The Plant Native

Why does seed or plant provenance matter?

Provenance—or where a seed or plant comes from—is a secret weapon when it comes to picking resilient choices for our gardens. 

Some native plants have huge native ranges that include 50%+ of the United States—like Eastern Redbuds, Butterfly Weed, and Wood Lily. You can imagine that a seed from Massachusetts is going to have a different DNA than a seed from Florida. They might look the same, but invisible within each are blueprints to withstand Northeast winters or Southern heat.

Use this secret resiliency to your advantage and pick seeds and plants from the closest places you can for maximum resilience and eco-benefits. Scroll on to read more about the benefits of keeping it local.

Wood Lilies are gorgeous—and native to most of North America. Find sources that are close to you, when possible.

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Butterfly Weed

Table of Contents

We’ve said it multiple times before—the purpose of The Plant Native is to be a helpful, easy resource for planting native. We’re not here to make gardening feel like a botany exam.

However, some science-y tips return more resilient and more beautiful landscapes. Paying attention to plant provenance is one of them.

What does plant or seed provenance mean?

Plant provenance refers to where a seed or plant has grown for multiple generations. Think of it as the starting place for a seed or plant.

How long does it take to establish provenance?

A plant needs to exist in a spot for multiple branches of its genetic family tree to be considered its provenance. This allows its genetic makeup to adjust based on the soil, weather, light, etc of its provenance area.

Making resilient, site-specific DNA takes many plant lifetimes! It is not done in a season, or even a few seasons. Some examples of this complexity include:

  • If you live in Texas, but ordered Purple Coneflower seeds from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine a few years ago—those seeds’ provenance is still from the Northeast.
  • If you buy a native rhododendron in Pennsylvania but you notice the plant’s wholesale distributor was in South Carolina…chances are, the plant’s provenance is from the south.
Butterfly Weed is a type of milkweed (and Monarch host plant.) Try to get seeds and plants from nearby for maximum resiliency

Provenance benefits are often invisible—until they’re not

Again—it’s pretty clear how a plant from the Northeast might have a different genome than a plant with a family tree from the South. 

The interesting thing is: they might look almost the same, if planted side-by-side in each other’s areas. Same colored blooms, same shape, same height, same leaves—etc.

But their differences include:

Resiliency through severe weather events

When a weather event hits—drought, heat wave, cold snap, snowy winter—this is when you’ll see their provenance shine. A Sweetbay Magnolia with provenance in Florida might not make it through a super snowy winter in Pennsylvania—even though Sweetbay Magnolias are native to both areas.

Picking plants close by ensures you’ve got the most resilient plants in your landscape. It sets you up for planting success.

Faster growth

Having DNA awareness of the soil, weather, and climate of an area can also give a plant faster growth. William Cullina shares a first-person example of provenance from his Maine garden in the Wild Seed Project:

“If I grow seeds collected from an Alabama population of either variety (seeds with an Alabama provenance), it is highly likely that they will not thrive in coastal Maine because they have evolved in a very different climate. Typically, these southern plants grow more slowly than their local counterparts in our cool summers and die back rather shockingly in our harsh winters.”

Foamflower is at its most resilient when grow locally

How do I find native plants near me?

So glad you asked! Explore our native online sellers (organized by region) and our native plant society list to find sources near you. Chances are, there is a small business nearby with resilient natives ready for you.

How local do I have to go for plant provenance?

A good rule of thumb for provenance is to try and find plants from within 400-800 miles of where you live. To make this easy to remember, we’ve rounded up to 800 miles.

Local blooms, fewer glooms

Try to find plants and seeds from within 800 miles of where you live.

Plants and seeds from within 800 miles are best suited for your weather, water, and sunshine. This also fosters cross-pollination among locally grown plants, enhancing the resilience of seeds and plants for generations to come. Stay local for a happy garden!

What are some plants to try and find local?

As mentioned, there are some native plants with HUGE native ranges that cover 50% or more of the United States and Canada. Finding these locally will help maximize your resiliency benefits. Some examples of these natives include:

Heuchera 'Green-Spice' by Patrick Standish

Alum Root (Heuchera)

monarch-on-butterfly-weed-the-plant-native

Butterfly Weed

ninebark-5755860_1280

Ninebark

redbud-tree-in-bloom-native-tree

Redbud

A white Sweetbay Magnolia flower blooming, photographed growing on a branch of the Sweetbay Magnolia tree.

Sweetbay Magnolia

#image_title

Winterberry

Let’s be understanding and call this a goal—not a rule

If finding a local source feels like homework, we’ve made it a little easier with lists of online plant sellers organized by region, and listing native plant societies. We strongly believe that planting natives should not feel like a botany exam. If native plants can plant themselves—we can too.

We agree with Claudio Vazquez, co-founder of Izel Native Plants, “Provenance is important, but perfection should not stand in the way of doing good.” If you find some natives at your local nursery that you love, but they come from outside the 800-mile range…they will ALWAYS be better than a non-native choice.

And that sums up our guide to planting natives, locally! Spending a little bit of extra time finding native plant sources close to you gives lots of benefits, making the extra effort worth it. Planting locally ensures we have the strongest, most resilient plants for our area, able to withstand the extreme weather events that are sadly a fact of our time. Local provenance also ensures that generations of plants in our area will cross-pollinate and become their most resilient versions possible. Provenance matters, even though it’s an invisible superpower. Happy planting!

Popular FAQs
native-garden-with-obedient-plant-pairing-black-eyed-susans

Lawns vs. Native Gardens — What’s easier?

Save yourself hours of time
monarch-butterfly-on-a-common-milkweed-plant

Native Host Plants for Butterflies

Help the butterflies!
A Southern Magnolia tree's evergreen leaves are shown with small white flowers in bloom.

Native Magnolias: A Beginner’s Guide

Meet all eight
Heuchera 'Peach Flambé' by Acabashi

What is a cultivar?

And why does it matter?