Sourcing plants and seed: answers from our experts group

By Glenda Browne

At the APS NSW Office email we get a lot of queries about sourcing plants and seeds. Our first advice is to look at the list of plant and seed suppliers on our website here . I then share the message with our Experts Group in case they have special knowledge (which they usually do). Here are some of the discussions.

Problems with supplies

There were problems with supply of plants in 2019. Coming out of a long drought many growers had cut back on their production, and it takes time to produce plants ready for sale. Then bushfires and COVID in 2020 added to the problems. There was also greater demand, with stay-at-home restrictions seeing a boom in home gardening.

Given time these problems will be overcome. Supplies should be better come autumn 2021 (which is usually the best time to plant). In the meantime we can enjoy what we can get from our nearest native nurseries.

Buying interstate

Many of our questions come from interstate. Most nurseries are happy to post plants, and they arrive in good shape. However, while some plants can be sold across borders, and members of our experts group have successfully bought plants from from Tasmanian and Western Australian nurseries, there are restrictions on the plants that can be delivered between the states. There is a list of prohibited plants at https://www.australianplantsonline.com.au/ask-us/restricted-plants-quarantine.html.

Specialist nurseries

Sometimes our experts are able to recommend specialist nurseries for sourcing specific plants. For example:

  • Eremophila ‘Beryl’s Blue’ – Sydney Wildflower Nursery at Heathcote
  • Hibiscus tiliaceus tricolor – nurseries along the north coast of New South Wales, where the tree grows naturally
  • Peperomia tetraphylla – rainforest nurseries, such as the ones near Murwillumbah or the Firewheel nursery near Lismore.

Some plants might be hard to find. One group member noted that the Peperomia genus is good as an indoor plant because it is found in rainforests, but he had not seen the plant for years and did not know of anyone growing it. The questioner replied that he had collected it 40 years ago on an exposed hillside on limestone west of Kempsey but had never seen it since. Still looking …

Grow from seed or cuttings

Sometimes the advice is to grow your own.

  • Acacia fimbriata – The best bet would be to get seed and grow your own. Easy to grow from seed and much cheaper.
  • Myoporum floribunda – It is dead easy to propagate from cuttings. If you have seen one, get a cutting and strike it.  Its ease of propagation may explain why nurseries do not often stock it as most people grow their own.

Sourcing seed

Large quantities

Someone needed 1,000–2,000 Acacia longifolia seeds. This is a commercial quantity and would weigh about a third of a kilogram. For that quantity of seed a commercial supplier such as Nindethana in Western Australia could be tried.  These are quite prolific seeding plants so it would be also be possible to harvest large quantities.  As it is a common plant and one that some consider weedy, there might not be many groups with seed in that quantity available.

Accessing local seed for community nursery

A volunteer trying to get a nursery up and running for a sustainable living centre asked about access to local seed. She was aware of the seed licence and grower licence that can make it difficult to get seed. The group noted that collecting, recording and labelling seed is very hard work. There were several suggestions:

  • Ask volunteers to look out for seed on plants in their own garden and bring it to the nursery.
  • Buy seed from commercial suppliers. See the list on the APS website.
  • Contact other community nurseries to see if they have any spare seed. This is a good way to make contacts about good practices and visit other sites.
  • Ask Council Bushcare officers to collect seed in their work and pass it on. Sutherland Council does this, and also runs seed collecting days with volunteers led by Bushcare officers.
  • Ask The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah if you can collect from their native areas or see if they have an existing program.
  • Contact the Greater Sydney Landcare group, who are active in the area with a range of activities.
  • Grow plants from cuttings if you want to make a start while gathering seed. Cuttings are good for groundcovers, climbers and small shrubs.

One group had been collecting a few seeds from local natives to be applied in propagation demonstrations and offered access to small amounts of seed.

Thanks to John Aitken, Mark Abell, Ralph Cartwright, Rhonda Daniels, John Nevin, Merle Thompson and Dick Turner.