Raising and Preserving Native Plants

April 6, 2011

It’s been a cool and rainy spring so far, but my yard is starting to green up. I planted a native beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) last year and I’m anxious to see whether we’ll see the berries this time around. Since growing things – especially native plants – is on my mind, I naturally turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service for both inspiration and instruction.

I’m not quite ready to start my own nursery, but if I were, the Nursery Manual for Native Plants: A Guide for Tribal Nurseries would be a big help. Although this book had its origin in several meetings with tribal members to discuss their needs for native plants, facilities, and training, and it uses plants important to Native Americans as examples, anyone interested in the propagation of native species of plants can find a lot to interest them here.

Take seeds, for instance. Although there are commercial sources for some native plants, it’s obviously possible to head into the woods and gather your own – but would you know what to look for, and at what time of year? You need to know when plants flower (and for many species, that’s not so obvious) and the best timing to gather a given seed crop. Another essay in the book talks about how to get seeds to germinate. To propagate some species, you need to use scarification – disrupting an impermeable seedcoat so water and oxygen can enter dormant seeds. Some seeds need fire (there’s a section on smoking them as a technique), digestive acids in the stomachs of animals, or abrasion by blowing sand or ice. I guess I won‘t be trying this kind of thing at home, but it’s great for budding nursery growers and interesting to read about.

Because the Nursery Manual for Native Plants is filled with the wonderful common names of such species, occasionally you can find bits of “found poetry”, like this one:

Common Dioecious Plants




fourwing saltbush

joint fir




Nursery Manual for Native Plants holds great charm for feeble home gardeners like me, as well as a trove of great information for Native Americans or anyone else with a serious commitment to propagating and harvesting America’s unparalleled herbaceous and woody wealth. You can browse through it here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library.


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