Further advice on buying native flora

A Flora locale guidance note
 Flora locale  23/03/2000
A colour leaflet Buying native flora is also available. This Technical note may be downloaded and distributed electronically or by simple photocopies but may not be published or sold for commercial gain. To seek permission to publish this note, or extracts from it (electronically or otherwise) please contact info@floralocale.org. This note should be read in conjunction with Flora locale's Code of Practice for collectors, growers and suppliers of native flora.

The aim of this guidance note is to
  • provide some basic advice on buying native plants and seed
  • encourage buyers to purchase material that is appropriate for enhancing Britain and Irelands biodiversity, based on using our native flora
  • reduce the quantities of plants and seed that are currently purchased that are of inappropriate origin or that have been selected for agriculture, horticulture or forestry. 
This guidance is aimed at those who primarily buy large quantities of seed or plants for landscaping, amenity, forestry and wildlife schemes (rather than the individual who may wish to buy the odd wildflower pot plant for their garden). It is principally aimed at purchases of nursery held stocks, rather than habitat-harvested seed that is often contract collected and taken directly to the recipient site.

1. Select appropriate species
Choose species that:
  • Will grow and survive
  • Are native and appropriate to the location and its context.
Advice from a plant ecologist with competence in native plant communities is essential, if you do not have this expertise yourself. Some of the specialist growers can provide appropriate advice.

2. Specify the size, category and quality of plant

  • Wildflower plug (specifying size)
  • Seed
  • Cutting
  • Transplant (specify age)
  • For seeds, request information on the seed quality (you may request a sample for independent testing, to check for germinability)*
Seed that is mechanically harvested from wild meadows is prone to rapid deterioration without cleaning and cold storage, and will only contain viable seeds of species that held ripe seed at the time of harvesting. See the National Plant Specification for industry standard specifications for planting stock other than seeds.

3. Specify the quantity of plants or seed that are required

  • Seed number or quantity appropriate to the site and area that will be seeded
  • Number of tree whips or transplants.
4. Source identification
  • The source (country or region of wild or native origin) that is required should be clearly specified . A copy of the terms as defined in this specification can be supplied with the order, to ensure that the supplier understands what is required.
  • Request the supplier to source-identify all plants and that are supplied
  • Make a specific request that the supplier does not apply a substitution clause, and that any change to the specification as detailed in the order you place is mutually agreed in writing.
5. Know your supplier
If you are likely to be requiring substantial supplies of plants now and in the future a personal visit to one or more suppliers is recommended. This will enable you to view the supplier's operation and discuss specific requirements in detail.
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6. General

6.1 Contract seed collection and growing
Many specialist growers and nurseries are able to collect seed from specified sources and grow this on according to the specifiers requirements. Ordering material in this way (i.e. by specifying the seed source and contracting the seed collection) is an excellent way to ensure that correctly sourced material is supplied, especially when planning hedgerow and woodland restoration or new plantings of native woods. This approach is particularly appropriate for larger-scale tree and shrub planting schemes, when planning ahead can really pay off.

6.2 Restricted availability of supplies

Flora locale aims to encourage the use of seed and plants that are appropriate to the area and site concerned, that is preferably of local native origin and local provenance.

However, the nursery industry is not currently able to fully satisfy all the current demands for locally-specific planting material.

A balance needs to be struck between what source of material is reasonable and appropriate to a given site, given current and future constraints on supply. At the same time there is a need to ensure that the business of bona fide suppliers is not undermined, by making too many unreasonable demands. No supplier will be able to supply at an economic rate, material from very specific areas all over the country, especially when asked to do so at short notice.

If plants are needed quickly, it is preferable to obtain them from a "wider area of search" in the UK, rather than specify a local area for which no plants or seed are available, with the risk that they will then be supplied with material that is of imported origin.

Alternatively, critically examine the quantity of material needed, or consider delaying the scheme until contract collection and propagation can be organised.

Sometimes the seeding rate or planting rate can be quite considerably reduced without compromising future plant survival. This can be achieved by:
  • Ensuring the seed or plants are of good quality
  • Planting at the most appropriate time, where plant survival or seed germination is likely to be maximised
  • Applying a time-limited maintenance clause within the contract for planting (i.e. covering the 3 years following planting), with bonus payments payable that correspond to plant survival
  • Putting emphasis on getting an acceptable scheme established and surviving, rather than having an instant landscape created by using huge numbers of plants!
  • Ensuring that follow up maintenance is undertaken, properly clerked and monitored by a qualified plant ecologist.
 7. Buying aquatic and marginal plants
Many aquatic plants of non-native origin have proved to be highly invasive when introduced to the wild. Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) is one example of a plant which has spread into the wild and threatens native plant communities. It grows at a rate of 30 cm per day! Sometimes exotic species are not deliberately introduced, but piggyback on the roots of other species that have been purchased from aquarists.

To minimise the risk of introducing exotic species, the following options should be considered: 
  • Locate a local source of plants that are growing in the wild but will be dug up as a result of routine ditch or pond maintenance, or can be sustainably harvested from a created wetland
  • (Depending on the circumstances) wait for natural regeneration (which can be quite rapid)
  • Organise contract collection and growing (using a nursery where the plants will be isolated from other aquatics)
  • Only plant native species that are commonly found in the locality.

