Have you been hunting for natives?

plantsonthepointNovember 25, 2008

Hello all,

This week I remembered seeing a grove of pinxterflower, Rhododendron canescens, blooming in the woods behind my shop in the spring. I made a mental note then to go back once the plant would be dormant and see if I could negotiate a rooted member of the cluster. I am happy to report that I was able to prize two choice members from the colony without disturbing the largest, and most mature, 2/3 of the group.

I have recently become fascinated by the natives we live with in the Carolinas. When I lived in Shelby, NC, I was able to score a sweet bubby bush, Calycanthus floridus, from my very own back yard. As most of you know, with wild Sweet shrubs, the "sweet" aspect may or may not prove true. I therefore dug one heavy blooming and one pungent selection from the woods and potted them together for the full effect.

Anyway, while I was in the woods this week I decided to take a long walk to see if I could find any fallen oak branches with Resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides, growing along the bark ridges. I am happy to report I found a very good sized log covered with the curious little epiphyte. One of my favorite things about the coastal south is the live oak and it's provided habitat for the Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, and the resurrection fern.

While on my trek I came across a bejeweled specimen growing atop a mound of topsoil which had been stationary for probably ten or more years. I was delighted to find a berry producing native and proceeded to help myself to a sucker, two, really, laden with red berries. I quickly ran to the computer to see what I had found and discovered... you guessed it Chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia, covered with bright red pomes which look amazing against the backdrop of another native, an evergreen red cedar, Juniperus virginiana. I planted the two specimens closely for optimal pollinization, but was careful to site them in an area where any colonizing would be "welcome" as opposed to "rampant."

Additionally, I was able to procure a couple of beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, while on my little shaded voyage of discovery. These too were planted near one another for maximized cross pollinization.

I am truely lucky to be in the Carolinas, where I can find something amazing around every tree trunk. I'd like to know if any of you go a'hunting for natives and what you bring back. What natives are you growing in your gardens? Do you prefer natives to imports, or are you an equal-opportunity-grower?


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I guess you could say I am equal opportunity - though I do encourage natives and collect some when I see something that will enjoy my yard. Most of my one acre is deep shade with mature oaks and tulip poplars - shade so deep that nothing grows underneath them so I have to cluster all my plant collection around the two corners with light and little root competition.

My current success story is growing two yellow passionflower (P. lutea) vines from seeds collected from the wild. I found the mama plant out on the coast but they do grow wild here in Wake county too.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 9:27AM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

Here in Kernersville, NC, back when I first became enamored with clematis and found that there were more diverse forms of them than the typical large flowering hybrids that you typically see in most garden nurseries, I was able to stumble across a grouping of native clematis viornas growing wild in a park nearby my house where I run. I was unsure of what it was that I had found until I posted pictures of them on a clematis forum and they were identified. I tried over 20 cuttings of the plants and got only one cutting to root and it is now a prized possession in my garden. Since then I have collected an unlimited number of seeds from the plants and they have been grown out and sold by several different clematis nurseries. I have also sent the seeds around the world to other clematis lovers in various countries. I have also purchased another viorna from another clematis seller and am proud to have two in my possession.

A few pictures of the wild colony of viornas.

Seedheads developing.

My plant taken from cuttings of the wild colony.

The thing about this area around a lake where I live is that it is home to a wide variety of native plants that come into bloom at various types of the year and I feel priveleged to see them as I run by them at various times of the year.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 10:23AM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

Keith, reading the "wandering through the woods" part of your post was literally like reading poetry... I can't remember enjoying reading a post about collecting wild plants (or any plants) that much!

I'd love to get to that point, but I'm not quite to the point, yet, where I can always recognize what's both wild AND worthy of collecting AND legal (and ethical) for me to collect wherever I am.

One thing I tried to grow in my front yard, which commonly grows wild in slightly cooler climates of the Carolinas, is wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens). After five years, I still have a few patches hanging on, but I planted more than 100 and there are only a few... I wasn't able to amend the site as well as I'd have liked because there were so many large trees growing in the area, and when I tried tilling the ground I hit roots everywhere I tried... I incorporated soaker hoses all throughout the beds, since wintergreen likes a lot of water, too, but it's still been impossible to do enough of that, plus it doesn't take too well to our hot summers...

