As the only national not-for-profit educational organization with a mission to promote environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities, Wild Ones serves as a resource for private individuals, schools, commercial property owners, and community decision makers as they move toward ethical choices in land use and in the redefinition of current guidelines and ordinances affecting our landscape. Because we are a “plants-roots” organization, our organizational goals are accomplished through local chapters and their individual members.

The Beginning

In 1977, nine people attended a natural landscaping workshop offered by the Schlitz Audubon Center of Milwaukee, WI and became intensely interested in the new concept of landscaping with native plants. Their enthusiasm blossomed into Wild Ones, a national nonprofit organization with a mission to educate and share information with members and community at the “plants roots” level and to promote biodiversity and environmentally sound practices.


On June 8, 1990, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers Ltd was organized under Articles of Incorporation — Non-stock Corporation Law, Chapter 181 of the Wisconsin Statutes. On April 11, 1995, Wild Ones was granted exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code for educational purposes.

Organizational Change

Prior to 1995, the original Milwaukee Chapter of Wild Ones (Milwaukee-North) had been functioning as the administrative hub for the entire membership and there were only a few chapters. Because of membership growth, it became necessary to rethink the organizational structure in order to meet present and future needs and to enhance communication among the growing number of chapters. The summer of 1995 marked the first meeting of the new National Board and national officers. Bret Rappaport, a Chicago attorney, was elected as President, and continues to serve on the national Board. At that time, the national Board of Directors was comprised of nine elected at-large members plus each chapter president. In 2000, the By-Laws were changed to facilitate decision making and enlarge the Board to 15 elected at-large members.

Seeds for Education

The Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education Program (SFE) began in 1996 and was named in honor of naturalist and Wild Ones inspirational leader Lorrie Otto, a pioneer in the natural landscaping movement in the United States. SFE annually awards grants to places of learning and other organized groups who successfully communicate their vision of creating natural landscapes using native plants for the purpose of educating users of the facility and the community. Applications are judged and winners selected by a volunteer panel of educators and naturalists. SFE Nursery Partners (native plant nurseries and propagators) also donate seeds, plants and guidance to grant recipients.

New Name

In 2003, the Wild Ones national board approved a new name for Wild Ones. The legal name remains Wild Ones Natural Landscapers Ltd, but for purposes of more clearly aligning our name with the mission of our organization, we now refer to ourselves as: Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes.

Wild Center

In 2008, through grant assistance from the Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council (NRDA) and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, and because of some wonderful Wild Ones donors and friends, Wild Ones headquarters moved into what is now called the WILD Center (Wild Ones Institute of Learning and Development).

The WILD Center consists of a home, renovated for office space, and 16 acres of upland, riparian woodland and marsh along the Fox River. The Guckenberg-Sturm Marsh is one of the last functioning marshes along the Fox River waterway which is part of the Great Lakes watershed. It is the perfect site for Wild Ones to establish demonstration areas of natural landscaping and formal gardens for all ecotypes, while at the same time preserving this very vital marsh and riparian woodland. The entire site is protected by conservation easements.

Phase I of the landscaping developed 4 rain gardens, a pollinator garden, a wet mesic/oak savanna prairie and a turtle nesting area. Buckthorn was and continues to be removed and understory restored. The forest, primarily ash, soon will be decimated by the emerald ash borer so it is being diversified with other species to maintain the natural filtration system provided by the tree line.

Phase II will undertake larger efforts related to the restoration the marsh in conjunction with Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust who is the caretaker for the remaining 48 acres of the marsh.

Recognition by Wisconsin

On July 23, 2009, the State of Wisconsin recognized Wild Ones in honor of its 25th anniversary as an exemplary organization. Wild Ones celebrated the occasion of its 25th anniversary with a blow-out annual meeting and conference in Madison, Wisconsin. Keynote speaker was Robert Michael Pyle, noted speaker, professor, and ecologist and award-winning author. We were fortunate to have several of the original founders celebrate with us. In 2014 we celebrated our 35th anniversary in the Fox Cities of Wisconsin.

Wild for Monarchs

In 2013, Wild Ones joined with the Monarch Joint Venture to educate the public about the plight of the declining Monarch butterfly population and to institute programs to enhance their survivability. The program, called Wild for Monarchs was a tremendous success.

Informational brochures, posters, and other materials were produced and distributed through all chapters to public schools, environmental groups, and other public-facing organizations. A massive effort was initiated to provide milkweed seed and plants to schools, organizations, and private citizens in hopes of extending the already depleted habitat. This program truly inspired individuals to work together for the benefit of Monarch butterflies.