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Old 01-12-2014, 12:37 PM   #1
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Default Native Plant Communities

As many of you know, I hope to do some kind of "habitat restoration" on our two acre plot. Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that I don't think "a native plant garden" is really what I'm trying to do...although "landscaping with natives" fits a little closer, after years of analyzing what it is I'm really trying to do, I think my plans fit more closely to more of a restoration. With that in mind, while I plan for a beautiful landscape, I'm trying to figure out what plants would natural grow together. Yes, I could just plant what looks good or haphazardly combine a variety of native plants, but I want my landscape to at least mimic naturally occurring plant communities.

I've tried various searches ("naturally occurring with"..."vegetative associations"..."native plant communities"..."companion plants") with little success--until today. Today, while trying to figure out how nine bark (Physocarpus opulifolius) could fit in to the landscape I'm planning for the front of our house, finally I came up with the right combination of words in one of my searches and I came across this website:

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/Communities.aspx

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/Uplands.aspx

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/fikebook/17chapter6.pdf

I'm only beginning to explore it, but I think I'm on the right track. I'd like to find more sites like this which discuss which native species naturally grow together and in turn create natural habitats.

Hopefully others will benefit from this site...and will add others that they find as well.
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Last edited by dapjwy; 01-12-2014 at 04:45 PM. Reason: adding links
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Old 01-12-2014, 01:29 PM   #2
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I like how you are thinking of plant communities when dealing with your property. Now that you have been there awhile I'm sure you are getting a grasp on the plant life that exists on your land and in your area. Making a survey of the species that already exist I find has been a great help for me to determine what kind of communities and plant associations we have.

I investing in the tome Plant Life of Kentucky, an 833 page comprehensive guide in large part because of the chapters on plant communities; Wetlands, floodplain forests, upland forests, ash-oak savannas, grass-dominated communities, rock outcrop communities such as glades, cliffsides, even disturbed communities and plant communities of surface-mined lands.

Because of human intervention I can't say there are any examples of true communities but a mixture of many. If we were to say remove a portion of the vegetation from the old field and replant or reseed I'd have to take cues from what already exists. I don't think I'll ever be doing that even though I've thought about it many times. Right now we are living with some non-native cool season grasses probably sown decades ago as forage plants along with a mishmash of other non-natives including multiflora rose, Lespedeza and Japanese honeysuckle. Brushogging controls most of the woodies in the field and hand cutting and digging helps with the wooded edges. We'll be cutting in late March-early April this year. This should help reduce the non-native cool season grasses and broadleaf weeds that shoot up early and give the native warm season grasses and native forbs a chance. I've read that cutting early helps with increasing the percentage of wildflowers so we'll see.

Do you have a wetland area on your property? That could make for some very nice planting opportunities. I agree it takes a lot of digging to find information on plant communities and a lot of my bookmarks on the subject are gone. Well, we have a long winter ahead of us to do the research!
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Old 01-12-2014, 02:32 PM   #3
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I'm completely in agreement with you both, Linrose and Dap. I love reading about, thinking about, and exploring native plant communities. I wish Mississippi had its own compendium of native plants. Currently, I use several books, including the Flora of the Carolinas book.

Oftentimes, I think about what plant communities would naturally occur by thinking about soil types, soil pH, soil moisture, topography, local climate, and amount of light. Keep in mind, too, that succession occurs. Your prairie, if not kept free of woody vegetation via fire or cutting, can become overrun with shrubs and trees if you let it. Its all in what you want to establish and maintain.

In addition to finding great books on native plant communities as Linrose mentioned, you can also search scientific literature on native plant communities. It is standard practice to list plant species and describe native plant communities in ecological research articles. You'll usually find it in the Study Area part of the Methods section. I use that often for insight into native communities around here. My favorite article to date for local-to-me is this one: http://mississippientomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu/MEM.Pubs/reports_pdfs/Ants%20of%20Tombigbee%20N.F.report%20.pdf

Its about biodiversity of native ants, but the wonderful thing is that the sites with the most ant diversity are the ones with the most amazing plant diversity. I love visiting these sites.
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Old 01-12-2014, 03:15 PM   #4
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More thoughts...
Regarding Linrose's comment on using native species already present to give you clues as to what native plant communities you might strive for: You can identify what's already growing and then research that's plants growth requirements to get a good idea of soil conditions, etc. already present. From there, research what plant communities might fit the niche.

