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Great Natives Of Mid-western Ecotype
December 3, 2008
GNOME N EWS THE BIG PICTURE
INSIDE THIS ISSUE: Plant Profile
Native on the Net
Planting with a Purpose
Focus on the Future
Did you know... •
Our natural habitats on public lands are being lost at the rate of 4600 acres a day to invasive species. Source: “Pulling Together”, National Strategy for Invasive Plant Management
Within the circles of native plant enthusiasts, it is pretty common to discuss invasive and non-native plants. “Die Buckthorn Scum!” is even available in t-shirt form from Wild Ones. States in the Midwest even have local and state wide programs to seek and destroy invasives causing damage to native ecosystems. In September 2006, Robert "Roy" van de Hoek, a naturalist and biologist in California was arrested (not the first time for him by the way) on six misdemeanor charges that include injuring vegetation without permission. He had been killing invasive ficus trees and myoporum shrubs with pruning sheers. van de Hoek is an adviser to the Sierra Club Ballona Wetlands Restoration Committee, which is authorized to remove myoporum shrubs, but individually he has no such authority. "Trimming and landscaping isn't done without
To snip or not to snip– that is the question! authorization from government agencies," said Frank Mateljan of the city attorney's office. The debate following this story is a valid one. Efforts to eradicate invasive nonnatives is increasingly important. The USDA has a website devoted to this topic-
Is van de Hoek an environmental martyr? Is he a criminal? I encourage you to have that discussion within your social circles. Feel free to post your thoughts at either web location for GNOME members!
I thought It might be fun to steal an idea from Birds and Blooms magazine and have a scavenger hunt in each issue. Look for the word gnome within the text (no logo). I will vary the ways it is pre-
sented. It might be the first letters of five consecutive sentences, it might be crossword style, or something more creative. Let me know if you find it and maybe I will include your name in the next GNOME News!
No one let me know if they found last month’s GNOME. It was in the last article beginning with the first sentence of the last paragraph. Good luck this month! Let me know if you can find December’s GNOME!
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Schizachyrium scoparium– Little Bluestem Did you participate in the “Name that Native” at either website this month? Little Bluestem was the selection. Don’t forget you can vote at either site all month!
Found throughout almost the entire United States, this plant is underutilized in landscaping in my opinion. Little Bluestem prefers mesic to dry conditions. It typically grows to about 2-3 feet tall and forms solid, erect clumps that will stand through winter. Poor soil is not an issue with this plant. In fact, it prefers less desirable soil because it reduces competition with other plants.
Fall is the glory season for this native grass!
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”
There are literally thousands of links out there related to native plants. In this section I will share sites that I think have a lot of merit and are useful to other native plant enthusiasts.
- Henry David Thoreau This month’s featured site is : American Beauties– Native Plants
Faunal associations include larva of several species of skippers, an insect that looks like a cross between a small moth and a small butterfly.
attract those feathered friends to your garden! “This guide to landscaping for birds is as much a guide to reconnecting people with the natural world as it is to providing habitat for birds. The great detail of information on plant/bird relationships will go a long way to benefiting birds and native plant species, as well as a multitude of other wildlife.”
This grass is very drought resistant. It is primarily a warm season grass that really doesn’t gain growing momentum until summer and fall. I find it a great addition to any bed– traditional or native. It allows for room the other plants during earlier blooming time, and really fills in well in the fall! You can’t go wrong planting this one!
NET This site is a great resource for those that have an interest in native plants, but not a lot of background knowledge. I found the “Native Plant Finder” section extremely easy to use and recommendations pretty consistent with field guides and other book resources.
BEST BOOKS– BIRDSCAPING This book by Mariette Nowak uses a plant focus to
Small songbirds, like Tree Sparrows and Slate-colored Juncos, eat the seeds of the plant– especially in winter. Mammalian herbivores also find it quite palatable.
