The use of native plants is increasing nationally among gardeners and is an emerging niche market for the green industry (Hamill, 2005). The definition for a native plant is not universally accepted, which has resulted in some confusion. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines native as “with respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001), whereas, the U.S. National Park Service's definitions is “native species are defined as all species that have occurred or now occur as a result of natural processes on lands designated as units of the national park system. Native species in a place are evolving in concert with each other” (U.S. National Park Service, 2000). Despite the variation in terminology, common themes for definitions of native plants typically include that plants are found to occur in distinct natural places without the aid of, or introduction by, humans.
Consumers are increasingly selecting native plants for use in home landscapes for a variety of reasons. Many local, state, and federal agencies are requiring the use of native plants in the landscape (HarmonyFL.com, 2008; Norcini, 2006; Pasco County, 2002), and watering restrictions in drought-affected areas have promoted the native ornamental plant trend (O'Brien, 1996). While demand for native plants has increased nationally (Coffey, 2006; Hamill, 2005), native plants in general remain underused in most residential and commercial landscapes (Norcini, 2006). Norcini (2006) states the following may be reasons for the limited consumer use of native plants: native plants may cost more than non-native species, as they tend to be produced in smaller quantities; there is limited availability through retail and wholesale operations; customers are not as familiar with native species; and the perception that wild plants are not as ornamental as exotic species.
Our previous research evaluated the use of native plants by landscape architects and the nursery industry in the southeastern United States (Brzuszek and Harkess, 2009; Brzuszek et al., 2007). Native plants are being used by landscape architects and contractors in the region, but this demand is currently exceeding the volume and species available at wholesale nurseries. Landscape architects and contractors appear to be the primary drivers of the southeastern United States native plant market and are using hardy native plant species because of their adaptability and suitability for difficult site conditions (Brzuszek et al., 2007). Both groups perceived consumer interest in natives had risen from a minimal level to moderate interest within the past 5 years.
A missing component of the previous research by landscape architects and green industry was an evaluation of native plants by a horticulture consumer group in the southeastern United States. With the exception of Florida, no research has been conducted for the southern United States. As some nursery personnel have indicated, while customers are requesting a particular plant, they are not specifying whether it should be native or not (Brzuszek and Harkess, 2009).
Members of the Master Gardener volunteer program are a knowledgeable plant consumer group. The program is offered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces (Stephens, 2002). Supported by state cooperative extension services, volunteers receive extensive training in horticultural topics in exchange for community service. As a segment of the gardening public, these volunteers' opinions and talents are often used in research projects, not only as data collectors, but as test subjects. The response of these volunteers to surveys, questionnaires, and plant evaluations is vital to aid researchers and extension educators in evaluating the needs and knowledge of the gardening public.
The objective of this study was to survey the use of native plants among a knowledgeable consumer gardening group in six southeastern states to add to the information from previous surveys of landscape and nursery professionals within the region.
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Brzuszek, R.F., Harkess, R.L. & Mulley, S. 2007 Landscape architects' use of native plants in the southeastern United States HortTechnology 17 78 81
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