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How do you find the 'right' plants?

 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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With all that is being posted here at the forums and what I've been seeing on the Web I'm wondering what ways or methods people are using to find just the right plant for a permaculture goal..... 

Let's assume one doesn't live in or near a large city with lots of (perma) nurseries, and let's assume even the nurseries only carry the more popular/common plants and not necessarily the most perma-culturally friendly.... and all I know is that I need a bush that has deep roots, can be used as animal fodder and adds potash to the soil.....so how would I go about finding plant(s) that fulfill my requirement?  How would you find such plants?  (BTW-  this is just hypothetical).

I want to know how I go about finding plants when all I know is a bit about the desired characteristics, one nursery I called didn't even know what plants could be eaten.  I knew then I was looking in the wrong place.

A video I watched spoke about grasses that were forage hardy, tolerate damp soil and grow in partial shade - Googling for the characteristics doesn't return a satisfying result, and reading through catalogs of what I don't want is very tedious. 

Any tips for making this less painful?

 
Travis Philp
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Try this site:

http://www.pfaf.org

Or this one: (Note that though its about native plants to canada, there is still useful information and many of the plants in the list are also native to parts of the US...)

http://nativeplants.evergreen.ca/search/advanced.php


As for nurseries, I can't really help you there. You may have to do some travelling, or have them deliver to you. I hope you find what you're looking for.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Let me tell a story:

First I found Erna Gunther's Ethnobotany of W. Washington and then quickly found lots of other PNW wildcrafting books at used bookstores.

Then I learned how to use a native plant key and so started understanding family characteristics.

Then I made a database on an Apple 2c of edible plants, noticed the family patterns, and researched writers like Kourik and Creasy to find out about them.  leaf plants for shade... etc...

Then I worked for nurseries and farms and landscapers, and talked and talked and read and read some more.  The gourmet rich people nurseries in the expensive parts of town are best.

Then I ran into Arthur Lee Jacobson who told me he wanted to be a Renaissance man and began with horticulture and has never found a stopping point.

Then I did native plant reveg, and messed around with direct seeding and planting and figuring out how little you could do to get survival

Then went back to school.  Forest ecology taught me how to search the scientific literature, and taught me more about the phenomena of adaptation.  Stress physiology taught me about specific mechanisms for adaptation, and the edges of survival and what they look like.

I learned wetland delineation, and it taught me about reading soil, and soil moisture indicators, and about how wet is wet.

Then I ran into PFAF (described above) and said WOW.. now that's a database!! (with lots of vague and sometimes contradictory information)

Then I started doing more native plant reveg in wetlands and that forced me to apply plants and soils and live with the outcomes.  And some private landscape contracting, where I went back to jobs and said... whoops.

Now I own land and I am doing all kinds of screwy things.  And I still go back to books and make lists, and revisit those lists, and research species, and call up friends, and ask questions on list serves...

This is a long way of saying that in my opinion the knowledge necessary to look at a place and come up with 'the right plant' is not necessarily strait forward or searchable, but is a life's work -- and a good life at that.  AND much of that knowledge does not directly involve species, but also phylogenetics, research, ecology, physiology, soil science and other such things... so keep dumping it in until you die.  But the lists do get easier.

Paul Cereghino
Olympia, WA


 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Wow.

Paul, that was about the most hopeful and most discouraging thing you might have said. 

I often come to this forum, saying "I just learned that plant Y has property X, maybe it will work for you," and have recently learned to use Google to check for some likely problems first, but I still rely on the experiences of others to catch most of my mistakes in this regard, and I definitely don't say "this is the one."

I hope my youthful enthusiasm has some value here, but I really appreciate the experience and education you bring to the table.
 
Jami McBride
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Paul Cereghino wrote:

This is a long way of saying that in my opinion the knowledge necessary to look at a place and come up with 'the right plant' is not necessarily strait forward or searchable, but is a life's work -- and a good life at that.  AND much of that knowledge does not directly involve species, but also phylogenetics, research, ecology, physiology, soil science and other such things... so keep dumping it in until you die.  But the lists do get easier.



OMG     - Where are the cliff notes!
I just can't turn permaculture into rocket science no matter how fascinating it might be.   I will suffer from burn out and then there goes the farm/garden/forest.

But I did appreciate you sharing your experience, thank you.
--------------------------------------

Thanks for the links Travis, I had the first one and I'm checking out the database now.

