Minimising invasive plant spread using the nursery industry national plant labelling guidelines

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Anthony G. Kachenko

Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, PO Box 97129, Baulkham Hills BC, New South Wales 2153, Australia.

Cite this article as:

Kachenko, A.G. (2013). Minimising invasive plant spread using the nursery industry national plant labelling guidelines. Plant Protection Quarterly 28(2), 42-4.


The Australian nursery industry supplies plants to a wide range of sectors including garden centres, hardware stores, landscaping contractors and for revegetation. To engage all sectors in an effort to encourage voluntary removal of high-risk invasive species from cultivation and sale, the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) have developed voluntary National Plant Labelling Guidelines. The Guidelines were developed in 2007 and updated in early 2013 following extensive consultation across the nursery industry supply chain.

This paper provides a detailed insight into the development of these Guidelines and acceptance of them by sectors of the nursery industry supply chain. The benefits of this approach are also discussed for those who adopt the Guidelines. These include good public relations and ‘environmentally friendly’ branding for those involved, meeting biosecurity commitments and the education and awareness of the wider industry.

Key words: Garden escapes, naturalised, voluntary guidelines, weeds



Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) is the recognised national peak industry body (PIB) representing producers, retailers and allied trades involved in plant production across all states and territories of Australia. Founded in 1945, NGIA is an established PIB responsible for overseeing the national development of this diverse and essential industry through investment in research, development, extension and marketing initiatives. These initiatives address natural resource management issues which encompass invasive plants.

Historically, plant species were introduced into Australia for a range of uses including agricultural production, research purposes and for horticulture and amenity purposes. Some of these plants have moved into natural areas where they may alter the ecosystems they have entered. Groves (1997) suggested that 65% of the plants that had naturalised in Australia in the 25 years ending in 1995 had been introduced deliberately for ornamental purposes. These introductions have arisen from botanical gardens, government and private nurseries as well as private importers (Walton 1998). Examples of plants imported for amenity purposes that have shown potential to naturalise include Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms (water hyacinth) and Asparagus asparagoides (L.) Druce (bridal creeper).

The impacts of these introductions may translate to direct control costs, the loss of production opportunities, or the loss of welfare. Indeed, the impact of these introductions has wider implications as identified by Groves et al. (2005). These authors suggest that introductions pose serious implications for the biodiversity status of native plants and natural ecosystems in Australia and subsequently, present Australia with a major natural resource management issue. They further suggest that eradication attempts for these species will be wasted if plants of this nature remain in cultivation and for sale.

According to Kachenko and Danelon (2010), traditionally, the requirement for including a plant label with the product being sold has varied according to the end user and their degree of knowledge about the product. Historically, plants sold to the general public typically contained some form of individual plant labelling due to the likelihood of the consumer having limited horticultural knowledge about the product.  The plant label was therefore utilised to provide the consumer with plant cultural advice and identification.

More recently, there has been a rise in the statutory regulations requiring plant consignments to adhere to state and territory legislation governing the movement of plants within and across state and territory borders. Indeed, some government regulatory bodies require plant consignments entering jurisdictions to be clearly identified with the botanical name to ensure they are meeting their quarantine and more broadly speaking biosecurity obligations. For example the Plant Health Act 2009 operating in South Australia stipulates the conditions under which plant material may enter the State. Not only is the identification of the plant becoming a requirement in some areas of Australia, but the need to trace-forward or trace-back movements of a nominated plant is gaining momentum across all levels of government. This is linked to the early detection and management of exotic plant pests. Without clear identification using labels, the ability of government and industry to respond to an incursion event is significantly jeopardised.

The Guidelines

In order to address these concerns, NGIA initiated the development of voluntary National Plant Labelling Guidelines (Figure 1).  The guidelines were drafted with extensive consultation by all sectors of the nursery industry supply chain during 2006/07. The purpose of these guidelines was to better engage the Australian nursery industry in an effort to encourage them to voluntarily remove certain high-risk invasive species from cultivation and sale.  Version 2 of the Guidelines were released in January 2013.

Prior to the implementation of the National Plant Labelling Guidelines, Moss and Walmsley (2005) questioned the impact of voluntary approaches to controlling the sale of invasive garden plants, and suggested a voluntary approach needed to be underpinned by a national legislative ban on high-risk invasive plant species, combined with a consumer awareness campaign and a national plant labelling scheme. NGIA responded by developing the National Plant Labelling Guidelines, and shortly, after an extensive consumer awareness campaign Grow me Instead (NGIA 2009). The Grow me Instead campaign provides consumers with information on invasive urban plants in each Australian State and Territory along with a range of suggested superior alternatives. It also educates the consumer on effective management and control of invasive plants. In terms of a national legislative ban on high-risk invasive plant species, no such piece of legislation has been developed to date and is unlikely in the imminent future.

When developing these Guidelines, NGIA was mindful that they had to effectively communicate to those responsible what information was considered pertinent to enable consumers to make informed plant purchasing decisions. The intent of the Guidelines was to reduce confusion in relation to the information on labels used on plants and associated marketing material.

Within the Guidelines the definition of a label is any tag, brand, mark or statement in writing, or any representation or design, or descriptive matter on, or attached to, or used in connection with, or accompanying any plant or plant material. This covers labels attached to plants, barcodes, sleeves, bulb cards, seed packets, planting guides, plant lists catalogues, printed plant pots and electronic representation.

Guidance is provided on how to correctly deal with issues including:

  1. correct botanical names – nomenclature;
  2. intellectual property – Plant Breeders Rights and Trademarks; and
  3. potentially harmful plants for health and the environment.