For me, I want native plant flowerbeds surrounding the house. But beyond that, it's all about restoration of native plant communities. I think a lot of this depends on how much space you have to work with. One you get beyond a certain sized area, (which differs for each of us), you will be hard pressed to give the kind of attention to a plot of land that is needed for a "flower garden" type look. Once you start approaching "acre(s)" size plots, it is more realistic to start managing the plant community, and not individual specimens. Like linrose, I do both: native plant flowerbeds and acreage. Both are fun, but very different approach to each.
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Old 01-12-2014, 04:44 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by linrose View Post
I like how you are thinking of plant communities when dealing with your property. Now that you have been there awhile I'm sure you are getting a grasp on the plant life that exists on your land and in your area. Making a survey of the species that already exist I find has been a great help for me to determine what kind of communities and plant associations we have.
I like it too. I'm very excited. At the same time, I don't want to get too bogged down that I can't move forward. I'm hoping that whatever I come up with for the areas I want to keep short will be appropriate and at least somewhat like a naturally occurring habitat--then again, whatever I come up with has to be better than the unnatural lawns that have become the norm.

I am glad that I've come to know the property more intimately than when we first moved in. Over the years a plan seems to have developed in the back of my mind...now I am trying to bring it into the forefront and nail it down with more specifics. The funny thing is, when I had a man from the WHIP program look at the yard, he said (having seen it for the first time) almost the same thing that I'd come up with over the years--"This would be a perfect area for a wildflower meadow. You could put shrubs along that slope." That was exactly what I'd come up with...then again, perhaps the way I've developed the paths and such over the years my have influenced his thinking.

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Originally Posted by linrose View Post
I investing in the tome Plant Life of Kentucky, an 833 page comprehensive guide in large part because of the chapters on plant communities; Wetlands, floodplain forests, upland forests, ash-oak savannas, grass-dominated communities, rock outcrop communities such as glades, cliffsides, even disturbed communities and plant communities of surface-mined lands.
What a great investment! I

have a Plants of Pennsylvania book, which does have some maps and such of soil type, rock type, and such, but I don't think it seems to delve into plant communities. Maybe I'd better give it another look just in case.

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Originally Posted by linrose View Post
Right now we are living with some non-native cool season grasses probably sown decades ago as forage plants along with a mishmash of other non-natives including multiflora rose, Lespedeza and Japanese honeysuckle. Brushogging controls most of the woodies in the field and hand cutting and digging helps with the wooded edges. We'll be cutting in late March-early April this year. This should help reduce the non-native cool season grasses and broadleaf weeds that shoot up early and give the native warm season grasses and native forbs a chance. I've read that cutting early helps with increasing the percentage of wildflowers so we'll see.
I have (or had when we moved in) a lot of the same things. I'm still dealing with the second generation of multiflora rose after removing the enormous ones roots and all. I do hope to removed the cold season Eurasian grasses and weeds with native wildflowers and grasses (sedges and rushes too)...but it has yet to happen.

I'm glad you are doing what you can to manage the land to favor natives. Let us know how it goes.

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Originally Posted by linrose View Post
Do you have a wetland area on your property? That could make for some very nice planting opportunities. I agree it takes a lot of digging to find information on plant communities and a lot of my bookmarks on the subject are gone. Well, we have a long winter ahead of us to do the research!
Our yard is basically moist, well drained soil. There is one small spot with standing water on the edge of our property where there is a drainage pipe that goes under the road. I do hope to create a wetland along with my pond and streambed project.

After finding the link, and scanning a few pages, I went outside and walked the paths again and again as I thought about what improvements I want to make. Upon returning, I looked at the link, and cut off some of it until it opened to another page which also contains terrestrial plant communities.

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/Communities.aspx

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/Uplands.aspx

(Actually, I think I will edit my original post to show these links as well.)
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Old 01-12-2014, 05:21 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by kchd View Post
Oftentimes, I think about what plant communities would naturally occur by thinking about soil types, soil pH, soil moisture, topography, local climate, and amount of light.
All of this discussion (and years of thinking about it) has me realizing what my goals really are.

I agree that I should look to soil PH, topography, and such...at the same time, I realize there are some plant communities that I love that might not naturally occur on our land (the wetland being the most obvious), but I still want to create an example of that habitat here on a small scale. Using an artificial liner, I've already created a small pond--a glorified birdbath really. I'd like to use more liners to create a streambed that leads to a larger pond...and create a wetland behind that.