 
Leah Sattler
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how do I find the right plants? the process of elimination. if it die or looks crummy I move on to the next one

its hard to come up with criteria then find a plant that meets that criteria exclusively. I tend toward finding a plant that I want and that is suitable towards growing conditions and soil in the area in general and specifically, and build from that. that being said, due to local availablity and cost much of my plans remain plans 
 
Jordan Lowery
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i would personally go about searching what native local plants fit that bill. and in the mean time you will learn about other plants that suit your needs. when i started i went searching for a few specific plants, now i have tons of native plants that give me uses of all kinds. as well as what i was searching for.
 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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Researching plants seems to me, about the hardest part of all this.  Many retail nurseries really don't know squat about most of the plants they are selling (at least that seems to be the experience I've been having though I'm sure there are a few good knowledgeable ones out there.) 

So my approach so far (I am kinda new at this, only been on the property a few years.)  Anyway, Keep growing interim stuff that I know works to build the soil while I continue searching for new things to bring in and expand the diversity.  I've got some easy stuff to grow planted about (bananas, papayas etc, but the cold has set them back this year so they are mulch and compost once I see how far the cold too them down.)  And I noticed the Loquat tree in the corner of the property has a bunch of seedlings comming up around it, so I've transplanted some of them about the property to places I think they might be useful and grow well.  I like using volunteers especially if they serve multiple purposes since if they volunteered, they must like it there.

Then, I checked out the native plant nursery near me.  They didn't even realize there are some non-legume plants that fix nitrogen.  Instead of them being able to help me fine them, I had to educate them about it.  Anyway, I got some plants from them though few survived (I think they had been keeping them too waterlogged and the plants were basically dead by the time I got them.)  Sigh.  Then doing some more searching through plant lists and other things then cross referencing to see if I could fine out more info that might confirm some of the details, then start searching to see if there is anywhere in my state to buy such a plant I think might be useful and appropriate bassed on the research I've managed to do.  Then if I find somewhere close to get it I will, or I might mail order if there are no in state places to purchase in person.

Yes, it is really tedious and it is one of my biggest frustrations but I'm coming to the conclusion that "plants" is just such a big subject that there is no resource or book that is gonna cover it all for everywhere let alone tell you where you can buy everything.

I have found a good nursery site for sub tropical and tropical stuff here in Florida that has an extensive database with info about the plants they sell as well as info about quite a lot of plants they don't sell.
I've yet to go visit them but Hope to soon (bee good to see what survived the cold well and what didn't as my location is actually colder than they are.)
Top Tropicals in South Florida
http://toptropicals.com/people/seeds/htm/info.htm
I will also try to get down to Echo sometime but they don't have much info on their site to help me research plants for my location.  I have purchased seeds from them occasionally already.

Mail ordering plants is always kinda hit and miss but if you can find a place with extensive information about the plants, it should go a long way.  If you can find places in very similar climate zones to you, that should help too.  I get really frustrated when I find some great resource for seeds or plants with great info only to realize it's an Australian site or something, sigh.  Hang in there, keep searching and please share the good reasources you do find (if possible , note where they are since I've found that many nursery sites don't make it easy to find their location on their web site.  Yea sure it is near east podunk but what state!?!?!?!?  I'm not sure how to find that HWY if you don't at least note the state or even just the quadrant of the country!!!) 

Another thing I've noticed.  Many people will get all excited singing the virtues of some plant or other to the exclusion of all else and they in turn get others all caught up in it too.  No single plant is the answer to everything and definitely not everywhere.  There are some exciting plants like Moringa or Duckweed but don't get too caught up with them.  Don't spend huge amounts of money, energy and effort trying to grow duckweed ponds or plantations of moringa.  More diversity is better than getting all wrapped up in a few staples.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It's not rocket science...more like rocket technology.

Small, slow rockets are within reach of hobbyists, after all, and have been for hundreds of years. It took a long time for the science to catch up.
 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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Aye, but sometimes it feels more like Alchemy.
 
Jami McBride
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Ha!  Great (very funny) replies - thank you all so much. 
If nothing else I don't feel quite so frustrated any more.  All the stories of how you find your plant solutions are helpful.

[center]These forums do have some of the best people.....[/center]

I agree about the 'hype' of things (plants and other stuff) it's easy to get caught up when something really works out for you, and in a good spirit you want to share that with others.

I agree diversity, and let the land heal/plant it's self to a degree.

And I agree most nursery's are not gong to be the resource needed for creating a forest garden, except for the most common and basic of plant types.

It just kills me when some guy on a video says - "we've planted this and it does this, this and this" never saying the name, where the plant came from or how the guy found it - Arrrggg!