Regardless, I feel certain had I been able to properly prepare the soil, I could have had much better success, and I've yet to give up on the remaining few plants...

I'm a volunteer and tour guide at Hatcher Garden here in Spartanburg, which has a small planting of Spartanburg County's own native ginger (discovered around Lake Blalock and not known to be indigenous anywhere else in the world, but a few were transplanted to Hatcher Garden). It's not much to look at, but it IS a new species discovered right here in Spartanburg County... Who knows, you might find a new species in your wood wanderings, Keith... At any rate, you'll certainly enjoy yourself looking.

Thanks for the look -- and also Nckville, thanks, MUCH for the wonderful look at all your native clematis pics -- and for sharing what you COULD HAVE kept for yourself (or maybe at least sold yourself).

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 3:58AM
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Love the photos and appreciate the poetry-like description of walks in the woods! On plant rescues we find lots of natives, of course, although some properties are so overrun by invasives there are not enough natives to schedule a dig.

Getting permission to walk a property is not always easy, and I am reluctant to dig or collect seeds unless I have permission...although it is very tempting, especially in a public park. However, I think that is against the law unless you have a permit, as some of my nursery friends do.

I am curious as to the feelings of posters on GW. Please share thoughts on the ethical collection of plants and seeds. I always thought "roadsides," i.e., places where DOT cuts and mows, were fair game, but it was recently pointed out to me that some of NC's endangered plants only grow in those limited corridors and that those plants were probably designated as "keepers" by the area botanical gardens. (They have to keep reminding DOT NOT to mow until they h ave collected the seeds, and unfortunately, sometimes the word is not passed down to the person who does the mowing!)

NC is fortunate to have much diversity in its natives due to our favorable geography, elevation changes, and climate. We list over 3,000 natives, including 62 different orchids and 97 lilies. If we don't continue paving over everything, we will be able to see lots of natives in our woods!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 8:47AM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

Well from personal experience with the viorna colonies that I discovered, over half the plants were decimated one year when either the city or the power company came through and blasted the area with herbicides since there are power lines that run through the area. I say better save the seeds and get them into the hands of people who can propogate them and continue their survival than allow them to be wiped out by such wreckless use of herbicides. The power lines are high up in the air--why anyone would think of using herbicides to keep the area vegetation killed back is beyond me.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 4:50PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

It's a bit of a grey area, as far as I am concerned. My feeling is that collecting seeds is OK, as long as you don't take ALL the seeds. If you KNOW that the area will be sprayed with herbicide, or otherwise disturbed, then I might be tempted to dig plants, but I THINK I would try to get permission first. While I have little woodlands on my 11 acres, I would NOT be happy if anyone came in without permission and dug "my" plants!!! And I think I would put in an emergency call to the respective state Native Plant Soc., or to the DNR (or whichever is the correct state agency) for the state - esp. if I knew there was an endangered species involved - if there was to be digging, earthmoving, spraying or the like, do set up a wholesale rescue or to try to stop the decimation.

I agree that the power companies do tend to do the expedient thing (and the cheaper thing) and spray broadcast rather than selectively cut or spray - it would be nice if they could be able to not do so in areas of concern, but then there is the question of who identifies such areas......

NCrescue is right that roadsides are frequently mowed, to the detriment of the plants growing there, esp. if annuals. I know that the (very common) orange, ditch daylilies sometimes don't get to flower for me, due to Spartanburg County's mowing schedule - of course, these are neither endangered nor annuals, so they survive, and spread.... I have friends who frequently do dig from the soon to be mowed roadside, but only the more common plants - Milkweed, Joe Pye Weed, etc. - they have had good luck getting them to grow for them. But, I will pass on the news that it is in fact illegal to dig without permission to them.

