Buying native flora
© Flora locale (UK) 23 March 2000
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The aim of this guidance note is to provide some basic advice on how to buy native plants and seed encourage buyers to purchase material of native origin and local provenance 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.
provide some basic advice on how to buy native plants and seed
encourage buyers to purchase material of native origin and local provenance
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.
1. Select appropriate species
Will grow and survive
Are native and appropriate to the location and its context.
2. Specify the size, category and quality of plant
Wildflower plug (specifying size)
Transplant (specify age)
For seeds, request information on the seed quality (you may request a sample for independent testing, to check for germinability)*
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.
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
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:
7. Buying aquatic and marginal plants
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. If you take any action of this type it would be helpful for Flora locale to have the details.
Flora locale gratefully acknowledges financial support provided by English Nature, the World Wide Fund for Nature and TRANSCO which enabled the production of this document.