and Native Plant Species
by Gary Schneiderg
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often talk about biodiversity as if were a magical concept, a
noble but unattainable ideal. It is one of those things in the
universe that truly is beyond our understanding. The intricacies,
the weaving together of species and time and space. Yet like many
things, its core is based on simplicity. Our parents probably
called it "not putting all your eggs in one basket".
Noted conservationist, Aldo Leopold wrote, "If the land mechanism
as a whole is good, then every part is good whether we understand
it or not. If the biota, in the course of eons, has built something
we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard
seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first
precaution of intelligent tinkering."
when I see acres and acres planted in one or two tree species
or streets lined with the same species of linden or gardens with
a focus on non-hardy imports that need to be protected over the
winter, I wonder at the lack of richness. As we get further and
further away from nature, the ecosystems we create become more
problematic and harder to maintain. One of the ways we can start
bringing about changes is to look at how we value native plants.
plants are usually very reliable - they have adapted to the climatic
conditions of the area and serve a variety of functions within
the ecosystem. More important they are proven performers - hardy,
fitting into a wide variety of habitats, valuable to wildlife,
useful for stabilizing streambanks and/or controlling soil erosion.
plants are especially useful if you are reducing the size of your
lawn. Naturalizing areas around your home will lead to lower maintenance
costs, pesticide reduction and improved biodiversity in the area.
Planting rare species of native trees and shrubs on your property
can have far reaching impacts, since birds, small mammals or the
wind can transport seeds to nearby woodlands.
of the things I have noticed in doing talks to groups across the
Island on native plants is that even people familiar with plants
and conservation hadn't realized how beautiful and varied our
native plants are. When I show slides of rare plants like witch
hazel, hobblebush and ironwood, and even common species such as
serviceberry, wild raisin and red oak, the reactions are always
the same. Someone approaches me at the end of a talk and says
I'd totally changed the way he or she thought about plants.
I do more and more landscaping and designing, I continue to be
impressed by the possibilities of native plants. I feel no hesitation
in recommending the wide range of native species now available
and increasingly am using native ferns and locally grown wildflowers
as well. One family I did a planting for years ago built a new
house this year and had all their plants moved to their new home
- staghorn sumac, beaked hazelnut, highbush cranberry, witch hazel,
hawthorns, mountain ash. More and more, I am finding people who
want to beautify their properties and improve wildlife habitat
at the same time. They want to bring more of nature in around
them, so they plant red-berried elders for cedar waxwings and
hawthorns to protect small birds from marauding cats.
this adds to the biodiversity of the area, then so much the better.
It seems like a good way of having your cake and eating it too.
Something to feel good about. After all, who but a fool would
discard seemingly useless parts? Especially when the parts are
Schneider is supervisor of the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry
Project, sponsored by the Environmental Coalition of PEI and the
Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation.
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