Native Plants in the Nursery Trade

Mt. Cuba Center staff conducted nursery stock research in order to establish a baseline from which we could measure changes in the nursery industry regarding the availability of native and invasive plants, and as a result, its influence. MCC staff selected 14 nurseries to survey from the mid-Atlantic region (PA, NJ, MD, and VA) that together provide a good representation for the types of business models found in the industry overall, with the exception of box store growers.

The results indicate that 25% of all the taxa sold by these nurseries (and therefore in the regional industry) are native. This percentage includes native species, cultivars and hybrids. Of those natives, only 23% are straight species, meaning the bulk of native plants (77%) available to consumers are cultivated forms.

Invasive taxa were also of interest, and the survey found that 2% of all the taxa sold are considered invasive according to the state of Delaware. Another 2% are on the Delaware Invasive Plant Watch List, which are plants thought to pose a risk of invasiveness.

These invasive plants do actually cause damage the local ecosystems by replacing native, functional plants with their own aggressive seedlings. In fact, some of the most popular plants in horticulture fall into this category, like the Bradford or callery pear and burning bush. Although this study was not able to assess sales quantities, the heavy reliance of the nursery industry on non-native plants shows that there is much more work to be done in expanding the appreciation and use of native plants.

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