Although the pond and wetland might (to some) seem very reasonable, it would not naturally occur on our 2 acres (but would in the surrounding area (minus the liner, of course). My other idea, is to have a low-growing, shortgrass meadow...and a rocky outcropping/barren type community--these, are a bit harder for me to justify than the water features that really benefit wildlife. My goals, I've determined are both aesthetic and beneficial to wildlife. I want to enjoy the property...and having diverse habitats really interests me. The way I look at it, I'm not quite as much of a purist as most of you view me!

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Originally Posted by kchd View Post
Keep in mind, too, that succession occurs. Your prairie, if not kept free of woody vegetation via fire or cutting, can become overrun with shrubs and trees if you let it. Its all in what you want to establish and maintain.
I have thought a good bit about succession. Before moving in, I don't think I'd have planned for as much of a meadow as I'm thinking of now, but once I saw the bluebirds, put up houses, and have them nesting here year after year, I don't want to lose the openness that attracts them here in the first place.

I still want woodland, but I have two sections for that, as well as a place or two for a hedgerow. My concern is the shrubs that I want to add to frame the meadow--I don't want to create habitat for the competing house wren which will kill bluebirds. Also, the mature height of some of my trees will encroach on the bluebird habitat. Hopefully a savanna is still attractive to them.

As for the succession itself, I plan to mow (or possibly burn--if I ever get brave and get permission) one third of it every year leaving the rest to preserve overwintering butterfly pupae and other insects. I might also be able to manage removal of woody species by hand to be potted and used elsewhere. The "lawn" areas (read short natives) and any rocky barren type places I create will likely be mowed periodically throughout the growing season as needed--I really don't have that planned out yet.

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Originally Posted by kchd View Post
In addition to finding great books on native plant communities as Linrose mentioned, you can also search scientific literature on native plant communities. It is standard practice to list plant species and describe native plant communities in ecological research articles. You'll usually find it in the Study Area part of the Methods section. I use that often for insight into native communities around here. My favorite article to date for local-to-me is this one: http://mississippientomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu/MEM.Pubs/reports_pdfs/Ants%20of%20Tombigbee%20N.F.report%20.pdf
Thanks for the suggestion and the link, kchd.

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Originally Posted by kchd View Post
Its about biodiversity of native ants, but the wonderful thing is that the sites with the most ant diversity are the ones with the most amazing plant diversity. I love visiting these sites.
That is exciting...and makes sense.

That sort of reinforces my idea of creating these mini-habitats...that all blend into each other and providing for a wide range of wild critters...or am I just trying to justify creating what pleases me?
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Old 01-12-2014, 05:32 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by kchd View Post
You can identify what's already growing and then research that's plants growth requirements to get a good idea of soil conditions, etc. already present. From there, research what plant communities might fit the niche.
I have done that on a small scale (very informally...basically just being aware of my surroundings and familiar with most of what I have--except some invasives (namely mugwort) which I wish I knew/identified earlier).

I have some moisture loving trees although no standing water or obvious wetland...this makes me feel I have some flexibility on adding moisture loving forbs, thinking they should be able to handle what moisture naturally occurs. I still want install a liner to create an actual wetland for those species that will require having their feet wet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kchd View Post
For me, I want native plant flowerbeds surrounding the house. But beyond that, it's all about restoration of native plant communities. I think a lot of this depends on how much space you have to work with. One you get beyond a certain sized area, (which differs for each of us), you will be hard pressed to give the kind of attention to a plot of land that is needed for a "flower garden" type look. Once you start approaching "acre(s)" size plots, it is more realistic to start managing the plant community, and not individual specimens. Like linrose, I do both: native plant flowerbeds and acreage. Both are fun, but very different approach to each.
It sounds as though, you, linrose, and I all have a pretty similar outlook. Around the house will be somewhat more maintained islands of small trees, shrubs, and wildflowers...all (hopefully) influenced at least to some degree by a naturally occurring community. Beyond that, I hope to establish a native meadow (Eastern prairie?) by seeding...and then, I hope the maintenance will be more manageable then what I have now.

