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A Growing Program

Grow Native! is a popular program designed to raise public awareness of the importance of using native plants in both rural and urban settings. The Missouri Department of Conservation started Grow Native! three years ago, and the response from concerned citizens and horticultural businesses has been wonderful.

Missouri is home to more than 2,000 native plant species, including wildflowers, shrubs, trees, vines and grasses. The diversity and quantity of these plants has declined, however, as they have been replaced with nonnative species and crops. Urban growth and the use of herbicides have also contributed to the problem. Reversing the decline in native plant species and restoring lost natural habitat are critical to preserving and restoring Missouri's native biodiversity.

The Grow Native! program is designed to increase demand for Missouri native plants for both landscaping and agricultural cropping. The program takes a free market approach to reversing the decline in native species by building partnerships among private industry, non-profit organizations, government agencies and landowners.

The Grow Native! website provides more information about the program, and about native plants of the Midwest.

Today, there are more than 100 business members of Grow Native! Members consist of wholesale growers, retail nurseries and landscaping providers. Several high school Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters are engaged in contract horticulture projects, learning about native wildflowers and prairie grasses while earning money to support their local organizations. Affiliate organizations lending support to the program include the Missouri Botanical Garden, Shaw Nature Reserve, Powell Gardens and Audubon Missouri.

Grow Native! also depends on public partnerships. For example, the Conservation Department and the Missouri Department of Transportation obtained federal funds to train private contractors to plant up to 1,000 acres of native plants along Missouri highways. The native plants encourage biodiversity as they brighten our roadsides.

Recently, the Conservation Department teamed with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, which has the expertise and programs in place to provide business support to Missouri's Grow Native! members. The Department of Agriculture's mission is to increase the profitability of Missouri's farmers and agribusinesses and to increase sales of products grown, raised and processed in Missouri. A close partnership between our state agencies will benefit the citizens, businesses and natural resources of Missouri.

We are truly excited about Grow Native! and the program growth that this new partnership makes possible. The Department of Conservation will continue strong financial support for the program and focus on enhancing Grow Native! through its public education and information services.

We are proud of the enthusiastic, creative Conservation Department employees who have taken Grow Native! farther and faster than anyone imagined when it was launched in 2000. We're excited to report that the program's future is brighter because it is based on a new foundation of cooperation and partnership. The real payoff for Missouri citizens will come when biodiversity and the quality of wildlife habitat on both public and private land show real improvement.

John D. Hoskins, Director

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