Growers as allies

Richard Haard
Sat, 10 Sep 2011 03:05:09 PDT
Oh -  I've been reading the list for a few months and this is chance to jump into this conversation, also introducing myself and interests. 

Mike and others, I'm a native plant grower since 1985 and have been involved in protecting biodiversity of native species from the start. This issue is indeed broader than concerns stated about the escape of invasive species into the environment. This is indeed a problem because during my time a biannual geranium, purple loosestrife, japanese knotweed, and now a shrub, butterfly bush have moved into our native plant ecosystem and are making serious impacts by displacing less aggressive native species in our northwestern corner of the US. When I was  a young landscaper in the northeastern US I 'rescued ' many escaped ornamental trees and shrubs from adjacent woodlots (soon to be cleared for subdivisions) and moved them back into residential landscapes. Friends have told me in EU that some of our PNW ornamental crossover shrub species have naturalized into native habitats as well as introduction of commercial timber species there and in the tropics. And then there is basket wil
 low, the now world wide Salix fragilis. 

The 98 yo farmer whose farm our nursery owner took over was child of the first pioneer generation of farmers (and loggers) of our newly settled Whatcom County. He told me the pioneer farmers had wonderful experience for first 10 years or so with 'no weeds'. If you look at roadside vegetation in lower 48 as I do, then go to a place like Alaska or Yukon, Canada then drive few miles out of the settlement (i.e. Anchorage). What will be very clear is the complete lack of exotic weedy species. There they are still in their natural state holiday. In lower 48 even the national forests and parks are contaminated with exotics because of pasturing and misuse of plants for restoration. This problem is very broad but in recent years we all have learned. 

I collect native plant tree, shrub and perennial seed for propagation in urban lowlands of northwestern states and need to emphasize that reintroduction of ornamental species to natural environment is ongoing problem. Retail consumers of exotic plants, perhaps grown in SE Asia, marketed in Walmart or Home Depot, then prunings and dead or diseased plants are disposed (dumped) into adjacent woodlots and natural watercourse ditches.  I see this practice everywhere I go. In Northern California this is prevailing theory of introduction of Sudden Oak Death, a previously unknown Phytopthera carried into the country by a tropical exotic. No surprise standards are becoming very strict. 

We're a restoration nursery and I would like to say that preserving biodiversity goes way beyond issue of controlling spread of exotic species. There is issue of genetic contamination that perhaps is equal or greater concern. The main crops on our 60 acre farm are direct seeded, field grown, bare root deciduous trees, shrubs, emergents and perennials. We do grow some bulb and corm forming species which is why I enjoy reading this list. On many occasions, I have grown a single species from seed collected in multiple locations, elevations and latitudes. The strains are  easy to distinguish from the first day seedlings emerge, to fall color, defoliation date and date to break dormancy. Montana SS, Red Osier Dogwood, C. sericea is disease prone here in our warm moist winters and Alaska SS Scouler Willow defoliates here in August then breaks dormancy during middle winter (must be day length). The species, Scouler Willow, Salix scouleriana is distributed from Alaska to Alberta and 
 Mexico.In western Washington I have collected three distinct forms of Scouler Willow that breed true to seed. These strains are habitat specific. 

Example: A landscape architect specifies red osier and say mock orange for a DOT easement planting and the contractor goes to the low cost source in Minnesota or Montana. These plants eventually escape as volunteers or interbreed with the native strains weakening the adaptability of the species in our ecosystem. We have made a lot of progress here working with spec writers and agencies to specify provenance as well as using native species in naturalized settings. Now our customers are coming to us demanding seed source information rather than standing on soap box at conferences 20 years ago. 

Think about context of this and introduction of bulb species and strains into naturalized settings. Where the species keeps its pollen to itself, displacement of native understory by escapees is only issue. I have done some introductions at my forested homesite and is pleasant. Moving a lily,  an iris or camas into habitat restoration where same species is present seed sources need to be considered. There is still much more to learn about provenance and species genetics. Recently forest service has provided us with perennial seed for propagation and collection zones are based on elevation and rainfall. Very elongate zones that move past many watersheds. 

Lastly, we're strictly wholesale and will likely never have a retail sales presence. I'm working now to scale up our hardy, native bulb production from current 50,000 annual to several million. Is no easy task as we are currently at 1920s harvest technology (hand trowels). Our bulbs are available only thru October and some readers may be interested to look and consider minimum quantities. From our website bulbs are on page 20 of the 2012 catalog and seed is on page 16.

Richard Haard, Plant Propagator
Fourth Corner Nurseries, 5652 Sand Road
Bellingham, Washington, 98226

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