Browsing through all of the native plant species available for sale may make you wonder where native plants come from. Are they divided from a large mother plant in a nursery, or are they produced from stem cuttings or in a test tube?
The simple answer is no. Most are grown from seeds, not native plant cultivars, but pure species – the kind you see growing in the wild.
The seed can come from mother plants growing in a nursery, but the seed that grew these plants originally came from nature. Many nursery plants produced in Missouri are grown directly from seeds collected from the wild. Thus, the seeds for the production of native plants come from populations of native plants remaining in nature.
Find native production
At Shaw Nature Preserve near Gray Summit, Missouri, we collect seeds from native plants in ditches and roadside cliffs, along railroad tracks, streams and old hay fields, from the 1930s, when Edgar Anderson performed our first clearing restoration.
Sadly, many of these original ancient sites have disappeared – landscaped, sprayed or covered with trees. However, other ancient sites are protected by various conservation groups, and it is thanks to the hard work of these organizations that these original seed sources still exist.
Many native plant nurseries depend on these wild areas as sources of seeds, which are collected with permission and under strict seed collection contracts. Never harvest seeds from the wild without first seeking permission from the landowner, on private or public land.
Harvest the seed
For decades the seeds have been collected from wild areas existing on private property, thanks to the generosity of individual owners. Through the practice of collecting seeds over the past 90 years, Shaw Nature Reserve has rebuilt degraded farmland and restored damaged natural areas. From this practice we have also developed the Whitmire Wildflower Garden.
The vast majority of the plants in the garden have been grown from local wild seeds and collected by horticultural staff and volunteers, thanks to early advice from Peter Raven, director emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
In addition to continuing to harvest seeds from the remaining native plant populations, we now have the ability to harvest seeds in the Shaw Nature Reserve. Through these efforts, we are providing nurseries with the seeds they need so badly to supply a thriving native plant industry.
Be careful when buying
Missouri’s native plant industry collects its own seeds much like the Shaw Nature Reserve. Be sure to ask your local nursery where their native plants come from. It makes a big difference.
Native plants grown or derived from wild seeds are genetically diverse. This means they can thrive despite local pathogens, damaged urban soils, and new weather standards. It also means that they are able to support countless beneficial insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. Plants from other places (including many cultivars, but not all) generally do not bear‘I don’t have this advantage.
Native plants grown from local seeds are variously beautiful. They come in a variety of tolerances, habits, shapes, sizes, and colors, just like we do. And when planted together, they produce the greatest beauty and the highest function, all with the added benefit of increased pleasure and reduced maintenance. Good gardening, you‘ll!
Woodbury is a horticulturist and curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at the Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Missouri, where he is an advisor to the Missouri Prairie Foundation.‘s Cultivate native! program.