Purchasing Native Plants
By James Ellingboe
The majority of collected native plants that are for sale at nurseries have been legally harvested with the proper government permits or the permission of private landowners. In the past five years or so there has been an increased focus in the local nursery industry on propagating and growing northwest native plants for the retail trade. Previously, when a customer asked a nursery person about native plants, they were typically shown a limited palette of plant material (i.e., vine maple, mountain hemlock, salal, sword fern). Nowadays there are many growers out there producing a myriad of native plant material for sale.
For those of you who are concerned about purchasing native plant material that has been collected from the wild rather than nursery propagated, here are some things to look for.
Typically sub-alpine conifers for sale that possess the gnarled, windswept character that we so enjoy on hikes in the high-country, have been plucked from their environs leaving a pothole where they once existed. Many of these plants will eventually lose the character that made them desirable in the first place, once they have enjoyed the "good life" that a garden can afford them. A bent and misshapen vine maple, heavily clothed in lichen is a sign of collection, but one should note that vine maples are usually collected from disturbed sites or along road-cuts. A plantation raised tree may lack some of the "character" that a collected tree possesses, but it is better adapted to the "winter wet" that we experience in the lower elevations, and will settle into the garden well.
Most native herbaceous plants offered in retail nurseries can be grown from seed or vegetatively propagated and turned out for sale within two growing seasons, thus making collection a more costly means of production. An exception to this, would be some of our native Liliaceous plants, namely Lilium and Trillium. These plants take about five years to bloom from seed, so if blooming sized bulbs or plants from these two genera are offered at the retail level for less than $10.00, they more than likely have been collected.