Since not everyone is aware of natives, they don't necessarily care nor recognize them, and as nckvilledudes pointed out, stands of plants that are thriving today may indeed be decimated tomorrow, or even this afternoon. I guess more education for all would be nice...., including schoolkids, the general public, and the employees of the utility companies, as well as county employees!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 6:27PM
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Tammy Kennedy

I will readily admit to collecting a little bit of seed if i see something that catches my eye in the wild or along a roadside. I'd never take more than a small portion of seed. I can't say that i've had great success rates raising them, but have succeeded with some. I have collected plants from wild areas, but with permission. The issue does have lots of grey areas.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 7:07PM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

The nice thing is that when properly and ethically done, seed or plant collection can actually help with the propogation and further distribution of a native plant, as with that native clematis pictured above.

The bad part is with plants like the Venus fly trap, which are native ONLY to parts of the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts, and would have been collected out of existence by now for the commercial trade had licensing limits and commercial propagation not been established instead of just continuing to let anyone who wanted to walk through the coastal bogs and pick any plant he or she saw.

The same is doubtless true for the many orchids native only to North or South Carolina.

On the flip side, I'm not sure I can find much wrong with picking and digging (a little) on public road right-of-ways, so long as its done with discretion and respect (and care and caution). But when we're "out in the woods," we're ALWAYS in "somebody's woods." If it's a county or city park, or a state or national forest, there are always regulations that apply about collections there, too... I DON'T know what they all are. I'd tend to err more on the side of "ethical" than on legal, i.e., more on "the spirit of the law" than "the letter of the law," but I'm guessing if you picked one seed pod or dug one plant in a national forest and it was a violation, and a ranger caught you, it could be BIG trouble, "spirit" or not.

I also tend to look for signs, and when they say... "Take only pictures and leave only footprints," I generally try to follow that advice, lol.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 2:46AM
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Its a big world and everybody on it has a different viewpoint - all of them valid. When I take a deep view of the issue it has parallels to other nature/environmental conflicts and the ethics of ownership of art and artifacts.

When I was younger I collected a lot in the wild, both plants and animals. Over time my poor track record for success calmed down my wish to grow everything. Now I only collect something that I really think I can grow. I prefer to take cuttings and whereas in the past I would take an obscene amount of cuttings, now I only take a few (you could call this pruning!).

I try not to tell other people what they should do or not do, because I believe they will eventually slow down on the collecting. It is rare for a person to be a rabid collector for years on years.

Another aspect of it to consider - the only people that will care enough to step in and do the work involved with saving an endagered species of plant will be gardeners. Those gardeners will have to gain those skills somewhere. When disaster is looming, it will be a gardener that saves the rare plants in his/her neighborhood - other people will be busy saving something else.

Way back when I worked at the zoo I used to work in the bird department taking care of a large walk through aviary filled with South American birds. One day while out at lunch with some ex-staff I ran across my old highschool biology teacher who told me about her teenage son's pet parrot that he had recieved from the zoo. Immediately my group figured out that the kid had stolen the parrot but I kept my cool and let her tell me the false story he had told her. Later they were furious that I did nothing or said nothing to her but in my mind that parrot was in a much better place being cared for by this kid. Everyone thinks that because its the "zoo" that all the animals are expertly cared for but this was an orphaned bird that lived in isolation and neglect in windowless shed for years before someone stepped forward and suggested we re-introduce it to the parent flock. By then it was heavily imprinted on people and would fly up to anyone walking through the aviary. The flock treated it poorly, it was never going to fit in. The zoo didn't have the time to take adequate care of it. Allowing it to be kept by the teenager was actually better for the bird - even though the kid was a thief. So it all depends on how you want to look at it.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 9:57AM
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In the past, I have only collected plants/seed when on a NPS sanctioned rescue, but I sure have been tempted, at times, to pinch a seed pod or branch! One of my former botany Profs got caught by the State Hwy Patrol, digging plants from the mowed area on a state Hwy and he thought he was headed for the hoosegow. After a lot of excuses (and lies, I'm sure!), he was allowed to go, with a stern warning, verbal & ticket.
There is a lot of controversy, especially in academic circles, regarding the preservation of species "off-site", that is, anywhere away from the location where the plants are found growing naturally. Some "airheads" prefer that colonies of flora, even endangered species, be bulldozed, rather than relocated to a "foreign" habitat. It happened to thousands of Ladyslipper Orchids on a road widening project in MN, when environmentalists objected to allowing anyone to harvest them.

