WERA1013: Intermountain Regional Evaluation and Introduction of Native Plants
Statement of Issues and JustificationWater is one of the most limiting resources for crop production and landscape management. The problem is magnified in the Intermountain West, where recurrent drought cycles, rapid urbanization, unprecedented population growth, and climate change are straining water resources(1). Stakeholders in this region consistently cite yard and garden issues as extremely important, and home and commercial landscape irrigation accounts for the greatest proportion of non-agricultural water use in the Intermountain West states(2). Expansion of native-inspired landscapes in urban settings is considered a regional priority. Use of regionally adapted native plants in home and commercial ornamental landscapes can lower water use and decrease demand for limited water supplies(3). The regional market for native plants is expanding rapidly, but cost of production currently limits many native plant growers, who rely largely on limited local demand for their plant materials. In an effort to improve marketability, some growers have selected and are promoting a limited number of cultivated varieties. The source and quality of these plant materials varies widely, however, and most native plant species and cultivated varieties have not been evaluated independently and objectively for their tolerance to landscape conditions and for their adaptation to the varied climates across the region.
Some Western universities have begun limited-scale evaluation programs, and these programs have resulted in identification of native plants that are adapted to local climatic conditions(4,5). However, experimentation with native plants over broad bioregions, and along elevational, latitudinal, and precipitation gradients, was cited as a significant need by Colorado landscape designers in a recent survey(6). A coordinated effort among Intermountain West universities to evaluate plants regionally will identify those plants capable of wider environmental adaptation and improve reliability of plant materials. Regional evaluations also will broaden the market for selected native plants and cultivated varieties, enabling large-scale production and reducing cost of production for growers.
The factors that most limit the widespread use of native plants by landscape professionals in Utah(7) and much of the Intermountain West are lack of plant availability caused by production and marketing challenges, and limitations in landscape professionals' knowledge about landscape use and adaptation constraints of native plant materials. According to industry stakeholders, landscape professionals are increasingly willing to include native plants in their landscape designs, and growers desire to produce native plants to meet the demand. However, demand for specific native plant materials often does not match supply because some desirable native plant species require a longer production time than traditional landscape plants, and landscape professionals are not knowledgeable about species availability and plant size limitations. Regional efforts to match supply with demand for native plants will increase demand for native species that can be produced cost-effectively, and will allow growers the lead time to produce plants for which there is high demand. Collaborative regional educational programs targeted to landscape professionals, growers, and consumers will stimulate demand for and knowledge about native plant species deemed appropriate for landscape use.
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