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PLNA Signature Members

In Fall 2016, PLNA introduced membership upgrade packages for all members. One of the benefits of the upgrades for Growers, Manufacturers and Ancillary Services is highlighting their company profile on the PLNA website.


Ernst Conservation Seeds


 Octoraro Native   Plant Nursery





Ernst Conservation Seeds, Meadville, PA

Date Company Began:  1964


Key Employees:  Calvin Ernst, President; Andy Ernst, Vice President


Please tell us more about the history of your company.

Founded in 1964 by Calvin Ernst, Ernst Conservation Seeds started on five acres with a staff of 5 - Calvin, his parents and his brothers Luther and Darrell.  Ernst has grown to be the largest native seed supplier in the eastern U.S., with approximately 90 full-time employees at peak seasonal employment.  We are currently farming nearly 10,000 acres in northwest Pennsylvania and offer over 300 species of seeds.

Do you work with trade only or do you provide retail offerings to the consumer?

We supply residential customers, commercial clients, government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

What are some of the more interesting or unique products/services that you provide?

We do not perform installation or seeding, though our seeds and bioengineering (live plant material) products have been used in many high-profile native meadow plantings, unique ecological restoration projects, large-scale wetland mitigations, and sustainable landscapes just to name a few.

What are some important business values for Ernst Conservation Seeds?

Commitment to our customers and a desire to have a conversation with them in order to make sure they receive the best possible seed solution for their unique project needs.




Octoraro Native Plant Nursery, Inc., Kirkwood, PA

Date Company Began:  1990


Key Employees:  Jim MacKenzie, President; Diane Boyd, Manager; Alex Maugeri, Nursery Manager


Please tell us more about the history of your company.

Established in 1990, Octoraro is a wholesale grower of mid-Atlantic and northeast native trees and shrubs, supplying plants and forestry products for environmental restoration and conservation projects. Founding owner Mark Gutshall (of PLNA member firm LandStudies, Inc.) recognized the need for growing native herbaceous and woody plants as part of their environmental firm’s services. Jim MacKenzie joined Gutshall in 1993 as managing owner and President.  Originally known as Octoraro Wetland Nurseries, the nursery grew about 80% aquatic and herbaceous plants and 20% woody plants.  As market conditions changed in late 1990’s and early 2000’s the company made the strategic decision to switch exclusively to woody plant production.

Do you work with trade only or do you provide retail offerings to the consumer?

Our customers are a very diverse group.  We sell to every level of government or the entities that work for them, federal state and local agencies, numerous non-profit organizations, landscape contractors specializing in this type of work (environmental, conservation, green infrastructure), the Agricultural community, academic institutions of all types, golf courses, retail garden centers specializing in native plants and even some individual landowners that are doing sustainable practices on their properties. So they span public, private, non-profit and academic areas and most off have the common theme of water quality improvements as part of their project goals.

What are some of the more interesting or unique products/services that you provide?

Having plants at sites of national significance is pretty special, like the Flight 93 memorial and others.  It’s always fun to have engaged couples use our seedlings as wedding favors and hear their stories.  We also enjoy seeing the pics from school children that are doing projects on their campus as part of their curriculum.  But we think all our customers are fantastic and we’re very appreciative of our relationships.

What are some of the more interesting or unique products/services that you provide?

The nursery utilizes numerous sustainable business practices in its operation to help mitigate impacts to the environment and improve the water quality and natural resources of the Octoraro Watershed. The Octoraro Creek is one of only two water courses that flow directly to the Chesapeake Bay below the Conowingo Dam.

It is our belief that water is our most valuable natural resource. The nursery uses drip irrigation technology that uses 75% to 80% less water compared to traditional overhead irrigation. Water is applied directly to the root zone and is computer-controlled to deliver the optimal amount for growth, without excess. This practice also decreases the amount of water that runs off the property. What water does flow from the nursery and neighboring agricultural lands is diverted into created wetlands, or their “local water quality improvement facility”, where native plants absorb excess nutrients prior to discharge back to the Octoraro Creek.

This is part of 14 acres of floodplain and riparian habitat that is planted and maintained with native plants that provide wildlife habitat and riparian vegetation along Octoraro Creek. Along with the created wetlands, a ¼ mile stream restoration site help controls stormwater runoff, decrease streambank erosion, and provides shade for the stream ecology. Non-native, invasive plant species are controlled in this area, including Japanese hops, Multiflora rose, mile-a-minute, and Japanese honeysuckle.

The Octoraro Native Plant Nursery decreases their use of plastic by collecting and reusing approximately 55,000 used plant containers from their customers and unusable containers are recycled for electricity generation. They also recycle poly film covering from 13 greenhouses for use in the plastic lumber industry.

Other conservation activities include reduced energy use by operating electric utility vehicles and the use of passive lighting and low-energy LED lights in their new office. They use local compost materials in their soil mixture. The company strongly believes in and advocates for environmental education and donates plants to students and other organizations for conservation projects.





Want to get your company highlighted on the PLNA website? Contact Cathy Corrigan at or 717.238.1683.

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