-Jim Steffen, Ecologist, Chicago Botanic Garden
Purists will surely shun the cultivar recommendations on the site. But I don’t have a big issue with that since it will likely get people to plant more natives (even if they are cultivars) than they would have otherwise planted. Don’t miss the “Landscape Plans” section as well!
I find it a great companion book to Bringing Nature Home, which has more of an insect focused theme.
This is a great regional “howto” book for the Midwest. It provides a lot of examples as well as plans, even going as far as listing the spe- Practical suggestions and plans cific combina- for attracting birds and wildlife. tions of plants.
There is lot more to attracting birds than feeders. Learn more about will bring new frequent fliers to your yard!
G N O M E N ew s
O R G A N I Z AT I O N S P O T L I G H T : N AT I O N A L W I L D L I F E F E D E R AT I O N “National Wildlife Federation inspires Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.” This is the mission statement from NWF’s website-
http://www.nwf.org/ The broad spectrum of this national organization makes it appealing to those living outside the Midwest as well as inside it. The scope is sort of all encompassing, but there are some very specific components within the NWF that native plant enthusiasts will find very beneficial.
From the “Outside In Nature” section on the website, one can go to the Garden for Wildlife pages. One useful thing that you can do is create a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat. There are several steps for this, but I like that it gets you thinking about the interrelation of plants and A big organization with a big impact animals, and structures in your own backyard. It also has great community components for schools Membership starts at $15 and public locations if that is for gift memberships. Usudesirable. ally $30 is the recommended cost for new individual membership. This organization also has many wonderful magazines for You will surely find something with NWF that conpeople of all ages. nects with your interests.
NATIVE NEWS: C L I M A T E C H A N G E O P E N S N E W I N VA S I O N A V E N U E S A team of scientists, including a University of Florida geneticist have found that climate change may benefit invasive species to the detriment of natives. This study “is the first to suggest that the mechanisms that aid invasive species when they move from one continent to the next may actually work within
continents when climate change gradually extends the distributional range of a species," said Koen J.F. Verhoeven, an evolutionary biologist at The Netherlands Institute of Ecology. Through experiments, they set out to find out whether invasives and natives responded differently to herbivores and microorganisms in the soil.
Suburban neighborhoods are ripe with opportunity to create outstanding and viable wildlife habitat. It would only require a small twist in planning. Many new subdivisions have displaced natural habitat, even if it was marginal. While trees are replanted, many understory plants are not, and this has a big impact on species dependent on this niche. The solution? Bio-borders.
Their conclusion? Natives did not respond as well as exotic species to new challenges.
The success of exotic plants expanding their range in response to warmer climates may be comparable to invasive exotic plant species that arrive from other continents, representing an additional threat to biodiversity.
Fences are common in many subdivisions. Privacy and protection are some of the reasons they are used. Planting native shrubs and understory trees could serve the same purpose while helping wildlife as well. Sara Stein’s illustration (right) shows how habitat could be cre-
ated by utilizing plants instead of things like wooden fences. By connecting these habitats, one larger one is created. Check this section next month for more details on creating your bio-border.
A view of how properties could fit together to increase habitat and create corridors.
“The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
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M AY O F F E R G R E E N S O L U T I O N S
Growing plastic? That is exactly what a company named Metabolix is doing. This biotechnology firm from Massachusetts has found a way to grow biodegradable plastic within the leaves of genetically engineered switchgrass– a common native tall grass prairie plant.
This microscope picture shows the plastic that accumulates in the leaves of switchgrass.
“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” -John Keats
The key to this bio-plastic is called polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). This is a nontoxic, naturally occurring compound created by certain bacteria that can serve as a green substitute for oil-based products. Not only is it durable, but it requires less energy to manufacture than petroleum-based products do. “Metabolix has been developing technology to produce PHA polymer in switchgrass for over 7 years,” said Dr. Oliver Peoples, chief scientific officer for Metabolix. “This result validates the prospect for economic production of PHA polymer in switchgrass, and demonstrates for the first time an important tool for enhancing switchgrass for value-added performance as a bioenergy crop.”
