Friday, February 26, 2010

Rescue the Natives

The North Carolina Native Plant Society was formed in response to the threats posed by development. So it was appropriate the symposium hosted by the Asheville chapter last weekend featured a presentation on plant rescue.

Alan Mizeras, coordinator of the Henderson County Native Plant Rescue Group talked about some rescues in which he had participated. His group has worked with private landowners and developers so that wild plants in the path of the bulldozer can be transplanted.

With the economic slowdown, the group has had more time than expected to retrieve plants from areas on the verge of destruction. Mizeras has worked on sites of tremendous biological diversity and abundance from which thousands of plants representing dozens of species have been saved.

A similar group is active in Transylvania County and a recovery project is underway at Trillium Ridge in Haywood County.

One person in attendance (who should know) reported that Balsam Mountain Preserve did some plant rescue on its 4000 acres – and then proceeded to sell the plants back to its lot buyers.

I was interested to learn that rescues of shortia (Oconee Bells) took place before the flooding behind Keowee and Jocassee Dams in the 1970s, resulting in massive redistribution of the species throughout the region. Mizeras says he has observed two distinct strains of shortia, one larger and one smaller.

Not to be overlooked for rescue are mosses. Since they grow on the surface of the ground (and rocks) transplanting is often easier for mosses than for other native plants.

Mizeras recommended one book for making the strongest case for native plants, “Bringing Nature Home,” by Douglas W. Tallamy. The book’s subtitle is “How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”.

(Looking up this book on Amazon - - I was delighted to see a review written by a reader of this blog, so I’ll take the liberty of borrowing a few comments from James Golden:

Simply put, the book's message is this. All life on earth, except for some recently discovered, relatively rare forms that take energy from volcanic vents in the ocean floor, depend on energy from the sun that plants convert into food through photosynthesis. Most of that solar energy is made available to higher life forms through insects that eat plants. With the exception of a few direct herbivores such as cows, all other higher forms of life either eat insects (most birds) or eat other animals that eat insects (hawks eating sparrows), and so on up the food chain. The productivity of an environment, literally the weight of biomass produced in a given area, is directly related to the insect population, and the variety of wildlife - number of species of birds and so on - is also directly related to the numbers and varieties of insects living there.

I’m going to interrupt here. Sometime during the symposium, one of the speakers raised and answered the question of which organism comprises the greatest biomass in the Southern Appalachians. I don’t know if he was joking, but his answer of “salamanders” is hard to believe. I’d like to find independent verification of that claim....
Back to the review:

Tallamy's statistics support his message. Native oaks, for example, support 517 lepidoptera species, willows, 456, birches, 413. In contrast, alien Clematis vitalba supports 40 species of herbivores in its homeland, but only 1 in North America. Another example, Phragmites australis supports 170 species in its homeland, but only 5 species on this continent. Unfortunately, insects can't evolve to adapt to alien species in time to save our threatened populations. Evolution takes place over millions of years. Although the Norway maple has been on the North American continent for going on 300 years, and has become the predominant shade tree here, it still has not become a productive part of our native ecosystem. Instead, it is rapidly displacing native species of maple.

Tallamy urges readers to do what they can to eliminate invasive alien species, to use native plants, to replace sterile lawns, which consist of two or three alien grass species that support little more than Japanese beetle grubs, with sustaining native plant refuges. He urges those who live in suburbia to plant native shade trees, possibly groves, to plant natives along lot lines to begin reestablishing productive areas where insects can successfully reproduce and live, and where their predators can find security and cover.

That mention of invasives reminds me of a instance of esprit d'escalier in my own life. Several months ago, I dropped by the fancy produce stand near the crossroads in Cashiers. A customer was buying one of the many lovely vines wreaths for sale there.

As soon as I saw the berries on the wreaths I should have chimed in with a dire warning (but didn't).

The vines were oriental bittersweet, an especially virulent invasive plant. If even one of those wreaths ended up as a discard in the woods behind the house, it would be one too many. The merchant was too busy making sales and counting out change to educate his customers about the risks of those pretty wreaths.

But I digress.

Here are some thoughts from Douglas Tallamy, himself:

For the past century we have created our gardens with one thing in mind: aesthetics. We have selected plants for landscaping based only on their beauty and their fit within our artistic designs.

Yet if we designed our buildings the way we design our gardens, with only aesthetics in mind, they would fall down. Just as buildings need support structures—girders, I-beams, and headers—to hold the graceful arches and beautiful lines of fine architecture in place, our gardens need native plants to support a diverse and balanced food web essential to all sustainable ecosystems.

To me the choice is clear. The costs of increasing the percentage and biomass of natives in our suburban landscapes are small, and the benefits are immense. Increasing the percentage of natives in suburbia is a grassroots solution to the extinction crisis...

Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby.

As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered—and the ecological stakes have never been so high.

~ Douglas Tallamy

[Photos - more wildflowers from Spring 2009 - from top, Rue Anemone, Painted Trillium and Purple Phacelia]



Sam said...

Thanks for your comments on my
grandfather's writing. He was a lawyer in Philadelphia--a naturalist
and writer by avocation.

Your blog is beautifully done.

Best, Sam Scoville

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks, Sam.

To other readers, I'll explain:
Like many book collectors, I have many books I've not yet read. "Wild Honey" - a 1920s book by Samuel Scoville, Jr. - had been on my shelf for years until I picked it up this week. It wasn't long before I was hooked by his memoir of explorations in the natural world. In the title essay, a young Samuel Scoville observes a swarm of bees taking up residence in a hollow tree in the Connecticut woods. It was something that other nature writers, up to that point, claimed had never been witnessed.

In the other stories, the author reveals his uncanny ability to SEE the wonders of life all around. The book should be better known than it is.

While searching for more information on Samuel Scoville, Jr., I happened upon a blog written by his grandson, Sam Scoville, who is a professor at Warren Wilson College. His blog is: