crowd at the plant sale.

I was pleased to see such a nice crowd at Kari’s plant sale and I wish her and the other Florida native nurseries well, because without them, where would we be?


I am not the best client for my local nurseries because I already have so many natives that multiply here and try to be sustainable and work with what I have, but I should resolve do better in the future.  It is important to support their businesses, so that when I’m ready to plant a new project, that someone will be there for me.  But more importantly, so they can continue their good work in transforming the over-lawned landscapes in Florida with ecosystems that can support wildlife.

As native plant enthusiasts we will want to do everything to support our native nurseries, because without them, our options for native plants in our landscapes will be very limited.

© 2013 – 2014, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Ginny, thanks for bringing up this all-important issue. Native plant nurseries, even those that are run by non-profits, have to show a positive cash flow, or they can’t stay in business. Because they often can’t afford to buy real estate in locations in the heart of the retail/downtown/strip mall corridor, we need to circle dates on our calendars dedicated to making the trip to get out to them. Want natives? Support native nurseries! That simple.
    sue dingwell recently posted..The Colors of Winter

    • says

      The other side of where can we get natives is that we are not to take plants from parks, preserves, public spaces and roadsides. It’s illegal and just plain wrong. For transplanted natives, we are limited to rescued plants and private lands with permission.

      Nursery stock is much more likely to survive because you’ll end up with all of the roots.

  2. says

    Ginny, You make a great point here, and do it with humor, both of which I really appreciate! Thanks for reminding us about supporting native plant nurseries and also about buying locally-grown plants adapted to our area. Maybe we need a local-plant movement like the locavore food movement. I don’t think we’d want to call it locaplant though–people would just think we were crazy or our plants were. ;)
    Susan J. Tweit recently posted..Books: True Nature & Resilience

    • says

      Wouldn’t it be great to create as much buzz as the locavores? But, if we keep chipping away at the problem with more education and more awareness, we can begin to make a little more headway. We have to get our message about natives out to new groups, and as I talked about in a previous post here, the local government officials who are the deciders for for managing our public lands.

  3. says

    Thanks Ginny & Sue for your support of the native plant industry. It’s a “hard row to hoe” for sure, but we make steady if slow progress. I’d like to remind customers to always ASK FOR native plants. Don’t assume that’s what you’ll get, even at nurseries that carry natives. Usually what you get is what makes the most $ for the nursery owner.

  4. Dee says

    I loved the article. I’m in a suburb southwest of Chicago, currently researching what kind of tree to plant in a small area in back, that floods easily. Not only am I limited by space, I’m an avid butterfly gardener, so of course, it has to be a native tree. I didn’t know the different species of each tree as you mentioned, with those grown in certain locals, shipped in, then sold & planted in areas where they won’t do well. When we shop at the big box stores, do we ever think about that? Thank you for the informative article that more people need to be educated about.

  5. says

    Ginny, What an important post. It’s hard to break gardeners of the expectation that plants should be cheap, in bloom and almost mature when you buy them. I am always so pleased to find local native plant growers here in CT, but as you point out. they can be a bit difficult to locate.
    Debbie recently posted..The Best Nature Tips in the Virtual World

  6. says

    I don’t know how I missed this article at the beginning of the month. Asleep at the wheel I suppose. Great stuff Ginny and a wonderful reminder that local makes sense in all ways, provenance, carbon footprint and community support!
    Loret T. Setters recently posted..Freshwater seafood?

  7. says

    To read about the experience of the grower, read Kari’s response and all the comments her post generated over on the Florida Native Plant Society’s blog.

    For those not in Florida, maybe it’s time to support your local native plant society and work on developing a local native nursery trade to support your native plant needs.
    Ginny Stibolt recently posted..And back to cold weather…

  8. says

    Ginny, GREAT advice. Thank you! And lots of excellent comments by readers. I’ve promoted natives in southern NJ for many years. One nursery grew out of the interest / demand, but sadly has closed. And now there are none. We’ve got to create the demand by asking for natives when we visit nurseries AND, as you shared so well, support native plant nurseries when we find them.
    Pat Sutton recently posted..2013 Wildlife Garden Tours

  9. says

    In support of my point in this post, Here is a link to a study “Who Influences Purchases of Native Plants.”

    “When asked the primary reason they [independent nurseries] carried native plants, respondents cited client request (25.6%), followed by ecological reasons (17.8%), adaptability to difficult site conditions (16.3%), and low maintenance issues (13.2%). ”

    So the action item here is to ask for natives and put your money behind those requests.

    Thanks everyone.
    Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Love Your Planet!


  1. […] purchase them. Running a native nursery business is not easy as I’ve written about before in Supporting the native plant industry and sometimes the plants you purchase will not look like much when you buy them in a dormant state […]

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