Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Return to Natives

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Return to Natives

Article excerpt

More and more parks throughout the country are discovering the problem of invasive exotic plants. Eastern forest parks, such as Rock Creek Park and Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington D.C., are becoming overrun with English Ivy, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Norway Maple. Kudzu is a major problem in the south. Tall Fescue, the common lawn and forage grass, is overwhelming midwestern grassland parks and preserves. Removed from the biological constraints of their native land, invasive exotics such as these replace our native plants and decrease species diversity. "Park managers. all over the country are battling hundreds of species of exotic plants that aggressively outcompete many of our natives," says John Walsh, park manager of the Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia.

These plants usually enter the park from the surrounding neighborhoods where they are planted as ornamentals. Some exotic species are important in our landscaping, but one should always be aware of how such a planting will negatively affect the local flora. "The most important thing is to make sure the plant you have chosen is not going to replace a native plant in the environment, and the easiest way to do that is to plant native," explains Lou Aronica, a landscaper and Maryland Native Plant Society founder.

Many people are discovering that most exotics can be substituted with equally attractive and suitable natives. Selecting plants from those species occurring naturally within one's particular region ensures an appropriate planting. Conveniently, many nurseries throughout the country are offering a wide selection of native material. In choosing a native plant nursery, it is very important to avoid those offering wild collected plants. A reputable nursery propagates material from seeds or cuttings and discloses credible information on its methods. Peterson field guides, Audubon field guides, Wyman's Garden Encyclopedia, Taylor's Garden Encyclopedia and Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants can help you determine whether or not a plant is native to the U.S.

Home for Rescued Plants

In addition to planting natives, rescuing plant material from development sites helps preserve natural resources. The Winkler Preserve, for instance, has spent many years in this practice. One site in particular, an ancient chestnut oak forest, yielded gigantic 150-year-old mountain laurels and thousands of rare orchids. Innumerable native plants from habitats like these, the last of their kind in this busy area, have found a permanent home in the Winkler Preserve. …

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