Native Plants for the SouthEast
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What to Expect

Our Goal

We hope to provide seed, plants, and experience to those interested in using native plants for lawns, gardens, landscapes, reclamation, and habitat creation, or just for fun. We value you as a client interested in plants that are native to the SouthEast.

We are biologists by desire, and have training in animal and plant biology, mostly in biochemistry, genetics, and development. We are with the Plant Biology Department at The University of Georgia in Athens-Clarke County in Georgia. In 1984 we bought 28 acres of land in adjacent Oglethorpe County, in 1990 had a house built on it, and 1994 bought an additional 10 acres next to the original property. There is still only a single (and unnecessary) traffic light in our county. Sparkleberry Springs is both physically and emotionally isolated from most of the world, and we treasure that.

Gradually we understood that the land held many discoveries if we knew how to find them. They included plants and that required learning how to identify them and how to maintain them in their habitat and to grow them in a landscape. So we took advantage of opportunities to teach and tutor courses in organismal plant biology, plant taxonomy, wetland plants, angiosperm evolution and others that provided intellectual challenges and needed skills. We used other resources. What we offer here, and in Niches: The Blog, is a travel log. If you find some of it interesting or useful, that is just great.

You will not find polemics about using native plants. Frankly, that seems to be a given but its promise is still limited by lack of material and training. Our role: providing a tid-bit here, a tid-bit there, pretty soon it might add up to something substantial that can add to what others are doing.

Identity of Plants

Getting a conclusive identity for a plant can range from easy to very frustrating. We get candidate identities by using Keys and taxa descriptions in Radford et. al (1968), Weakley (2005, 2006), and The Flora of North America (1993 on) which are described in the References. Tests of the proposed identity may include careful examination of images of live plants and vouchers at professional websites and extend to examination of vouchers at the University of Georgia Herbarium (UGA) and of original publications and monographs including the taxon. Professionals make mistakes, most often of not seeing a character state or confusing very similar taxa, and that includes us.

We do not sell seed of an accession unless we are confident of its identity and we reevaluate it as we collect seed from different populations and when we package seed for shipment. We keep records of what is shipped to each client and if we discover that we have misidentified any seed sent to a client, they will be alerted to its real identity and a refund made. Plus shipment of the seed intended if at all possible.

Seed Quality

Our seed are cleaned of debris and unsound seed, usually by sifting and then by hand. We often remove pappus or other dispersal structures to aid in our preparation or your planting of them. Seed are tested by hand or forceps to identify seed that are firm, which along with correct size, color and texture should predict which seed are likely to be viable. This is usually done under a dissecting microscope and can be quite tedious for small seeds, which are most of what we sell. We pay particular attention to seed of plants in the Asteraceae. It is not uncommon to harvest a few hundred mature flower heads, containing tens of thousands of disc flowers, and find not one fully-formed seed. That is our disappointment; it will not be your's. You can be certain that the seed you receive are of the highest visual quality and our experience indicates that this is highly correlated with the fraction of seed that will eventually germinate and with the quality of the resulting seedlings. Getting them to germinate may still be difficult, but it should not be due to inviable seed.

For many taxa, the minimum number of seed we sell in our standard packet is limited by our time and patience in preparing them, not by the number of seed we have collected. Please inquire about alternative preparations of seed if your project requires a larger number of sound seed, still pure as to taxon, but which can contain unsound seed, debris, or dispersal structures.

How Many Seed to Order

The Plant Profile notes the minimum number of seed that will be in each packet. This number is one that we believe will give you the opportunity to establish at least several plants while allowing us to reserve a modest amount for other clients or for germination tests or for establishing our own plants should the need arise. Our goal is to ship at least twice the advertised minimum number of seed. Many of our stocks are still quite small. As our collections grow, so will the number of seed per packet.

As indicated in the Plant Profiles, if you order more than one packet we may mail the equivalent number of seed in a single packet unless you alert us that you prefer them in separate packets. We ask that you not order more than 3 packets of any accession without first confirming that we have sufficient seed to cover such an order. We will enclose a refund if you have prepaid and we cannot provide an item.

Number of Plants in Your Population

We and most of our clients want plants that will set seed. Seed that support a more diverse community of insects, birds, and mammals and probably larger sizes of these populations. Seed for further propagation independent of sellers like ourselves. So how many plants do you need to have in the ground to ensure that at least one of them will set seed? Of course, it depends ...

Some species require several local plants of different genotypes to set seed. If the species is dioecious (male and female plants) then obviously at least one plant of each gender is required for seed set on female plants. Less obvious are species that have perfect flowers or are monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant) but are self-incompatable. That is, they cannot self pollinate (self fertilize) but can cross with plants with a different genotype at the S (Self-incompatable fertilization) locus. There are two genetic systems of self-incompatability, but doing the math suggests that a population of at least 5 seed-derived plants, all in flower, should result in seed set on most of the those regardless of what kind of self-incompatability system the species might have.

Be patient. Many perennial plants are at least partially infertile in their first years. In any year, the first flowers to open are less likely to be fertile than the last fourth or so of the flowers to open. It may take years (and host plants of another species) to cultivate the populations of pollinators that your species might prefer. If your community sprays for mosquitoes you may never support such populations even if you have a vast array of plants in your landscape. Our gut belief, which is very difficult to test, is that the more diverse and old the community, the more likely older plants of all animal-pollinated species will produce seed.

Consider learning to manage European Honey Bees. It seems to become more challenging each year as additional pests cycle through the United States populations, but the people you meet and the honey you eat more than make up for the steep learning curve. There is also a growing interest and experience in increasing the populations of the very many species of smaller native bees that do most of the pollination of native plants.

Be content if your plants are making flowers with nectories and pollen-producing stamens to support bees, some butterfly species, and other insects. And remember that this week's nasty catepillar who is demolishing your plant may well be next month's or next year's butterfly or moth. If they are perennials, these plants will likely survive even if totally defoliated. A butterfly garden requires food plants for their larvae. If you provide these food plants in your own garden, and resist the temptation to squash the larvae, your garden should eventually support a more diverse and abundant population of butterflies.

Genetic Diversity

This subject is discussed in detail at the end of the Definitions Page under 'Parentage' and sorry if it is too arcane. Our goal is to obtain seed from several SouthEast populations of each species to capture as much genetic diversity as is practical. Being plant developmental geneticists and experimental biologists we keep each harvest separate by year and by population. We combine these in the packets we sell, and keep a record of the composition of the seed that we ship to you. That means each packet has seed representing all the genetic diversity that we have sampled. Let us know if you want unpooled seed so that we can ship population-specific and year-specific seed.

Tell Us what You Need

If we cannot help you immediately, we may be able to direct you to someone else. Just asking us may be a service to you or other clients, next year or so, if what you need yesterday is likely to be wanted by others and it is one that we might be able to meet if we learn about it.

Not everyone has the space or the patience to start plants from seed. Please tell us of those species you would like to purchase as plants and we will try to provide them.