Inviting Wild Neighbors In
one should dig to transplant. First, it's usually against the law and, second, it probably won't work. Native plants often are so deep-rooted that digging will kill them.
By common law, a landowner owns the plants on his land, so you need permission to collect any plant. Digging on most public areas is prohibited. If you want to collect plants or seeds on public lands, contact the agency that manages those lands first, be it the Highway Department, U.S. Forest Service or the Conservation Department, to ascertain regulations.
Plants cost more than seed, but flower quicker, often the same year you plant them. Seeds may take 2 to 5 years to bloom. If you collect the seeds yourself, it's an excuse to visit a wild area and begin to know its incomparable charm. There is an investment in time and effort, but it's an axiom that we appreciate most what we work hardest to get. You will need some knowledge of plant ecology to be effective. For example, prairie plants generally seed in the fall, but woodland plants often flower early and seed during the summer.
"It's better to do a large area from seed," says Merv Wallace, who raises native plants at Missouri Wildflowers Nursery near Jefferson City. Wallace cautions against buying seed mixes that may contain plants not native to Missouri (something from the Colorado mountains, for example, or common wild plants that originated in Europe, such as oxeye daisies).
Wallace worries that we're losing diversity in wild plants because of development and other land use changes. "If you have a pocket of native plants, you have an historical treasure," he says. "Consider it an antique that needs your help to make it through the coming hundreds of years."
That's a weighty burden - to plan and plant for the centuries. Some people don't quite see it that way. Jim Keefe, former editor of the Conservationist once fielded a complaint from a reader who said deer were eating his snap beans.
He told the reader to "plant enough for both of you." The next year, he got a letter from the reader, still disturbed, who said, "I did what you said - planted twice as much - and so far your deer haven't come by for their share. What are you going to do about it?"
Sometimes you get either too much or too little of a good thing.
National Wildflower Research Center, 2600 FM 973 North, Austin, TX 78725, lists all wildflower nurseries and will send you a list of those in your state and adjoining ones.
Missouri Native Plant Society, Box 20073, St. Louis 63144-0073 has chapters in several communities. The group publishes Petal Pushers, a newsletter, and offers both information and nature outings.
Books About Wild Back Yards
- Landscaping For Backyard Wildlife is the Conservation Department's self-help publication. It lists other publications, as well as several books on backyard wildlife.
- Missouri Wildflowers, by Edgar Denison (Missouri Conservation Department, Box 180, Jefferson City 65102).
- Wild Edibles, by Jan Phillips (Missouri Conservation Department, Box 180, Jefferson City 65102).
- Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers, by Harry Phillips.
- Requiem for a Lawnmower, by Sally Wasowski.
- Landscaping With Wildflowers, by Jim Wilson.
- The Backyard Bird Watcher, by George Harrison.