Demand for native plants is increasing in certain regions of the United States (McMahan, 2006). Native plants are considered an emerging niche market in the green industry, and increased sales are being spurred for a variety of reasons (Hamill, 2005). Paramount are state and community ordinances that increasingly require or recommend use of native plant species and recent increases in the number of landscape restoration and reclamation projects. Additionally, an increase in the number of North American cities and communities with water restrictions for landscape use has promoted the use of adapted native plants. Better marketing techniques for native plants within the green industry, as well as greater public awareness, have also increased demand for natives. Much of this increased demand is thought to be enhanced by the expanded use of native plants by landscape architects and contractors (Morgan, 1997; Potts et al., 2002). Previous studies conducted in the southeastern United States have determined that retail plant buyers are influenced to purchase native plants primarily through landscape architects and contractors (Waterstrat, 1997). However, no research has been conducted to evaluate the extent of native plant use and recommendations by landscape professionals in the southeastern United States.
Landscape architects have often used native plants to some degree in their designs, and early designers were eager proponents of using native plants. Frederick Law Olmsted typically specified native American trees and shrubs for park and community designs in the 19th century (Grese, 1992). The current policy statement on “Vegetation in the Built Environment” by the American Society of Landscape Architects (2001) mentions that the society endorses “Federal and State policies for the use of native or indigenous species in projects, while avoiding the use of known noxious and invasive species.”
Previous research has noted an increase in the use of native plants by landscape architects in certain regions of the United States. One survey of landscape architects in Utah revealed that 41% of practicing professionals polled use native plants more frequently today than they did 5 years ago (Hooper, 2003). The increase in use was because native plants are more readily available today and that clients are requesting them more often. Likewise, a survey of landscape architects in Hawaii showed that 93% of respondents had increased their native plant usage within recent years (Tamimi, 1999). In order of importance, the main reasons given for enhanced usage include increased awareness of the environment; development laws requiring native plantings; increased availability of plant species; and the need for low water use in the landscape (Tamimi, 1999). Although a few local communities require the use of native plants in development, Hawaii is the only state with a statewide native-plant ordinance. Acts 73 and 236 mandate use of indigenous and Polynesian-introduced plants “for new or renovated landscaping of any building, complex of buildings, facilities, or housing developed with public moneys by the State or its several counties” (Hawaii State Legislature, 1994).
While Hawaii's statewide plant ordinance may be the primary reason that 96% of Hawaii's landscape architects use natives (Tamimi, 1999), a more recent study in Utah found that most professionals (59%) “use native plants sometimes” (Hooper, 2003) and would prefer to use natives over nonnative species if they meet the same landscape objectives. Studies have shown that the use of native plant species is not restricted to residential design. A large number of Hawaiian respondents said that they use native plants for all projects, including public, residential, commercial, and resort landscapes (Tamimi, 1999). Utah designers used natives according to the type of project, with responses showing a ranked list that included fire rehabilitation, mine reclamation, controlling invasive species, enhancing biodiversity, creating wildlife habitat, and personal interest (Hooper, 2003). A survey of the Colorado green industry revealed that landscape restoration and its related professions constitute the largest market for native plants, with wholesale ornamental plant outlets ranking second (Potts et al., 2002).
The majority of Hawaiian landscape architects averaged 10% to 24% of their project budget as native plant expenditures (Tamimi, 1999), whereas over half of the Utah professionals listed native plant usage from 1% to 40% of their project budgets (Hooper, 2003). Nearly a quarter of the Utah respondents (22%) used natives in 61% to 80% of their projects (Hooper, 2003). A survey of landscape architects and designers in Colorado found that the majority of professionals surveyed listed their percentage of revenue derived from native plant sales and services as moderate to significant (Potts et al., 2002).
Landscape designers from these states listed the lack of availability of native plants from nursery sources as the primary reason for not using more native plants in their projects (Hooper 2003; Potts et al., 2002; Tamimi, 1999). Another factor that influenced professionals’ use of native species in their designs included concern that the market demand for native species in larger container sizes (as typically specified in landscape installations) was exceeding the market supply (Potts et al., 2002). Hooper (2003) found that most Utah professionals would prefer to purchase native plants from sources within their own state. These respondents indicated that they would use more natives if they knew more about the particular plant characteristics (Hooper, 2003). Knowledge of native species was derived primarily from books and magazines, followed by word of mouth and actual experience (Hooper, 2003).
Landscape architects from the southeastern United States were also surveyed about recently observed native plant trends and use in their projects. The research instrument for this study determined the percentage of native plant use by landscape architects, opportunities and constraints of native plant use in the region, primary plant species specified, and how landscape architects obtained native plant information. The objective of this study was to understand how landscape professionals view the opportunities and constraints of the current southeastern United States native plant market.
Hawaii State Legislature. 1994. Indigenous and Polynesian introduced plants: Use in public landscaping. Act 73 as currently modified. Hawaii Revised Statutes 103-24.6:469.
Hooper, V.H. 2003 Understanding Utah's native plant market: Coordinating public and private interest. MS Thesis Utah State University Logan
McMahan, L.R. 2006 Understanding cultural reasons for the increase in both restoration efforts and gardening with native plants Native Plants J. 7 1 31 34
Morgan, D. 1997 David Chiappini on Florida's native plant nursery association. Nursery management and production 19 Oct. 2006<http://www.greenbeam.com/features/they112497.html>
Tamimi, L. 1999 The use of native Hawaiian plants by landscape architects in Hawaii. MS Thesis Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg
Waterstrat, J. 1997 Assessment of the native plant market in the southeastern United States. MS Thesis Mississippi State University Starkville