I agree TC we all need to remember to post complete detailed information so others following after us can trace our foot steps     Maybe we need to collect this "plant y has this x ability" and grows in this climate, and move it to the wiki as our own plant guide....

Something to think about.


 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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You may still find nurseries that can help you, but you will probably not find a single nursery that will have all your needs.  It's gonna be a bit here a bit there and some things you will have to struggle with hard to germinate seeds and such.

And there are some good resources out there on the web.  But again, no single resources is gonna tell you everything you need to know.

Good Luck!
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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TCLynx wrote:
Aye, but sometimes it feels more like Alchemy.


Taoist alchemists are widely credited with the developments that, by the 13th century, had produced rockets. The original recipe for gunpowder was probably dry herbs, cinnabar, and saltpeter.

It's a little ironic how proud rockets have made people, given the philosophy that prouded them..."Gundpowder makes every man tall" is so far from the original intent.

You're right, of course: the intent behind the research and tinkering we discuss here tends to be more transcendant than for mere technology.
 
rose macaskie
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jamie mcbride, You have to find the right words looking things up in google. i don't remember why i thought to do it but i looked up to see if cornuses would serve as forage i had a cornus siberian and flamea bushes that are great for cheering up a winter landscape the wood goes amazing colours in winter, and the two words as i remember it, cornus forage, served to get me several papers on how good they were as forage. There is  a cornus bicolor so that might have been the thing that  jennifer smith talked of. Maybe i used the word botany too, so i thought those words will let me know if this or the other, serve as forage,
      Just put in the names of all the bushes you can think of one by one and the words forage browse and dsee what comes up,. I found a paper on the uses of lichen just that easily too that was much longer ago and i can't remember what words i used but it was easy. Ii hope i remember what i did right, i shall have to try it out to make sure  that it works .
  I have been trying it and with some trees nothing comes up but with others somethign does, maybe you have to find the latin names to find anything with some trees.

          I started to write a list of trees that could be used as forage according to Juan Oría de la Rueda's book, "guia de Árboles y Arbustos en Castilla y Leon" that mentions the trees in his bit of Spain, Castilla y Leon and their uses traditionally and the other uses given to the woods such as the fungus that grow with the trees and how much money maybe earned form the sellling mushrooms thast grow in this type of wood. Those who write about woods, write about the trees and the plants and animals and fungi that usually accompany any given type of wood and about making charcoal of the pollarded or coppiced wood of the trees.
        In a forum on these forums with a strange title, like,  what is the name of the author of such and such a book, i started a list of the tree the spanish writer Juan Oria de la Rueda says can be used for forage.  A silly place to start a list forage trees. 

      There might be some complications to using forage as feed, the shepherds who drive their sheep here are always with their herds and always calling them on, they let them eat a bit of a tree and call them on, though that might be because i am whatching. I know that they can get poisoned by too much oak leaves, at least i have heard of it once from a vet, JUan ora de la rueda for example does ot mention this when he says that the fallen leaves of c the cork oaks are the principle diet of the cows in farms dedicated to this tree in spring and summer and he does not mention any danger to the cattle nor does Cesar Fuentes Sanchez in his book about dehesas wooded farms, usually wooded with oak  but sometimes ofor ash or  juniper h, he deals with the oak ones and though he talks of dutting leaf for the lanimals he does not talk of it being dangerous. maybe the vet in¡magined it was oak that hurt the animal the sash oneand i don't know how the shepherds guard against such an eventuality. They are pretty short on mentioning facts about their trade. I don't know if they fear competition or interference or both. one way would be not to cut to much for them but when they are kept as bushes, this would not work.

  The other way to find out which trees or bushes  serve as forage is asking here, there was one list of forage bushes and trees salty bush mountain mahogany on one forum and given by someone like joel hollingsworth. i should stop being lavy and look for it and when i looked up all the bushes he mentioned it was really interesting one of them is usually used in klklkazakistan if i remember write an dothers the mahogoney is from the us and usedtraditionally by the native americans .  i must look it up again may be it was a list of some six trees on it . Looking up the trees and reading about them maqde made the list seem much more interesting.  agri rose macaskie.
 
Matt Ferrall
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Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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Nurseries change stock yearly so` where a person got a unique plant `is a hard one.Time and experience will reveal more.Many plants you already have might have might be more usefull than you relise and remember what they call an exotic plant that really grows well:invasive.Many wild plants dont have commercial outlets for seed ect..Also -Daves Garden website has a plant finder search engine that has worked for me.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Mt.goat wrote:Many wild plants dont have commercial outlets for seed ect.


