Growing Natives FAQ

Habitat conservation and public education about the appropriate use of native plants in the home landscape are two facets of the mission of the Virginia Native Plant Society.

We encourage gardeners to ask several questions when purchasing native plants.

What is the source of this plant?

Reputable nurseries should be able to answer this question easily. Acceptable answers include division from nursery stock, responsibly collected seeds, plugs and liners. A hesitation to answer could indicate that plants have been dug from the wild. Fortunately, this practice is rarely seen although it was known to occur in the past. VNPS does not tolerate selling plants that are dug from the wild. These actions severely damage natural habitat and deplete plants in their natural environment. Please see the VNPS Native Plant Nurseries List for reputable suppliers.

Nurseries may apply to be included on the VNPS Native Plant Nurseries list. To apply, please submit the VNPS Native Plant Nursery Application Form.

Is this plant native to my region?

Some suppliers will label a plant “native” if it naturally occurs in the United States. An example of this is Blue Spruce which grows natively in Colorado but not in Virginia. While plants such as this will grow here, they do not provide the same ecosystem services as a plant from Virginia. In other words, birds and mammals in Colorado have co-evolved with Blue Spruce so they are able to utilize the plant. Organisms in Virginia, however, do not recognize the plant so it provides little to no wildlife services. Please see the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage list of native plants. Additionally, please note that plants termed “naturalized” (Lily of the Valley, Queen Anne’s Lace) are not native and in some cases are Invasive Alien Plant Species.

Was this plant grown from local stock or does the plant have a local origin?

Ask if the plant was propagated from regional stock. A White Oak from Alabama may look the same as a White Oak from Virginia but they will have genetic variations. Research has shown that plants from local stock will grow better because they have evolved to withstand our local climate conditions. In other words, a White Oak from Alabama may withstand low temperatures of 20° F while a White Oak from Maine will survive temperatures of –20° F. Likewise, the plant from Alabama will tolerate hot, humid conditions whereas the one from Maine will struggle or will not survive.

Am I gardening in close proximity to a natural area? Is my planting for restoration?

As previously discussed, genetic variation can determine the survival of a plant. The genetic variation that exists in non-local plants could potentially affect natural plant populations. Preliminary research indicates that alteration in the gene pool of a natural population can occur as a result of pollination between local and non-local plants of the same genus and species. The resulting offspring could exhibit a decreased ability to survive local temperature variations and could affect the usefulness of plants to wildlife. For this reason, VNPS encourages the use of plants grown from local seed when gardening with species that exist in natural areas that are in close proximity to the planting.

When planting for restoration purposes, VNPS advises using only those plants that are propagated from local populations.

Please consult organizations and societies such as the Society for Ecological Restoration that specialize in restoration for additional information.