You caught my interest, when you mentioned a new species of Wild Ginger!
Has it been named, described (Latin diagnosis) and published in a scientific paper? Are you aware of any Herbarium specimens?
I am an avid collector of the Genus Asarum/Hexastylis, but have not heard of any new American species being described.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 11:16AM
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Rb,looks like it is Hexastylis naniflora.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lake Blalock

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 7:38PM
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Tammy Kennedy

Airheads, indeed. That is so wrong- i'm sorry. Who's to say what's growing somewhere 'naturally' or not anymore? I mean, who knows if that colony had been there 2000 years or 20? How's that any different from successfully relocating some after you've done careful research to make sure conditions matched (which with lady slippers you have to do- they are super hard to transplant). That area you move stuff to could very well have been habitat for that species before houses were built there! Oooh- that makes me so sick. Especially if you're talking about endangered stuff. Who's to say what/where the next miracle drug will come from- just one argument for not allowing things to go extinct.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 9:54PM
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Thanks for the link, esh_
Not a new species, but was added to the Federal Threatened Species list in 2005, because of shrinking habitat areas.
I have grown A. naniflorum for about 20 years, off and on.
Of the 10 Eastern US evergreen species, it is the most difficult to grow in cultivation. Requiring acidic sands of certain mineral composition, it may survive for several years in the garden...and suddenly disappear! But I have one that has found the right niche amd continues to survive, after 15+ years.

It was given to me by a friend, living in coastal SC, who received it as a pass-along plant and was misidentified as A. lewisii, a stoloniferous species, that will overtake your garden, if left uncontrolled.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 9:44AM
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To all,
I'm so glad that responses have been so personal and well thought out. It makes me sad when I see any forum that looks less than thriving. It was the regularity of the posts on the Carolina forum which made me claim it as my central outlet. There are always great topics to discuss and questions always find an answer here, even if the answer is, "try the clematis forum!"
I have enjoyed reading the responses to this topic. I am glad that there is such a fount of knowledge readily availible to any who would call upon it. I have learned a great deal from quiet observation, and feel like this site has really helped me along the the garden path to my future in horticulture.
On to the topic under discussion, I agree that disturbing private property, without permission, is wrong. Protected areas are even more sacrosanct, in my opinion. However, if one is conscientious and careful, I do not see the harm in mixing the gene pool a little. Keeping a found native inside ones own county is sure to continue the idea of control and containment. This is not to say that, with permission, collections should be a free-for-all. As a child, my mother instilled an idea in me, which has become a rule of my life. "Never take the last of anything!" It seems, in this context, that she was more than likely a conservationalist; the truth, however, is much more comical. I can most often remember these words of wisdom ringing in my ear not after an occasional fit of flower picking in the yard, but rather, when she would come home to discover the the last of the NuttyBuddies had been eaten, or there was no tea in the refrigerator. It is important to take life's lessons when they are presented. I think my mother would be proud that her words had, indeed, not fallen of deaf ears.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 3:44PM
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Great photos and hapy to know so many of us love natives! Well, I guess, although I agree that telling other people what to do is wrong, it seems clear to me that taking anything from private or public land, without permission, is wrong. In fact, it's criminal, right? I would not sanction digging a plant out of a public forest or private woods, any more than I would stand for someone else assaulting my property with a trowel. I will admit to seed-snatching seeds of cultivated (not native) plants from public landscapes, like mall landscaping. But I do absolutely see myself as stealing when I do so, although something of no value to the landscape owner. I once took a native liatris plant from a roadside, when I drove on and saw herbide devastation a little further down the highway. I still felt wrong about it, even though I took only one of a patch of them, and I'm sure the others are long dead. Ginseng has been decimated out of eastern forests by private collectors, hasn't it? I think I read that? It's easy to ask permission, and if I feel shy doing so, I guess that's a pretty good indicator that it would be an imposition on the property owner. I have dug with permission on logged areas, but I worry whether the bloodroots eroding out of the soil and choked by newly sprouted weeds, maybe would eventually make a comeback if I had not carried off part of their population? I don't know, and it is complicated. I don't think I'll be punished in the hereafter for snatching some lantana seeds, but I don't think plants are different from any other personal or government property.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 6:47PM
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