..The Intuitive Times
Connecting With Nature


Biodiversity and Native Plant Species

by Gary Schneiderg

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People 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."

So 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.

Native 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.

Native 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.

One 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.

As 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.

If 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 so beautiful?

Gary 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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