Sources for Native Plants - FLNPS List Introduction

Sourcing Native Plants – Finger Lakes Native Plant Society 2016

Probably the best method to procure native plants for your own garden, or restoration project, is collecting seed from approved nearby sites (allowing for the regenerative needs of the plant colonies), propagating the seed yourself, and planting the resulting young stock in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible. An added benefit of this method is producing plants of the local genotype, well adapted to conditions found here, unlike ones from another region. This is why FLNPS offers locally collected seed at our December meeting. Not everyone who is interested in using native plants in their private gardens will have the time or passion for such an undertaking, so the Finger Lakes Native Plant Society offers a list of local sources for native plants.

In formulating a source list for native plant species, some ethical considerations naturally arise. Anyone familiar with the nursery trade in native plants knows that collecting huge numbers of plants from their natural habitat, sometimes illegally, and selling them to nurseries across the country has been a wide spread practice. Even when legal, this disrupts the ecological balance of the woods, meadows, and bogs these native plants are torn from, diminishing or demolishing colonies of native plants, and often creating an opening for opportunistic alien invasive plants to gain a foothold. This threatens species’ survival, plus these plants often don’t survive the damage in transport and transplantation into suburban gardens.

So, if commercial wild collecting is not an ethical method of procuring native plants, what is? Conservation authorities, and organizations such as the New England Wild Flower Society, fully endorse only those sources that provide verifiable, nursery propagated plants. There are also people who practice “sustainable harvesting” on private land - carefully collecting small numbers of plants from large colonies and allowing for regrowth prior to taking more. This may prove to be a viable source of native plant material for some species, but there is no research data available on the long term impact of the practice, and monitoring is difficult. Some plants with long maturation times or very specialized habitat requirements, e.g. trilliums, are difficult or expensive to propagate in a nursery and more difficult to harvest on a sustainable basis. Thus many of the plants offered commercially have been collected in a fashion which will decrease the wild stock over time. Please inquire carefully about the methods and basis for any claims prior to purchasing such plants anywhere, particularly for low priced specimens. Sustainable harvesting is not a clear-cut issue; even the FLNPS Steering Committee cannot agree on whether it is possible. Thus we encourage you to obtain enough information to satisfy yourself prior to purchase. We would like your comments on the practice and observations of suppliers to help clarify the questions that should be asked.

Rescuing native plant colonies from the bulldozer is another method sometimes used to procure native plants. Rescuing of plants that are in imminent danger is certainly preferable to their being destroyed, but ideally we recommend placing these plants in nursery beds for propagation stock, rather than potting them for sale. Division of plants from a personal garden, offered for sale locally (e.g. plant society sales), is another available means of increasing the native plants in your own garden. Numbers and species may be limited, but there is no question of damage to natural plant populations.

We have limited the scope of our list to Finger Lakes area nurseries with a focus on native species, and within 100 miles of Ithaca – a reasonable day trip. Each nursery on the list has stated the methods they use in obtaining plant material for sale and the information is included. We have elected not to include exclusively mail-order nurseries and seed suppliers. We are lucky in this region to have local suppliers, and it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to obtain local genotype from a mail-order source. If you choose to order from a distant nursery, please find out about the sources of their plants to be certain the plants are PROPAGATED in a responsible fasion.

Feedback from members is highly appreciated (FLNPS, 532 Cayuga Hts. Rd, Ithaca 14850 or We hope you will find the source list useful.