Issue: May 19, 2007
How to legally get wildflower plants
I would like to grow some of our New Mexico native plants in my home landscape. Can I dig some native plants and bring them home? I was thinking about planting wildflowers on the street side of the sidewalk at the edge of my yard. If I were to collect native plants, I would dig only a small clump in an area that has a large group of plants. I'm not looking for rare or endangered species and don't want to do anything to hurt the natural wildflower population or break the law.
It is possible to collect native plants from public lands (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or any other public land). However, you must first contact them to obtain a permit. You can often get plants from private land, but once again it is important to contact the owner and have written permission.
It is good that you aren't trying to collect endangered or rare species, because that is not allowed. Are you certain you can identify the plants so that you don't accidentally dig an endangered species?
It is also illegal to dig plants from road right-of-ways. Many of these plants were planted by the highway department, but even if they are just naturally occurring plants, they cannot be collected.
For some plants, especially those in bloom right now, this is not a good time to collect them. They have invested much of their stored food reserves in beginning growth and production of flowers. They may not have the ability to survive transplant shock. The best time for transplanting will depend on the species you are collecting.
It is often much easier to start these plants with nursery grown plants. They may not look as good as those growing in the wild now, but they have a much better chance of surviving the transplanting process. Native plants grown in containers may be stunted by the limits placed on their roots by the container, but there is less root damage when these are planted into a landscape. Once the roots are in open soil, nursery grown plants often grow very fast and quickly develop a beautiful appearance. Check with local nurseries that specialize in native plants or look for Southwestern nurseries that advertise on the internet (there are several good sources). Also watch for local native plant societies who have sales during the summer in many New Mexico towns. You can get good planting and growing information from local nurseries and native plant society members.
Many wildflowers are best established in the landscape from seeds. There are many sources of these wildflower seeds. As mentioned before, you can get a permit to collect from public land or ask for permission to collect seeds from private landowners. Many wildflower seed mixtures are also available in nurseries and on the internet. These seed mixtures are good because they often contain many different types of wildflowers. This increases the chance that one or more of those wildflowers will grow well in your landscape under your cultural conditions (soil, irrigation, etc).
By purchasing the plants or seeds, you can avoid the possibility of accidentally collecting an endangered or otherwise protected species. This will help avoid the fines and other legal issues that would develop. Your decision to use native wildflowers is very commendable. Best wishes for great success.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!