The correct identification of plants by their botanical name will help ensure accuracy in plant identification.  The Guidelines urge users to adhere to the following recommendations:

  • be aware of the legislation relevant to plant production and trade in their area. All plants on the Weeds of National Significance (WoNS) list are banned from production, sale or trade in all jurisdictions in Australia;
  • do not produce plants for sale if they are on the National Environmental Alert List and noxious weeds list. This list is jurisdiction-specific and will impact on what may be sold in various regions. The label should state any restrictions to where the plant is to be grown; and
  • provide cultural guidelines for plant management if a plant MAY show invasive characteristics, e.g. remove seed heads after flowering, dispose of plant or fruit via burial or approved composting facility.

Owing to the diversity of plant lists and regional focus of plant producers, the Guidelines request that users review the degree of invasive risk associated with plants available for sale using the Australian nursery industry invasive plant risk assessment tool (not yet published). The science-based invasive plant risk assessment tool and a national risk assessment database is managed by NGIA.


The guidelines present the Australian nursery industry with some positive benefits in terms of public relations and ‘environmentally friendly’ branding, biosecurity and marketing through education and awareness. Users of the Guidelines will be presented with an opportunity to enhance product presentation with credible information regarding plant performance, cultural notes, as well as minimising high risk plants being cultivated and sold across Australia. Indeed, these entities will be able to develop a line of differentiation between their competitors by diligently managing their risks and being ‘environmentally friendly’.

Effective pest and disease control is also critical to the Australian nursery industry as it facilitates access to intra-, inter-state and export markets. Biosecurity involves protecting the Australian economy, environment and the broader community from new pests and disease incursions. Biosecurity includes trying to prevent exotic pests and diseases from arriving in Australia, and helping to control outbreaks when they do occur. The nursery industry will be better placed for early detection and management of exotic plant pests as products will have more appropriate identification.

Circulation of the Guidelines will also generate significant ‘soft effects’ in terms of dissemination of information, awareness-raising and education of the public. These guidelines are publicly available and have been communicated across all sectors of the nursery industry supply chain. Indeed, from a government perspective, voluntary schemes such these Guidelines are often attractive policy options as an alternative to imposing sometimes unpopular restrictions on an industry sector (OECD 2003).

Two years following the release of the Guidelines, a survey of the Australian nursery supply chain investigated the level of awareness of industry invasive plant initiatives (Thomas and Kachenko 2009). A total of 221 production and retail nurseries participated in the questionnaire and reported a high degree of industry awareness of Grow Me Instead and the Guidelines. Indeed, the majority of industry (86%) considered pest/production weeds a major priority. These authors recommended that greater uptake of the voluntary Plant Labelling Guidelines should be encouraged to prevent the possibility of further enforced legislation. These authors also inferred that greater uptake of voluntary educational programs by some nurseries will encourage other nurseries to participate. Indeed, greater recognition of these guidelines is required at all levels including retailers and plant label manufacturers in order to achieve this.


A plant label is a document that most consumers rely on when making an informed decision about purchasing a plant product. Therefore duty of care rests with those involved in the production, supply and sale of plants to ensure the consumer knows what they are purchasing in terms of the invasiveness associated with plants. Consumers believe they have a ‘right to know’, and consequently, this includes the right to accurate and unambiguous information at all times. However, whilst plant labelling is predominantly perceived to be the domain and responsibility of the production nursery, and to some extent the labelling manufacturer, it is also up to the consumer to act responsibly in following the information contained on the plant label. The duty of care is as much the responsibility of the consumer as it is the grower or label manufacturer.


The development of the National Plant Labelling Guidelines would not have been possible without the Tree and Shrub Growers Group, Victoria; Christine F. Lowe, Partner, Davies Collison Cave Lawyers, Victoria; and Roger Spencer, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Victoria. Special thanks to The Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA), Griffith University, Queensland for providing expert input into the National Plant Labelling Guidelines and Robert Prince and Chris O’Connor for input into the drafting of the Guidelines.


Groves, R. (1997). ‘Recent incursions of weeds to Australia, 1971–1995’. (Cooperative Research Centre for Weed Management Systems, Canberra).

Groves, R.H., Boden, R. and Lonsdale, W.M. (2005). ‘Jumping the garden fence: invasive garden plants in Australia and their environmental and agricultural impacts’. (CSIRO report prepared for World Wildlife Fund Australia, Sydney).

Kachenko, A. and Danelon, M. (2010). ‘Plant labelling – The first point of contact in knowing about the plant’. Issue no. 2010/5. (The Nursery Papers, Nursery and Garden Industry Australia).

Moss, W. and Walmsley, R. (2005). Controlling the sale of invasive garden plants: Why voluntary measures alone fail, World Wildlife Fund-Australia Discussion Paper. (World Wildlife Fund-Australia, Sydney).

NGIA, Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (2009). Grow me Instead. Nursery amd Garden Industry Australia. (accessed 27 March 2012).

OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2003). ‘Voluntary Approaches for Environmental Policy: Effectiveness, efficiency and usage in policy mixes’. (Working Party on National Environmental Policies, OECD Environment Policy Committee, Paris).

Thomas, D. and Kachenko, A. (2009) ‘National Invasive Plants Survey. A Report to Nursery and Garden Industry Australia.’ (Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, Sydney).

Walton, C. (1998). ‘Preventing the introduction of potential weeds as ornamental plants’. Issue no. 1998/10. (The Nursery Papers, Nursery Industry Association of Australia, Sydney).

First published online: June 24, 2013