Historically, flowers, shrubs, perennials, trees, groundcovers, vines and more, growing at the roadside, truly were available to any passer-by who admired them and wanted them in their own yards. Some believe that these plants were the original “Pass-along Plants”. Even as the nursery trade evolved in the 1800’s as competition, many people continued to “forage” the roadside, even to this day. Often people are either unaware of or unfamiliar with existing local laws. Current laws pertaining to roadside plants vary from state-to-state, making it even harder to follow any existing laws. In such circumstances, knowledge about the characteristics of these roadside beauties may be minimal. Are these plants invasive, rare, or endangered? Will some of them grow so vigorously that they take over what appears to be the entire yard? Recalling my parents’ experience, they soon became frustrated with the Mimosa “forest” and despite the beauty of these trees, were compelled to eliminate them from their landscape. The beautiful orange daylilies grew so rapidly, that dividing the clumps became necessary and soon they were growing everywhere. Eventually, these were removed as well. Many years passed, but they finally became avid readers of horticultural literature, found a reliable wildflower nursery, and became experts on beautiful plants which were perfect for their location.
It is important to make a serious effort to identify plants and their characteristics before incorporating them into your own landscape. This is true of plants bought from the nursery, over the internet, or truly “passed along” from a neighbor, friend, or family member. It is hard to tell simply by looking at a plant if it is rampantly invasive, rare, or otherwise “protected”. However, there are signals that may indicate invasiveness, such as flowering plants which produce seeds that are dispersed by birds, rain or wind. Similarly, plants which have rhizomes or stolons for roots will spread themselves into areas where they may not be welcome. However, it is important to note that not all native plants are problematic or otherwise undesirable.
Many gardeners (experts or neophytes) succumb to “impulses”. It is very difficult to pass the most beautiful plant ever seen, regardless of where we find it: at the roadside or in the nursery. There always is the good intention of learning about the soil, hardiness, or sun exposure later. Sometimes we are lucky, at other times (re: my parents) we need to remove the plant from our landscape.
Plants found on the roadside, do have a variety of laws protecting them. No longer are they free for the taking. Roadside transplanting is heavily discouraged in Georgia as well as in most other states. Specific laws exist under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation or the local municipal office. Permission may be required also from the landowner. The common expectation is that transplanting from the roadside is prohibited if the plant is rare, endangered, or located on state or federal land. Ethical consideration may need to be exercised if the passer-by is interested only in picking flowers (not digging them up) for a beautiful spring, summer, or fall bouquet. Get permission from the landowner and never take all of the flowers on one plant.
A wildflower enthusiast could enjoy the roadside beauties and still obtain them for themselves. Find reputable sources for the purchase of favorite flowers, shrubs, and trees. It is not difficult to contact such organizations as Georgia Native Plant Society for a list of nurseries or peruse the internet as well. Finally, many organizations conduct rescue operations for plants at construction sites, where landowner permission has been obtained.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee ; or contact the Cherokee County Extension Office, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Follow Cherokee County Master Gardeners on facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners for gardening tips as well as upcoming seminars.