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Lost Habitats
Lost Habitats
Published by Porterbrook
06-09-2009
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LOST HABITATS

By
Frank W. Porter
Porterbrook Native Plants


You are driving down the highway at 70 mph, when suddenly you see a glimpse of something bright red growing on the bank beside the road. Too late! By the time you turn your head it is already out of sight. We are such a fast-paced society, always in a hurry to be somewhere. That bright red flower was Silene virginiana, otherwise known as Fire Pink.


The land we know as Appalachia once possessed rich soils, clear and swift streams, and boundless forests. One early explorer described “timber trees above five foot over, whose trunks are a hundred foot in cleare timber.” As other plant enthusiasts ventured into this region, they all “beheld with rapture and astonishment, a world of mountains piled upon mountains.” The botanical treasures of this vast Garden of Eden, as it came to be known, attracted the attention of botanists, scholars, and the newly emerging occupation of plant collectors.


Yet, the landscape today is only a vestige of what once existed. What did these mountains, valleys, meadows, and streams look like before the “discovery” of the New World? What botanical wonders were found hidden on the mountain slopes and in the deep valleys? Many of the species discovered in what is today West Virginia were endemic to the region. On the slopes of Kate’s Mountain, in July of 1892, John Kunkel Small discovered a new clover, which he later named Trifolium virginicum (Kate’s Mountain Clover). This marvelous plant is now extinct on Kate’s Mountain because of development and loss of habitat. Several other new endemic species grew in these amazing shale barrens. These included a new ragwort, Senecio antennarifolius , two new species of Phlox, Phlox buckleyi and Phlox brittonii; a large-flowered evening primrose, Oenothera argillicola; and a beautiful leatherflower, Clematis albicoma.


Many of these shale barrens are now protected by both state and federal agencies. Other shale barrens are not so fortunate. Without some means of protection, these rare and precious species will meet the same fate as Kate’s Mountain Clover.


It may come as a surprise, but vast prairies once existed in southern Ohio. Early settlers observed barrens, oak openings, meadows, and prairies where tall grasses dominated the landscape. These grasses were Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Dropseed grass, and tall, smooth panic-grass. Some of the early settlers testified that as they rode through these prairies on horseback, they could grasp a handful on each side of the horse and tie them together over their heads. Among the many wildflowers were sunflowers, asters, blazing stars, flowering spurge, purple and yellow coneflowers, Sullivant’s milkweed, purple ironweed, and prairie dock.


The introduction of the steel plow heralded the destruction of these vast grasslands. The need for farmland, the establishment of settlements, and the construction of roads hastened their disappearance. We will never again be privileged to sit atop a horse and see such a wonder of nature. But we can still experience the thrill of emerging from a deeply wooded area and walking into a remnant prairie.


The Edge of Appalachia Preserve System in Adams County, Ohio is a band of unique nature sanctuaries stretching north from the Ohio River for twelve miles along Ohio Bush Creek. Nearly 13,000 acres, which contain the largest list of rare plants and animals in Ohio, are now protected. Other natural areas are also protected in Ohio and West Virginia.


So the next time you are flying down the highway at 70 mph, slow down and take the opportunity to visit one of these unique preserves and natural areas. It will take you back to an earlier time and place, and allow you to see a glimpse of our once “Garden of Eden.”



This article was first published by the Marietta Register
  #1  
By TheLorax on 06-13-2009, 10:07 AM
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This article and 'The Silent Invasion' are my favorites. They help us to think about what once was which is a good thing.
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  #2  
By Porterbrook on 06-13-2009, 10:32 AM
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My favorite article is "Planting A Sense of Place." It embodies my philosophy of working with native plants and disseminating information about them to the public. When I am in the mountains or meadows collecting seeds, I often sit down and reflect what it must have been like when plant hunters like William Bartram and Peter Kalm first ventured into these regions. I am always in awe of the beauty of these vistas. Then, of course, you descend into civilization and begin to see trash, cleared woodlands, and modern strip development rapidly approaching. It makes me want to hurry back to the mountain for a renewed breath of fresh air and rejuvenation of the soul.
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  #3  
By JennyC on 06-16-2009, 10:01 AM
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It sounds like you feel much like I do on approaching a city (something I try to avoid). Of course, living in an agricultural area, I do see a lot of cleared woodlands, but here it's mountains and valleys, so at least most of the hillsides are relatively undisturbed. The population in the area has been stagnant for about 50 years, too, so many of the fields are going back to the plants and small animals. I do see privet and Japanese honeysuckle, but I also still see a lot of natives in the overgrown fields. Along the roadsides, there's multiflora rose, but there's an equal amount of Carolina rose. Could be worse.

I've not been planting many natives -- it's something I still need to learn more about; mostly I plant a vegetable garden, target invasives. and try to leave the natives I do find undisturbed. But the farm where we're living now is a rental, and we're getting ready to buy a tract of land and leave it behind (we'll be building an earth-sheltered house). So, if I were to plant attractive natives, I'd leave this place better than I found it. It's a good thought, would feel good to have done that.

How do you collect seeds? I want to do it responsibly, but collecting is my best option. That way I know it's local, and besides, all our funds are committed to our new place, so I don't have it to spend on plants for the rental.
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  #4  
By Porterbrook on 06-16-2009, 03:01 PM
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Hi Jenny,
No matter where you collect, you need to obtain the permission of the property owner, whether it be private or public land. Also, never collect seeds from plants that are endangered or threatened. You can obtain lists of these plants from your state's Department of Natural Resources (or whatever it is called in Georgia). When you do collect seeds, never take more than 10% from an individual plant and try to take seeds from different plants of the same species to maintain genetic diversity. Place the seeds in paper bags and label the botanical name, date collected, and precise spot where collected. If you have questions about germination procedures for individual species, ask me and I will help you.

Good luck,
Frank
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  #5  
By JennyC on 06-16-2009, 06:15 PM
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Thanks, Frank. Of course I'd get landowner permission. I think I'll also look into the permissions needed for public rights-of-way (no spraying in this county).

I don't know what's endangered, either, but I know of a number of things that aren't. I'll want to know clearly what I'm looking at before I consider collecting, and that'll limit me quite a bit. Others here can tell you plant ID is not my forte, especially if it isn't edible!

I'll start with the state DNR. Thanks -- I'll probably be back for advice on germination. Oh, wait -- I have one already. Elderberry (Sambacus nigra). How do I grow that? (Other than let the seeds drop in fall and watch the new stuff come up in spring -- lots of that around here, but I can't claim credit!)
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  #6  
By Porterbrook on 06-16-2009, 07:47 PM
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Hi Jenny,
You can do Elberry one of two ways. The simplest way is to dig a division of the plant. It has numerous underground runners (stolons) that produce new plants. The other way is by seed. Collect the fruit when it is past ripe. Mascerate (squash it) the fruit and remove the seeds. Wash the seed thoroughly to remove any germination inhibtors left from the flesh of the fruit. Sow the seeds in the fall either where you want the plants to grow or in a nursery tray. The seeds will germinate the following spring. If you do it in a nursery tray, wait until the seedlings have developed a good root system before transplanting them into the ground. A good reference book is William Cullina, Growing and Propagating Wildflowers. You can purchase a used copy on Amazon.

Good luck,
Frank
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  #7  
By JennyC on 06-16-2009, 07:54 PM
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I'll check out the book, thanks.

The elderberry is actually an idea for the new place; I'm thinking of lining the driveway with it. We eat a lot of elderberries.
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