Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Selection of Regionally Native Plant Species

If you want to get really thorough about creating habitats for native wildlife, the plants you choose should be native to your area. In addition they need to be appropriate to the habitat you are working with, such as uplands, woodlands, wetlands, etc. There are two major challenges here. The first is to learn the plants that are native to your area, and the second is to find a source for the actual plant materials. Collecting plants from the wild is not an accepted (or legal) practice in all but a few rare cases. (Check this link to NEWFS for more details on plant collection.)

A few years ago I was fortunate to be given a copy of The Vascular Flora of Massachusetts, A County Checklist by Bruce Sorrie and Paul Somers . This provides a listing of wild-growing plants in Massachusetts, their status as native or introduced, and in which counties they are found. It is a rather technical source, but is a great help in developing a native plant palette. Other states have similar listings of native flora. The Flora of North America (FNA), available on-line, includes regional occurrence and habitat information along with the species descriptions. This is a work in progress; information on just over half of the plant families has been published so far. Gleason and Cronquist, The Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada gives this type of information in book form. One book I have found very useful for learning about plants for a given habitat for New England is Wetland, Woodland, Wildland. A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont by Elizabeth Thompson and Eric Sorenson. The USDA-GRIN taxonomic database lists native ranges to the state level for many native plants. You can also do searches on the USDA Plants database by state(s) to find lists of plants growing ‘wild’ (use the advanced search options). A website with a good lists of native plants for use in residential landscapes, including northern New England comes from ‘Plant Native’. There is also a reference section there listing resources appropriate to other parts of North America.

Armed with this information you can check out what native plant suppliers have available. Finding suppliers close to home can be of benefit if the plant materials they are propagating from are drawn from local sources, or at least from similar climates. A similar situation exists for seed. It would not hurt to ask your seed suppliers where their seed comes from. It is my understanding that much of the commercially available seed for native plants comes from Ernst Conservation Seeds, based in Pennsylvania. There are also many regional seed companies operating in the Midwestern and Southwestern US supplying regionally native seeds. I have found that the options for regionally native seed suppliers in the Northeast is more limited. If anyone has any recommendations for suppiers in the Northeastern US, I would appreciate hearing from you!

The real strength of using native plants comes when you use them in complete communities. I will explore some resources and concepts for assembling a native plant community in an upcoming blog.


Risa Edelstein said...

Let us know what you find in terms of plant communities. Three does not seem to be a lot out there.

Curtis said...

I hope to have something on that in a week or two. It can be pretty involved if you try to match communities exactly. I have found some tree and shrub information, but information on herbaceous species is harder to come by. The 'Wetlands, Wildlands' book for Vermont is the best I've seen so far.