Native Legumes, Wildflowers, and
Bunch-Grasses Available for First Time Ever from Alabama Seed Sources
(Primarily Covington and Escambia County Seed)
This year, for the first time
ever, several species of herbaceous plants native to the longleaf forest
ecosystem will be commercially available. Most of these herbs are native legumes
and warm season grasses. For instance, butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum),
several native lespedezas (Lespedeza capitata, L. hirta, & L. virginica) and
other native species are available. These herbaceous species are well documented
as good quality quail foods and they are perennials. Some of these species may
live for decades after establishment.
Several nurseries on the Longleaf Nursery List will be growing and selling native herbs from the same containers that longleaf seedlings are produced in. These plugs may be easily planted by hand or machine and should sell for roughly the same price as container-grown longleaf pine seedlings.
Unlike many commercially available food plot species (thunberg, bicolor, and sericea lespedezas), our native legumes are not invasive weeds. For decades, most perennials herbs and shrubs recommended for food plot establishment came from Asia. Unfortunately, these plants often prove highly mobile and aggressive, displacing the native herbaceous layer as they spread through the forest. Today, and in the near future, some of our greatest management challenges will be controlling invasive weeds that we purposely planted in misguided attempts at improving wildlife habitat. When I talk to landowners about these Asian species I tell them, “Today it will cost you $1.00 to plant it. Tomorrow, it will cost you $10.00 to control it.”
Whenever possible, consider using native species as your first alternative. Autumn olive and bicolor lespedeza are not better for quail because they were brought all the way from Asia; or because your local nursery recommends them. Quail were present in large numbers when most of the Southeast was covered with native herbaceous species and there were many small farms scattered through the rural landscape. Planting invasive weeds is not improving our situation!
In addition to native legumes, several nurseries will have warm season bunch grasses like Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). These are tall, attractive, bunch grasses that are native to the longleaf pine understory community. They also look great in flower gardens! The Missouri Botanical Garden has fliers describing the attributes of Indian Grass and switchgass in native plant gardens.
Some native species make very attractive wildflowers. Several nurseries on the Longleaf Nursery List have been provided with Baptia albescens (white flowers), Baptisia lanceolata (yellow flowers), and native blazing stars (purple flowers.) The previously mentioned butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum) is a climbing vine with very attractive blue flowers.
For a full listing of nurseries and the species they are growing, please contact The Longleaf Alliance (attn: Mark) at the Solon Dixon Center. Or, you can call the nurseries directly. Some of the nurseries producing native species this year are:
Simmons Tree Farm
Meeks Tree Farm
Blanton & Sons
Clary & Sons
Honey Hole Nursery
International Forest Company
PH Longleaf Seedling Co.
Deep South Growers
Pine Tree Nursery and
Oak Grove Farm