WERA_OLD1013: Intermountain Regional Evaluation and Introduction of Native Plants

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

WERA_OLD1013: Intermountain Regional Evaluation and Introduction of Native Plants

Duration: 10/01/2013 to 09/30/2018

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Water is one of the most limiting resources for crop production and landscape management. The issue is magnified in western U.S. states, where rapid population growth, increasing temperatures and more frequent and severe droughts will worsen existing competition for water resources (1). Home and commercial landscape irrigation accounts for the greatest proportion of non-agricultural water use in U.S. western states (2). Use of regionally adapted native plants in home and commercial ornamental landscapes can lower water use and decrease demand for water (3). Further, reduction in soil moisture levels as a result of climate change is projected to increase the area burned by wildfire and threaten adjacent urban areas (1). Many western native plants have adapted to heat and drought by resisting water loss from their leaves, making them more resistant to combustion during a wildfire, and appropriate for use in fire-prone urban landscapes (4). The regional market for native plants is expanding rapidly, but cost of production currently limits many native plant growers, who rely on limited local demand for their plant materials. Landscapers and landowners in states such as Nevada (5), with high plant production costs due to climate constraints, rely on neighboring states as sources of native plants for landscaping. Greater cooperation among western states expands the markets for producers in these areas decreasing cost of production and increasing the use of native plants in home and commercial landscapes.

Other factors that limit the widespread use of native plants by landscape professionals in the 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 (6). 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 conventional 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.

We set the stage for much of this to happen in the first five years of this project. We established a website where we could post information about native species for growers and consumers (http://www.uwyo.edu/wera1013/). The website includes a list of university and grower members, printable species fact sheets, plant photos and a regularly updated grower list by state. We worked with the Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association (INPGA) to include a broader range of western states and growers, and developed a strategy for stabilizing and expanding the market by establishing the INPGA Intermountain Choice" program. This program allows a focus on a small number of species that can be marketed regionally, with grower members having advance notice so they can adjust production to meet projected demand. The Plant Select® program, administered by the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University, is an example of how cooperation among growers and universities can enhance grower success and increase native plant sales. Since the inception of WERA 1013, sales of native plants through the Plant Select® program have grown from $1.46 million in 2007 to $1.68 million in 2012. Our plan for the next five years is to expand the extent of interstate cooperation and to enhance stakeholder-driven efforts at public education about the benefits of native plants in water-conserving, fire-safe landscapes. One strategy will be to pursue development of an informal partnership with the INPGA.


  1. Enhance interstate cooperation in marketing new native plant materials and cultivars, especially plants that facilitate water conservation and fire-safe landscapes.
  2. Coordinate regional efforts to provide education to both the public and industry professionals on native plant propagation/production, water conservation benefits and use in ornamental landscapes, and maintenance of native-plant-dominated ornamental landscapes for efficiency of water use.

Procedures and Activities

The INPGA is an industry-based organization with a mission to educate consumers about the value of native plants and to help the native plant nursery industry expand and become more profitable. The organization started about a decade ago under the direction of a small group of scientists and industry representatives in Utah. They developed the Utahs Choice native plant marketing program and helped provide marketing tools and seed for growers. In the last few years, the association has made a decision to expand its scope of influence and operations to include the entire Intermountain region. It has also moved away from being a seed supplier and realigned its mission to include an education component. In the role of providing education about and promotion of native plants, INPGA has positioned itself to become an ideal working partner for WERA-1013. By working together, WERA-1013 will have greater stakeholder input as well as a natural outlet for outcomes, including educational products and new plant materials. INPGA will gain access to knowledgeable people and enhance their ability to expand their influence into new areas of the region. In the coming years, WERA-1013 officers will explore opportunities for an informal partnership with INPGA.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Increase knowledge about the reliability and regional adaptability of native plant materials targeted for use in water-conserving and fire-safe landscapes.
  • Opening of new regional markets for native plants, facilitating production of native plant materials on a larger scale and resulting in greater profitability for propagators and growers.
  • Regional education and outreach programs leading to greater willingness of homeowners to adopt native plant concepts and landscape professionals to promote native plant designs.
  • Increased use of water-conserving native plants by landscape professionals and by the consuming public as measured by increased sales of native plant materials by growers and retailers.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Inputs will include demonstration gardens, regional professional seminars, regional web-based educational resources, and published materials. Information on native plant use, benefits related to water conservation, and maintenance of native plant landscapes to promote water sustainability and landscape fire safety will be integrated into appropriate university courses and master gardener programs, and will be made available to the horticulture industries and the public. Information will be disseminated by individual group members by way of classroom lectures, extension publications, and oral presentations at industry meetings. Efforts will be made to provide language-appropriate educational opportunities in regions where such issues exist. Examples of our outputs include: 1) Report of the Intermountain Native Plants Cooperative (annual proceedings reports posted on our website); 2) Native Plants in the Landscape fact sheets (posted on our website); 3) Development of a native plant speakers bureau comprised of WERA 1013 members who are asked to speak at state and regional industry meetings. Assessment of outcomes and impacts will occur as a result of, but are not limited to, tracking of website visitations, industry focus group meetings, and pre- and post-seminar surveys. The result of regional educational collaboration involving universities and industry stakeholders will be a concerted effort to stimulate demand for and knowledge about water-conserving native plants, improve the quality of available plant materials, and facilitate introduction of new plant materials to improve profitability of native plant production.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a CSREES Representative.

Literature Cited

(1) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change Impacts and Adapting to Change: Southwest Impacts & Adaptation. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/southwest.html; Accessed 7 November 2012.
(2) Kjelgren, R., Rupp, L, and D. Kilgren. 2000. Water conservation in urban landscapes. HortScience 35: 1037-1040.
(3) McPherson, E.G. 1990. Modeling residential landscape water and energy use to evaluate water conservation policies. Landscape Journal 9: 122-134.
(4) Curtis, K.R. and M.W. Cowee. 2007. Native Plant Characteristics Appeal to Consumers in Nevada. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet -07-16.
(5) Curtis, K.R. and C.W. Cowee. 2007. Markets for Nevada Native Plants & Seeds. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet -07-03.
(6) Hooper, V.H., Endter-Wada, J., and C.W. Johnson. 2008. Theory and Practice Related to Native Plants: A Case Study of Utah Landscape Professionals. Landscape Journal 27:127-141.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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