A recent trend in the United States has been the branding of native plant species and cultivars. The American Beauties™ Collection was introduced in Spring 2006 through a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and several commercial nurseries, and offers a collection of recommended native plant species for specific garden types, including bird, butterfly, dry shade, and moist sun gardens (NWF, 2007). Currently marketed in the northeastern United States, over 70 independent garden centers are carrying the American Beauties™ brand label. The NWF's plan is to expand this regional effort to other parts of the country in the near future. Similarly, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Department of Agriculture launched the Grow Native! program that provides industry-wide branding and tag materials for native plant species. Bench cards, native landscape brochures, industry and public education programs, marketing assistance for growers, and pot tags are made available and distributed through the state agency (Hamill, 2005).
Nursery associations and nonprofit conservation organizations also promote native plants and their availability within their state or region. The Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN) is a nonprofit organization that promotes the growing and marketing of native plants indigenous to Florida's ecosystems (Hamill, 2005). The AFNN provides publicly available listings for wholesale and retail nurseries and the native plant species that they carry. Other sections of the country provide similar websites. Calflora is a digital library of native and non-native plants found in California, and was instrumental in the formation of the California Native Plant Link Exchange (CNPLX). The CNPLX is a collection of links to websites of regional retail and wholesale nurseries that carry native species. The AFNN and the CNPLX are query-based websites that can link to nursery listings and plant culture information through the use of plant species names.
Previous research by the authors (Brzuszek et al., 2007) evaluated the use of native plants by landscape architects in the southeastern United States. In this study, we determined that despite a relatively low percentage of their clients specifically requesting native plant material, designers are using a significant proportion of regional native species in their projects. Landscape architects are selecting native species that are better suited to difficult or unique site conditions rather than for ecological reasons. The retail plant buyers in the southeastern region who purchase native plants are primarily influenced by landscape architects and contractors (Waterstrat, 1997). As a result, it “is imperative to keep [clientele] (landscape architects, landscape contractors, and nurserymen) well-informed about the appropriate use of native trees and plants” (Smith, 2007). Smith (2007) also found the demand for native plants in the southeast region exceeds the supply. Too few wholesale nurseries offer native plant materials, or they are insufficient in quantity or species availability.
Norcini (2006) estimated that native plant sales in Florida were ≈11% of all ornamental products produced in 2005, or worth roughly $316 million. He notes that many native species are unavailable or are in limited supply from southeastern U.S. nurseries for the following reasons: 1) the market is more localized for native plants than exotics, 2) nurseries that specialize in natives are small and lack capital, 3) funding to promote the use of native plants is limited, 4) native plants often are more expensive than non-natives, 5) native seed stock is more expensive due to demand, and 6) it is perceived that native plants lack the prestige of exotic species.
If landscape architects are the primary drivers of native plant sales in the southeastern United States, what impact does that have upon wholesale nursery growers and the retail market? What is the potential of the native plant market in this region and what are the best ways of fostering its growth? The objective of this study was to understand how green industry professionals view the opportunities and constraints of the current southeastern native plant market, and to synthesize the connections between landscape architects' demands and the supplies of the nursery industry in this region.
Brzuszek, R.F., Harkess, R.L. & Mulley, S.J. 2007 Landscape architects' use of native plants in the southeastern United States HortTechnology 17 78 81
Meyer, S.E. 2005 Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association: A nonprofit trade organization promoting landscape use of native plants Native Plants J. 6 2 104 107
National Wildlife Federation (NWF) 2007 American Beauties™ – National Wildlife Federation 13 Nov. 2007 <http://www.nwf.org/backyard/americanbeauties.cfm>.
Norcini, J. 2006. Native plants: An overview. Environ. Hort. Dept., Florida Coop. Ext. Serv., Inst. Food Agr. Sci., Univ. Florida, Document ENH1045.
Smith, J. 2007 Native plants in native places 13 Nov. 2007 <http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/rnre/Native_Plants_Public_Places.asp>.
Waterstrat, J. 1997 Assessment of the native plant market in the southeastern United States Mississippi State Univ Starkville, M.S. Thesis