Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Botanical Wonders Has Me Wondering

Lowes has been selling native plants for a few years now. I encourage people to buy them if they're growing in pots, but if they're in little air tight packets I'd ask you to think twice. These packets are provided from a company called Botanical Wonders and there's a serious issue of where they're getting their stock from. Numerous people have questioned Lowes about the company and to my knowledge no one has ever gotten a letter back with any thing concrete in it other than to say "We'll look into it."

The seriousness of the matter comes from the harvesting of Trilliums and a few other spring time ephemerals. Trilliums take two years just to germinate from seed, and then the better half of a decade to reach a flowering age from that. Adult plants do divide slowly but it's hard to imagen this happening on such a scale to supply a hardware store such as Lowes, let alone every store in the country. How anyone can get away with selling such plants for $3 a packet is astonishing. Native Plant Nurseries that sell Trilliums as Nursery Propagated rarely sell them for anything less than $10, and I've seen some go for as much as $50. This has lead many to believe that Botanical Wonders is simply digging it's plants up from our natural woodlands for a quick buck, and this is behavior that should not be tolerated.

Trillium grandiflorum
Among their selection of Trilliums is T. grandiflorum, T. erectum, and T. luteum, which are all easy to recognize. However, one packet is simple labeled as "Red Trillium," which is the common name to T. erectum, however, the picture on the bag is clearly something in the sessile group, where the flower is connected to the main leaves and not separated by a stem. To me this is a major red flag. Part of the native plant movement is Knowing the Species Name of What You're Planting!

So it's been a few years since I planted my "Red Trilliums" and they've all started flowering, some even dividing. Seen here in the foreground is Trillium cuneatum which isn't native to New Jersey but is found in Pennsylvania so I guess that's close enough. Note how the anthers have pollen going all the way up towards the tips, and how the clawed flower petals are red colored all the way up. Now note the two growing in the background. The red color stops about half way and I'd say they're more a green color. I assumed these were the same species until I realized another key difference.

They were producing a rotten apple-like fragrance in the late afternoon to attract pollinating flies. The T. cuneatum were not doing this at all! After strumming through a Trillium book I got at the Mt. Cuba Center I quickly found out what they were actually Trillium viridescens. You can see from their distrubiton at the bottom, here, that they're only native to patches of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Kansas. (Though apparently cold hardy enough to be growing happily in New Jersey.) 

In our front garden I have what appears to be Trillium recurvatum, in another garden I have what might be T. sessile which hasn't flowered yet and I'm left wondering what other surprises I've planted for myself. I'll admit identifying random Trilliums is fun but I would have rather known what I was planting before hand, if only to group them better.

In summary, the only native Trillium in my garden at the moment is Trillium grandiflorum. I don't hate the plants I got from Botanical Wonders, I'll be growing and propagating them as much as I can, but I can say for sure that I will never be buying a plant with their name on it ever again. What a tragedy it would be to find they were the blood diamonds of the plant world.


  1. A long time ago, I did track down the company and write them and they did confirm that they are wild collected. I've thought about printing up brightly colored stickers that say "Stolen from the wild!" and stick them on when on one is looking. Plus, given the way these are packaged and sold it's dubious they will grow at all. Also be wary of flytraps in little red pots from nurseries in North Carolina (Particularly Flytrap Farm) these are most definitely wild collected (also confirmed by the company). Indeed flytrap farm was quoted in an article that they take thousands of these highly endangered plants from the wild every year.

    1. Hello. I know your post is a year old and my reply may not reach you. But I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of the article you mentioned about Flytrap Farms? I am researching Venus Flytraps for The Nature Conservancy and am looking for any information I can find on wild collected plants. Thanks.

  2. The Botanical Wonders website (http://botanical-wonders.com/about.htm) says they raise them on 617 acres. Which more or less means they bought 617 acres of prime wildflower habitat. Since some of their species are not native to NC they must have planted them, and are thus propagating them. Honestly, it is not in these people's financial interest (longterm) to deplete their beds. Everyone is right to be skeptical, but is it not possible to selectively harvest trilliums, etc from dense beds in way that is sustainable? Also the larger macrobiological questions, is in the long run, do these trillium species benefit? All woodland wildflowers in my area exist only in isolated pockets that could be wiped out at any time and have extreme/complete genetic isolation. A few good samaritans may be replenishing woodlands with purchased stock.

    1. I can understand doing it that way, that is owning a plot of land and selling what grows in a reasonably sustainable way. I actually know a nursery that sells Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) in this manner. I've bought them in the past, they over winter fine and flower the next year, but sadly they just peter out over the summer. They might lack an ideal pollinator or require patches of moss to keep them hydrated in times of drought.

      That said, I really wish Botanical Wonders sold their packets differently. I was at Lowes a few days ago and saw they had a bunch of them sealed in those packets. However less than 1/4 of them were growing. In subsequent weeks I can say those that didn't grow were more than likely already dead, and those that grew but weren't bought simply dried out completely and are now dead. I'm willing to concede that some went dormant and may be revived but as of now they're blending in with the dead ones. Potting them up so they can stretch out and grow a bit would surely be a better way to grow them.

      Their labeling of species is also something to be desired. Some of the packets of "Trillium erectum" were clearly in the sessile group, which they probably meant to put in their "Red Trillium" packets, which I think they're now calling "Assorted Colors" which I don't think is right to have. A sensible nursery would have each species grouped off in it's own plot or garden so they could be sure of what they're selling. Some prefer acidic soil, others go for alkaline soil, and it's generally bad business to sell plants that barely have a chance of survival because the gardener has to just put them in the soil and hope for the best.

      There's no reason for them to be in those vacuum sealed packets.

    2. I had a bad experience from them as well. I bought three trillium packets and two were dry rotted and the third actually had two extra little root systems. I ordered trilliums from a nursery, and they came in a plastic bag but all appeared to be healthy and some were starting to sprout as it was spring already. Same thing with the bloodroot and trout lillies ordered from the nursery. I have been worried after doing this research though about provenance. That said, trout lillies aren't that rare in the wild and always do well where they grow. Like that patch behind my shed I didn't find till after I'd ordered, where they're as dense as a golf course lawn. I could have just spread them out and they would have filled back in in a few years. Of course there are like threee species of lilly that all pretty much look like that.