To identify potential sources of local plants, try contacting:

  • Local farmers
  • The local Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group
  • Local British Trust for Conservation Volunteer Groups
  • The government agency farm adviser
  • Nature conservation organisations which own wetland nature reserves in the area.

    If it is considered necessary to buy aquatic plants from nurseries:

  • approach only nurseries that specialise in native aquatics and who can verify the origin of their plants.
  • only buy native species that are source identified and grown where there is little likelihood of contamination of soil and water by the seed or fragments of exotic species.
Aquatic plants that should not be purchased because they are invasive and already threaten native plant communities:

Azolla filiculoides (Water Fern)
Impatiens spp. (Balsam)
Hydrocotyle spp. (except the native Frogbit Hydrocotyle vulgaris, but only where plants can be source identified)
Crassula spp. (Stonecrop)

For more information on invasive weeds see the Royal Horticultural Society's leaflet.
8. Buying plants for the garden
There are many plants (including seed) which are sold to gardeners as "wild flowers" but are "exotic" species that are not native to Britain. Examples of exotic species included in packets of wildflower seed (that is not labelled as being sourced from any particular location) are Californian Poppy and Delphiniums, as well as cultivated varieties of British wildflower species (e.g. Candytuft).

These wildflower seeds, usually sold in garden centres (sometimes by mail order) are specially selected because they are colourful and easy to grow. They have been selected for the garden, and not for their wildlife value (which can be rather limited). They are designed to beautify cultivated borders in gardens not to create a haven for native wildlife.
There are also a range of cottage garden plants that are cultivated varieties of native species. Examples include Foxglove (Digitalis sp.), Yellow Loosetrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), Purple Loosetrife (Lythrum salicaria) and many varieties of Dogwood (Cornus sanguineum). The varietal name may not be provided at the point of supply, but it should always be assumed that, when these plants are on sale in garden centres or nurseries which largely serve the gardening public, they are of cultivated origin. Many of the garden plants that are native species have been bred to select specific characters to make them more attractive in the flower border. Sometimes the varieties are sterile hybrids so don't even provide nectar for bees and other visiting insects.

Some wildflower seed is specifically marketed for "butterfly gardening". The plants selected for these seed mixes may include both native and non-native plants that produce nectaring flowers attractive to butterflies and other nectar-feeding insects into the garden. The variety of species supplied may include seeds of shrubs (e.g. Buddleia), perennial, biennial and annual herbaceous species. Sometimes these "bug" gardens come in attractive packaging, which doesn't say which species are present or the number of plants that are in the seed mix.

Consequently the results can be unpredictable and often disappointing. Most of these seed mixtures are designed for the garden, or for planting in pots, and not for larger-scale landscape situations. Some species included in these mixtures (e.g. Buddleia) can be highly invasive when introduced into the wild. The majority are of value as nectar sources only and do not provide habitat for insects (e.g. native butterflies) to reproduce and take up permanent residence. They can have disappointing results and many of the unspecified "wildflower seed mixtures" can produce unpleasant surprises for the unwary gardener.

An additional problem that is that gardeners often treat wildflower seed without the respect that they give to other plant seed. A common practice is to scatter it in fertile borders or in existing grassland - where it won't grow - instead of starting off the seed in sterile compost, and gradually pricking out into plug pots before transplanting into prepared ground.

Anyone wanting to grow native wildflowers in their garden is advised to purchase plants from a specialist grower who can:
  • advise on appropriate species and types of plants (e.g. seed or plugs)
  • verify that the species and plants are of appropriate native origin and local provenance
  • provide appropriate advice on planting and the maintenance that will be required once the plants have grown.
Currently, the best information usually available on plant labels at garden centres is a description saying that the plant is a "British wildflower" but even some of these plants are cultivars or hybrids, and not native forms. Eventually it is hoped that responsible garden centres and nurseries will label their plants more comprehensively, so that the plant buyer can be sure of what he or she is buying, of its likely value to native wildlife and the maintenance that is required to ensure the plants grow and survive.

9. Wrong planting stock supplied?

This may only become apparent once the stock is in the ground. However, you will only have grounds for action if you are certain that project failure is not your fault. For instance, wildflower meadow establishment can be problematical if the ground has not been cleared of weeds beforehand, and if weeds germinating from the seed bank are not properly managed.

Two actions can be considered if you are sure that the problem is with mis-supply:

Contact the supplier
The supplier should be asked to supply the correct stock. If a large number of plants are concerned, and you have incurred costs (e.g. a contractor's time) in planting, you might consider asking the supplier to cover the costs of digging up and replanting. If the problem is not satisfactorily resolved through discussion, recourse to the small claims court can be considered. An efficient way of doing through this is through www.moneyclaimonline.gov.uk.

Contact Local Trading Standards
If you believe there is an issue with misrepresentation in the advertising or marketing of supplied stock, consider writing to the local trading standards officer. Flora locale is aware that misleading advertising of "wild flowers" and other "wild" or "native" flora is not uncommon, especially among the non-specialist trade serving the landscape industry and gardeners and in the sale of seed via the internet, including internet auction sites. Action traders may have bought job lots of seeds and have no idea of what they are selling.


Page last modified on Friday 22 of June, 2012 12:58:12 BST