A friend of a friend ran into this problem while trying to bring back neem tree seed from India. She could find no one selling the seed, because it is too common to be worth collecting.
 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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There is also an issue of it being technically illegal to collect seeds from wild plants (or at least there are some endangered wild plants that it is illegal to collect seeds from here in Florida.) 

There is a place in Flroida selling neem, let me know if I should post a link for anyone?
 
Travis Philp
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I think its legal to collect seed from most wild plants here in Canada. I'm not 100% on that but am basing this mostly on the fact that the local native plant nursery does so without any special license, and is a legitimate and well known business around these parts.

Am I the only Canuck on this forum?
 
                              
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I grew up in Michigan and I believe most forest wild flowers were "to be left alone!"  And here in Florida I know that it is illegal to collect the seeds off of Sea Oats.

So one must find nursery sources for those things and the nurseries must some how have gotten the seed or material in the first place but I guess in some areas the commercial/retail trade in some plants has actually threatened the wild stock.  However, for non, threatened species, I don't have a qualms about taking some seeds, especially if I plant a few in the wild location to make up for the ones I'm taking.
 
Chelle Lewis
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Read and read. Google is my best friend here. The moment I hear about some wonder plant....  I research it to see if I can grow it. Even if some say I can't .... and I really want to .... I try it ... usually in a modified micro-climate.... more protected... or wetter ... or shadier...etc.

Start with one plant at a time.... Take, for instance,  the Moringa tree. I heard about it..... googled it ...... and knew I really wanted it. Found seeds off the internet and planted in bags. Trial and error about why some grew better than others... etc. And why some even died soon after starting. The next time Spring came around I bought many more seeds and expanded.

Usually you will find other good seeds from the same supplier. Over the internet some suppliers take the time to write up about seeds because that is all they get by way of marketing to you.

It does all take time to learn. There is nothing like doing it..... experience ....  in speeding up the learnng curve. Going out and planting and making mistakes.....  and succeeding! But reading up as much as possible can reduce the time and mistakes... but you still will make some... so accept that... your site is different to most others.... and you learn about it by walking out there and working with it..... you only fail when you stop trying. Who cares how long it takes! .... No one will once it is all flourishing. And if you keep trying and learning ... it will.

Chelle
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Very good points Chelle, thank you......  I haven't tried researching a particular plant for my area, that's a great idea - I was gong at it from the other direction.

Thanks everyone!
 
jacque greenleaf
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Volume 2 of Edible Forest Gardens (http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/) contains an exhaustive multiple-page chart presenting hundreds of temperate plant species and their permacultural uses. Expensive book, but you could spend way more than its cost buying plants that don't work for you.

I bought mine new on ebay for about $20 less than its regular price.

It's more fun than a seed catalog!
 
rose macaskie
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i h ave just been looking up marshes and wetlands and wetland pasture and found a few things,  a bit more time would have got me many more
   On the way i came across louisianna wetlands and got this list of trees for it -
     Bald cypress, tupelo and cottonwood.
and as scrub plants
Saw palmetto and Wax Myrtle.
     May be its better to start with a few and build up as i find more then I wont get too boring. rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  I go to nurseries wnhen i can maybe not beignable to often has made me much more persistent than i would be if ti was easy , thet way i see thigns that are nice and cheap. which is somethign that varies. Money is a question too when collecting plants .
isuppose you need the staples at first and then can start the difficult business of finding more exicting stuff. rose macaskie.
 
Brenda Groth
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research..

i have some good books that i reuse year after year that have good plant information..but unfortunately they are only the general types of crops..

it tells you what their needs are and what they contribute..

one is organic gardening and farming eycyclopedia.

you might try googling things like ...adds potash to the soil...or adds calcium to the soil..

or plants to build soil...or something like that?

i'm sure others will have better information....


it would be really nice if there were some lists of things that we all could use..readily available
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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the book Gaia's Garden has some good tables in the back of the book with plants listed by their attributes and which height zone they fit in.

Raintree nursery is probably not too far from you and has a good catalog and a very helpful staff.
http://www.raintreenursery.com/

just came across this site and they look pretty hard-core:
http://trackerspermaculture.com/

The shotgun approach does work best for me.  plant a dozen new things a year and you'll find a couple that you'll want to keep
 
Paul Cereghino
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Knowing the origin of the species in terms of climate and position in its native vegetation and landscape position offers a lot about what a plant really wants. 

Random house published a series of garden books written by Martin and Rix, Vegetables, a 2 book Perennials, and so forth that profiles many uncommon species often describing their native origin.

PRC
 
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