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  • Jennifer Jewell


Bombus californicus on Salvia Clevelandii at Canyon Creek. Photo by John Whittlesey, all rights reserved.



The unsettling case of the poached Dudleyas: You may or not have been following this recent incident about Dudleya’s – a group of lovely western native succulents – being poached (as in stolen, not steamed) wholesale from the California coast over this past year and shipped to a frenzied market of succulent acquirers in Asia – specifically Korea. This whole incident brings up so many interesting and sometimes bothersome dilemmas in the world of plant lovers and gardeners I thought it was worth exploring this a little more – and with a slightly larger lens.

Today I am joined by two esteemed plants people – Julie Nelson, Forest Botanist for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California and Michael Kauffman, founder and editor of BackCountry Press, author of numerous books on California’s Flora and environments and editor of the California Native Plant Society’s Fremontia journal.

Julie and Michael recently worked together on the publication of The Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps.

Julie and Michael join us this week via Skype

“We are playing God in a lot of ways when we move [plants]around and it is our responsibility I think as ecologists and native plant lovers to think about how we do move things around from place to place."

Michael Kauffmann, Back Country Press

  • some of the general education for home gardeners/amateur ecologists that this brings up includes the following issues - each followed immediately by thoughts from Julie Nelson:

  • foraging/collecting LAW and etiquette: please see -; several focus on rare plants but I love this section of CA penal code, which says that in most cases if you don't have written notarized permission from the landowner, you have committed a misdemeanor, even for common plants.

  • sourcing of plants from commercial distributors - nurseries, online, etc: Try not to pollute your local gene pools; ask nurseries where their source material came from and if they propagated it or collected it from the wild; learn to propagate your own; collect discreetly and never from rare plant populations; always get permission from the landowner/manager; remember plants on public lands are held in trust for the general public to enjoy; please don't scatter random 'wildflower' seed packet contents; buy native plants from a botanic garden or native plant society chapter; if the label doesn't have a scientific name on it (it may also have a common name on it) it probably is not from a reliable source; minimize waste by planting things appropriate to your site

  • And? The Dudleya incident and poaching of rare plants seems less about native plant gardening and love of native plants than about a certain desire to own something rare and special, not all that different from acquiring rare coins, stamps, art, cars, whatever. There's a greed factor that doesn't come into play for the person who is able to enjoy a common flower as much as a rare one. If you have this kind of urge, please satisfy it by buying responsibly propagated plants or by propagating your own. And the rationalization that growing rare plants at home is a form of conservation is utter bullshit.

If you’ve been gardening for any length of time, you will know the sensation of plant lust. And it’s a powerful emotion. You see a plant, you fall in love, you must have it. But what if this plant we want is rare or endangered? What if we find a source for the plant but we’re not sure of its origins – was it legally propagated or illegally and unethically collected? What do we do with some of these sticky issues. In the wake of wide scale poaching of rare and endemic Dudleya – a succulent plant genus that grows throughout California and much of the American Southwest - these are just some of the questions we need to be asking ourselves as gardeners, amateur or professional ecologists and native plant lovers.

If anyone ever told you garden was easy or simple or superficial – They were wrong. And it’s not. It’s complex and layered and dimensional in ways that few of us will fully grasp in our gardening lifetimes. Which is some large part of the draw isn’t it? It makes us think. With luck – it makes us think a lot from a perspective far beyond our own immediate pleasure or gratification. Because as these things go on the quantum level - gardening has the potential power to change everything. For the better or the worse. Right here in the middle of the 4th of July holidays - as we head out for summer garden visits, hikes, bikes, camps, and back packs these ideas are all worth thinking about.

* * * * * * * *

Hey it’s Jennifer –– It’s really summer now – we’ve been through out first triple digit multi day heat wave here where I garden and we’re through both the glow of the Summer Solstice and the heated holiday that is the Fourth of July. Nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems – not if you really look at it from more than just one angle.

Everything can be viewed on multiple dimension – and gardening is no different. When I think of the human impulse to garden – I think good things. I think of flowers and healthy soils and supporting pollinators and sharing flowers and food with friends.

But there are darker sides to gardening, and we all know this too. Today’s episode gets into some esoteric territory and to be honest I can see where some of you might have tuned out mid-way – thinking – this is about a weird event in California, what does this have to do with me? But I would argue this almost-ecology-class-of a-conversation with Julie and Michael brings up some fascinating topics we should all interrogate ourselves about – our ethics, our standards, our awareness and a simple question that is at the very essential heart of gardening for me – how do I both love wild nature (of all parts of the globe) and native plants, AND most respectfully and knowledgeably include those plants and this love into my home garden?

If we are going to encourage and be encouraged to include native plants in our gardens and landscapes – how do we work to ensure this effort does not diminish the very thing we’re trying to support? Nature herself.

I’ve been camping a couple of times already this summer – out on the trail botanizing and wandering with John and camera and notebook and happy, happy heart.

So this concept of the Leave-No-Trace ethic is front of mind for me just now. I know what it looks like to me what does it look like to you? And how do we encourage all of us gardeners and nature lovers to adopt such an ethic and stick to it – without judgement and policing of overreaching way. Some people I know feel really strongly about the need for fewer laws, less regulation, the wild areas and public lands are for us as the human species to USE…..sigh.

Without wanting to be judgey - I look at my own life and garden and I am left to wonder – just where has that mindset gotten us? And how do we do whatever we can to rectify the damage done because we understand and we truly want to – not because we’re being told we have to. What does the leave the no trace – and living within rather than outside of our plant communities look like to you? I’m thinking on this…I’ll keep you posted. In many ways it looks just like this conversation – inquiring, thoughtful, reflective and complex. Cause we are all in this together….

If you don’t already subscribe to my monthly newsletter – sign up while you’re at the website – it’s a great way for me to stay in touch with YOU! You can also always leave a comment on this episode’s post on Instagram or Facebook. I’m on instragram daily and Facebook weekly – join me there and say Hi – I’d love to connect and share your views too!

This is a listener and community supported endeavor and you are every bit as much a part of my garden life as the birds and bees and bugs and beauty. My greatest hope for Cultivating Place is to have conversations about these things we love and that connect us all. Together we gardeners and nature lovers make a difference for the better in this world. …

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