The other day I was out scouting the local plant stores and wound up at a pop-up greenhouse at a local Loblaws store (for my U.S. readers, this is a major food chain in Canada). I saw an upright wooden shelf system containing native plants and was delighted to see several varieties of trillium. Without thinking, I picked up two of each of the three varieties and some others and wandered over to the cash.
I was feeling pretty good about this find as it gave me a chance to experience some fond memories of walking in the woods that were carpeted with the big white Trillium grandiflora and coming across some of the other yellows and reds. I made a small shade garden with a few nice Hosta and Japanese tree maple last year and these would go nicely in that space so I was one satisfied gardener.
But Then I Got Them Home
I had to water them immediately on getting home as the nursery had them almost bone dry (poor management = not having water in a nursery sales area) and it suddenly struck me. These were really cheap. In fact, they were $3.99 each.
This should have been a red light for me. But for some reason, it just didn’t turn a warning light on in my brain. It was the end of a long day and I simply purchased by reflex.
Why A Low Price Is A Problem
A low price and poor rooting is an alarm bell that these roots were wild-dug. They were dug (probably in the U.S. somewhere) and imported into Canada where they were potted up and sent to grocery stores.
So the plants I bought were ripped out of a bush lot by the thousands.
Is It Possible They Were Grown In A Nursery?
The price says it all but to be certain I talked to some contacts who indicated commercial production (tissue culture) wasn’t economically viable for trillium yet. So yes, these were dug in the wild.
I Contacted the Loblaws Media Department
They got back to me saying they’d try to find out the supplier and where they came from. Never heard back.
My Next Move
The next decision is what to do about this. Do I take them back? Do I protest to the store manager? Will that change anything?
Do I keep them and grow them so at least the plants won’t die? With the kind of care they were receiving in the pop-up shop, they’d be dead within two days.
For Better or Worse
I have to tell you it was a tough call. And I rolled every variable around in my mind but in the end, I decided to keep the plants and grow them. But it was close.
Here’s why I decided to keep them.
I’m returning to my plantsman’s roots and starting to grow and propagate “interesting” plants so these would be the first of the trilliums I’ll grow. I’ll save and collect seed again and start my own mini-nursery for them.
Over the next ten years, I’ll propagate way more of these and put them back into the native areas of my island.
Why Replant Our Island?
Our deer population has pretty much decimated the island trilliums. Where there used to be hundreds of thousands of these plants carpeting the wooded areas, there are almost none left and the deer have eaten them all.
I’m going start with my own wooded area and protect them from the deer (deer fencing).
What Should You Do?
I thought I’d write a post about this experience and confess.
Because I’m pretty sure most folks don’t know they’re contributing to environmental damage when they purchase these plants. I’m not an example to follow on this one I’m afraid but I have turned the experience into something that will work out in the end.
Our apologies for the late response. As mentioned we were looking into your request with our category team who manages relationships with our vendors. Although we keep our vendor partnerships confidential for competitive reasons, we can tell you that our vendor for this particular product purchases root stock from a source in Pennsylvania then grows them in a nursery in Southern Ontario. According to Bill 184, Ontario Trillium Protection Act “No person shall pick, cut down, dig, pull up, injure or destroy, in whole or in part, whether in blossom or not, the plant that produces the trillium grandiflorum or white trillium.” That’s why our vendor is unable to source their root stock here and instead gets them from Pennsylvania. To put this in context, the plants will spend three quarters of their lives in the nursery in Southern Ontario before being sold in our stores. We are committed to sourcing product locally whenever possible and we believe that our current arrangement best reflects this commitment given the strict government regulations regarding trilliums.
It would be appreciated if you could update your blog to include these details.
Doug Responds To Loblaws
“Your decision to source locally is admirable and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of this kind of corporate behaviour.
Having said that, the concern is for the plants being wild-dug. The fact they weren’t dug in Ontario is irrelevant to this global concern as is the Ontario legislation. My readers, many of whom live in PA, share my concern about digging native plants for retail sales.
I also understand that’s why the Ontario nursery trade imports roots from jurisdictions where digging isn’t specifically prohibited. In this case, both the nurseries and Loblaws share responsibility.
As for spending” three quarters of their life in a nursery”, let me suggest they spend significantly less than that. In fact, it is quite likely they have been dug from a native habitat where they were several years old. They were then shipped either last fall or very early this spring for potting on by your supplier. The root development in the pots I purchased was just beginning with no root longer than 2-inches. That alone tells me they didn’t spend very long in a pot. The condition of the fibre pot also indicated a short, potting-up cycle as it was in good condition with few signs of long term growing.
So these plants spent several years growing naturally in the wild, and then several months either in storage or potted up in cold frames before being shipped to your retail store. These plants spent less than 6 months in two nurseries at the most optimistic of time estimates after several years of growth in a wild wooded area. That is far from your estimate of 3/4 of their lifespan.
Local production isn’t the issue. Digging plants out of the wild is the issue. By purchasing plants dug from the wild, Loblaws is associating itself with habitat degradation.”
In my response to Loblaws, I suggested if they proved to me the source of the plant wasn’t wild-dug, I’d report that back to you as well.
Update – never heard back from Loblaws and I can almost guarantee those roots will be sold again next spring.