Native Plant Labeling Standards
Native plant labeling might be straightforward for some, but ArcheWild aims to assure its customers, mostly government agencies, botanical gardens, and ecological professionals, of exactly what they are buying by providing relevant information about the plants’ genetics, place of origin, and suitable planting conditions.
It is surprising how many nurseries do not include a logo on their labels. ArcheWild believes native plants should be traceable back to the source propagation nursery when they are sold; otherwise, they could risk being considered ‘generic’ native plants. Logos assure the end consumer of a quality plant, even when the plants change hands through brokers or contractors.
The logo is also important because it demonstrates the nursery’s willingness to be held accountable for quality and performance. Customers should be able to contact the source nursery with questions or concerns about their products.
Section B – Genus, Species, and Sub-Species – Full Botanical name
ArcheWild strongly encourages using the full botanical names on all plant labels for identification, not their partial botanical names, and certainly not common names. The example tag shown in Figure 2 describes little bluestem grass. Now someone might assume that means Schizachyrium scoparium, and they might be right. But neither name is sufficient to properly identify the plant for there are many different species called ‘little bluestem’ and there are 3 different species of Schizachyrium scoparium and none are suitable substitutes for another.
This issue of insufficiently labeled natives is fairly widespread, even among common native species. For example, there are 3 different species of Asclepias tuberosa: ssp. interior, ssp. rolfsi, and ssp. tuberosa, all growing on the East Coast. When simply Aslepias tuberosa is specified on a drawing, one is essentially saying that any one of the three species is acceptable and that a California-sourced Asclepias tuberosa ssp. interior is fine to plant in Boston, which it is not.
Section C – Accession Code
An accession code is a tracking number for a particular source of seed and is used to provide full trace-ability for the plants propagated from that seed. Some government agencies and most botanical gardens use these accession codes to satisfy compliance and curation requirements, respectively. Land managers are also demanding accession codes as a way of documenting what has been planted on their land (e.g., a state park) so that future managers can track their performance and prove the genetic provenance of a plant for research purposes.
The ArcheWild accession code has two parts, the USDA plant symbol and a unique identifier. This combination allows us to distinguish one seed source from another for the same species, over time. We use accession codes to document where, when, by whom, and other information related to how the original genetics were obtained. This method allows us, for example, to grow and keep track of 20 different genotypes of Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium.
These plant symbols can be found on the USDA Plants Database website, and they correspond directly to the species’ botanical name; the plant symbol is an acronym of the full plant name.
This identifier is a serial number for a seed source that is specific to ArcheWild. Customers can contact us with the accession code on their tags for complete information about their plants’ genetic origin.
To learn more about plant accession codes, curation, and collection management, read this informative PDF.
Section D – Certified Open-Pollinated, Local-Ecotype (OPLE©)
OPLE©-certified plants are those that were grown from open-pollinated seed from healthy, genetically-diverse colonies and whose genotype or source is well-documented. OPLE© plants are always grown from seeds of parent plants that were allowed to pollinate in natural conditions and that retain their original or as-found levels of genetic diversity. This certification helps to preserve biodiversity in our seed stock gene pool, and therefore in the plants we sell.
Asexually-produced plants (i.e., cuttings, tissue culture), cultivars, and plants produced from a small number of parent plants, or those grown from purchased seed, cannot carry the OPLE© certification.
The OPLE© copyright is owned by ArcheWild and available through license to other native nurseries that demonstrate a sustained commitment to high-quality genetics in their plants and reliable database management processes.
Section E – Ecoregion code
The Ecoregion code is the key to better understanding where the plant originated, which genetic strain is represented, and how/where to use the plant. The Ecoregion is a national classification of the physiographic provinces that represent unique combinations of soil, hydrology, and slope and we use this code to document where our parent, seed-bearing plants originated. Unlike accession codes, which pertain only to plants from a specific nursery, Ecoregions are standardized and available as a common communication tool for all native plant nurseries.
In Figure 1, for example, “059g” is the Ecoregion code, which can be decomposed into the level three “059” and level four”g” Ecoregion names. “Atlantic Coastal Plain” is the level three Ecoregion name, which is a regional geographic area useful to many professionals and informs the buyer where in the country the seed originated, and “Long Island Sound Coastal Lowland” is the level four ecoregion name, which describes a sub-section of the Atlantic Coastal Plain that represents a very specific set of site conditions and is used to guide a planting plan. This level of detail, for example, allows a landscape architect or land manager to specify the genetic origin of their plants and to better understand the conditions that that particular species, or genetic strain, prefers.
Specifying “local” seed or a “local” nursery has no useful or real meaning in the context of Ecoregions, genetics, and accession codes. Specifying an Ecoregion source requirement helps assure genetic fitness and suitability of a plant crop to a particular use or project location, and helps to protect indigenous populations. Specifying an Ecoregion provides some assurance that a nursery isn’t simply buying their seed on the internet or importing seed from the West Coast or the Midwest.
Online seed brokers will often claim provenance at a state level and only use partial botanical names. This, too, is almost meaningless to the professional plant buyer.
Few large East Coast native nurseries are capable of supplying Ecoregion and accession information. To date, only ArcheWild, Pinelands, and Greenbelt native nurseries are known to have this capability. Only ArcheWild puts this information on its tags.