This is a very enjoyable conversation. Thanks for chiming in. Hopefully other members will find it worthwhile as well.
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Old 01-12-2014, 06:08 PM   #8
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From http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/factsheets/16079.pdf

Quote:
Little bluestem - Pennsylvania sedge opening
These grasslands occur on dry, acidic sites (usually over sandstone) where
woody invasion is prevented or slowed by thin soil, droughty conditions,
microclimate (frost pockets), frequent fire, or other disturbance regime. Some of
these sites include rock outcrops and near-vertical cliffs. Species include
Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania
sedge), Danthonia spicata (poverty grass), Deschampsia flexuosa (common
hairgrass), C. communis (a sedge), Rubus flagellaris (prickly dewberry),
Lespedeza spp. (bush-clovers), and less commonly, Oryzopsis pungensS (slender
mountain ricegrass). Mosses and lichens, especially Cladonia spp. and Cladina
spp. (reindeer lichens), and Polytrichum spp. (hairy-cap mosses) are abundant
on some sites. This community type may occur as part of the "Ridgetop acidic
barrens complex."
This selection sounds promising...however, again, I don't think that is the soil type I actually have. I'm gonna keep exploring...come up with something...and whatever it is, it has to be an improvement on the European grasses and Eurasian weeds I have in the "lawn" now.
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Old 01-12-2014, 07:19 PM   #9
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Sugar maple - basswood forest
In eastern Pennsylvania, this type occurs on rich rocky slopes (although it may have occurred on less steep sites previous to extensive logging that left these inaccessible remnants as our only remaining examples). In western Pennsylvania, this type occurs on a wide range of sites. Aside from Acer saccharum (sugar maple) and Tilia americana (basswood), other trees typically present include Quercus rubra (northern red oak) Fraxinus americana (white ash), Liriodendron tulipifera (tuliptree), Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch), and B. lenta (sweet birch). Shrubs include Lindera benzoin (spicebush), Hamamelis virginiana (witch-hazel), and on richer sites Asimina triloba (pawpaw) and Staphylea trifolia (bladdernut). There is generally a rich vernal flora; species include Anemone quinquefolia (wood anemone), Cimicifuga racemosa (black snakeroot), Geranium maculatum (wood geranium), Caulophyllum thalictroides (blue cohosh), Allium tricoccum (wild leek), Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf), Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), Erythronium americanum (trout-lily), Claytonia virginica (spring-beauty), Arisaema triphyllum (jack-in-the-pulpit), Mitella diphylla (bishop's-cap), Cardamine concatenata (cut-leaved toothwort), and Asarum canadense (wild ginger). Other herbaceous species include Smilacina racemosa (false Solomon's-seal), Dryopteris marginalis (evergreen wood fern), and Botrychium virginianum (rattlesnake fern).
I like the wildflowers that go with this forest...it reminds me of the understory where I grew up. We do have sugar maple, basswood, and tulip tree here.
I've already added spicebush, witch hazel, and yellow birch (as well as some linden/basswood just last year). We already have ash and oak...so, I'm doing pretty well, I'd say.
There was another list with other trees we have, including hemlock (25% cover)...so that fits with our area too.

Really, I'm trying to find our what I can grow in a clearing, barren, or grassland that would naturally occur here. The search continues...but I'm enjoying the journey and all that I am reading along the way.
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Old 07-20-2014, 03:51 PM   #10
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dapjwy, I have a local company that provides seed and plants for restoration. This is the suggested "Showy Wildflower Mix". A lot of these plants are pretty common plants, which will create the enviroment for more rare plants to enter the communities. Some species need more mature environments to exist, and have done this for a thousands of years since glacial formations. Some of these species might not work, but I am pretty sure a lot of them are native to your area as well.

Quote:
SPECIES Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense), Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis), Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Beard Tongue (Penstemon digi-
talis), Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Lance Leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Ox Eye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Marsh Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), Smooth Blue Aster (Aster laevis), New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae), Wild Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis), Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum), Grass Leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea).
Warm Season Grasses Mix, cheaper mix with just grasses. Could be spread thinly over some areas to get some warm season grasses in the mix.

Quote:
SPECIES: Little Bluestem, (Schizachyrium scoparium), Big Bluestem, (Andropogon gerardii), Virginia Wild Rye, (Elymus virginicus), Indian Grass, (Sorghastrum nutans), Creeping Red Fescue, (Festuca rubra), Switch Grass, (Panicum virgatum).
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