The Process Behind PlantRight’s List
For those of you exploring PlantRight’s latest list and wondering, ‘How exactly did they come up with this list… and who is behind it?’ this article is for you. You know what’s on the list, so now take a look at the people, the process, and the science behind the latest PlantRight List of Suggested Alternatives for Invasive Garden Plants.
Since 2005, PlantRight has been collaborating with the nursery industry to voluntarily phase out invasive horticultural plants -- in ways that make economic and environmental sense. In fact CANGC has played an active role in the evolution of PlantRight, which is a Sustainable Conservation-led initiative. Current CANGC Board Members sit on PlantRight’s committees and are represented among PlantRight’s earliest partner organizations.
PlantRight’s Steering Committee convenes quarterly and includes a diverse group of approximately 20 industry stakeholders (all volunteers), including: growers, retailers, plant scientists, government agencies and more. In Fall 2012, PlantRight recruited several industry experts (also volunteers) to establish its Plant List Committee, to update its list. While the Steering Committee helps vet and approve the plant list, Plant List Committee members engage in the complex, involved and time-intensive process of selecting invasive plants and noninvasive alternatives. These individuals have each invested 20-hours (or more) of their time and energy, on the development of the annual plant list.
It’s important to note that PlantRight’s list focuses exclusively on horticultural invasive plants, and uses the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) Inventory as a starting point. With guidance from our committees, and informed by our annual Spring Nursery Survey, PlantRight is able to identify and prioritize invasive garden plants. To appear on PlantRight’s invasive list, a plant must meet the following criteria:
- When evaluated by PlantRight’s Plant Risk Evaluation (PRE) tool, it rates as being “high risk”
- It is found in 3% or more of retailers surveyed in our annual Spring Nursery Survey
- Its invasive range is large enough to be warrant action, and its inclusion is supported by our Plant List Committee and Steering Committee
During the 2014 process, PlantRight added three invasive plants to its list. One is an “emerging invasive,” Mexican feathergrass (Stipa / Nassella tenuissima), meaning that it is not yet widely established in California open spaces. Many invasives have a lag-time between when they are introduced and when they start to escape into the wild. The naturalization process often takes a matter of decades, but sometimes (as Australia witnessed with Mexican feathergrass) a matter of several years. This is the first time that PlantRight has listed an emerging invasive plant. By doing so, we are being proactive in trying to prevent its spread.
When evaluating Mexican feathergrass, we learned from invasive plant experts that it is not a matter of if but a matter of when Mexican feathergrass becomes widely established – if left unchecked. Mexican feathergrass can survive in USDA hardiness zones 6-10, which means it can survive winters that reach a low of 0° Fahrenheit. Its native range includes Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, indicating its ability to establish in hot and dry areas of California.
Once PlantRight and its committees identify new invasive plants to add, the Plant List Committee begins to determine what regionally appropriate, noninvasive plants to recommend in-lieu of each invasive plant. These are the “suggested alternatives” on the Plant List that would perform the same function in a garden or landscape. (We believe in more carrots and less sticks, so you’ll notice several alternatives for every invasive.)
In 2014 and 2015, we “retired” twelve invasive plants from the list because these plants were rarely found at retail (e.g. an example of how working together in voluntary fashion to phase out invasive plants, works!). In 2016, we "retired" an additional three plants, bringing the number of retirees to 15 invasive plants, out of the 19 on our original list published in 2006. We list these retired invasives on the PlantRight.org website, but no longer feature them on our plant list because they are far less of a threat when they are rarely found at retail.
Going forward, PlantRight plans to communicate which invasive plants have met our criteria for addition in October, and to add those new plants following a default 15-month delay. That means that if a new plant is selected for addition in October of 2015, it's default publication would be January 2017, in order to allow for realistic phase-out timelines. However, those plants that do not require such a long phase-out period will be added to our list as soon as the January immediately following this announcement. PlantRight supports its partner stores and organizations by accepting fair transition periods for phasing out inventories of invasive plants, based on each individual plant's characteristics.
As mentioned above, one of the criteria for placing a species on PlantRight’s list is that it receive a “high risk” rating from the Plant Risk Evaluation (PRE) tool – developed in collaboration with UC Davis, the University of Washington and the CA Center for Urban Horticulture. The PRE tool is 98% and 95% accurate in predicting a plant’s invasive and noninvasive characteristics, respectively. The tool is currently being refined with help from researchers at the California Center for Urban Horticulture, at UC Davis.
The PRE tool was used to scientifically verify the invasive potential of “emerging” plants like Mexican feathergrass, further allowing PlantRight and its committees to make informed decisions in a preventative fashion.
We hope this article explains how PlantRight’s list is updated over time in a scientifically and collaborative fashion. If you have feedback we’d love to hear from you, so don’t be shy! Contact us at: PlantRight@SusCon.org
Finally, we thank you for joining PlantRight and other industry leaders in growing, selling and promoting noninvasive plants for California!