In the publication Evaluating Environmental Consequences of Producing (McLaughlin, S. B., & Walsh, M. E., 1998), it was calculated that it takes 4.5 times the amount of energy to produce an equivalent amount of ethanol from corn compared to using switchgrass. Switchgrass requires less energy for agricultural production, produces more energy in its biomass, and uses less energy to process the biomass into ethanol than corn does. Using these numbers, corn based ethanol has a 21% net energy gain while switchgrass based ethanol has a substantially higher 343% net energy gain. That means that a truly sustainable biofuel is attainable in the near future. All of this sounds pretty appealing, but there is even more to be excited about: soil conservation. There is a large difference between erosion of cultivated row crops like corn and perennial grasses like switchgrass. Erosion of corn fields in Iowa was 70 times higher than perennial grass fields on similar land, and during heavy rains corn fields eroded up to 200 times more than the grasslands. Erosion of land also washes away many chemicals used to increase production. The chemicals washed away not only harm the environment, but also the farmer’s pocket. It is estimated that $18 billion in fertilizer nutrients are lost to erosion annually in the U.S. Switchgrass not only retains more of the fertilizer, but it also uses less. Usually switchgrass only needs herbicides during the first year of what is usually a ten-year growth cycle. This development involving this native perennial is amazing. The grass might really be greener...
Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co. created a joint venture called Telles to produce PHB through fermentation which will be marketed under the brand name Mirel. A facility in Clinton, Iowa, will produce 110 million pounds of Mirel per year and is expected to be operational in the second quarter of 2009. But the story doesn’t end there. After the removal of PHB, the remaining biomass can be converted into ethanol. For years opponents of ethanol have argued that the energy required to produce it from corn eliminates the benefit of the renewable fuel.
Microbial cells containing bio-plastic polymers made naturally by bacteria.
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G L O BA L S WA R M I N G EMERALD ASH BORER The Emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, is an exotic beetle that was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. Since then it has been taking the Midwest by storm.
This might be an epidemic comparable to the Dutch elm disease of the early to mid 1900s. It already has killed tens of millions of ash trees and cost as much in damages. So– what can you do? The website
Biologist suspect that it was carried to the US in hardwood packing material from Asia in the 1990s. Feeding on native ash trees, this insect will disrupt the flow of nutrients in the living tissue under the bark. Adults will leave tell-tale “D” shaped exit holes in the trees when they emerge in the spring.
is the best source for current quarantines, news, and local maps of confirmed cases. You can also contact your local Department of Natural Resources for state information.
Emerald Ash Borer confirmation map of Mid-west.
Don’t move firewood, watch for damage, and report any suspected cases to authorities.
F A N TAS T I C FAU N A : THE MIGHTY MOLE There are seven species of moles in America. All of them are subterranean dwellers. It is for this reason that millions of dollars are spent each year to eradicate them. Poisons, traps, exterminators, and many lawn care services are related directly to this little mammal. Let’s try to look at the mighty mole in a different light.
I see the mole as a gardener’s helper. While it is true that their tunnels and hills can disrupt a yard, their benefits far outweigh the “damage” they cause in my experience. The average mole will eat 40-50 lbs of insects a year. This consists mostly of grubs (yes, even those of the Japanese Beetles) and worms.
First– some facts…
Because of specialized bone and muscle construction, moles can exert a lateral digging force equivalent to 32 times its body weight. As a comparison, a 150 lb. man would be able to exert a 4800 lb. lateral force.
Moles are mainly insectiMoles provide benefits that many vores– meaning they eat insects pay lawn services for!
Their tunnels aerate the soil (how much does that cost?), provide for water absorption (rather than storm drain runoff), and provide dwelling spaces for other wildlife. Do they eat your bulbs and plants? Typically not, unless they are infested with insects. They may create damage while going after the bugs eating your plants, but it is the insects that are consuming your plants– not the moles. Be happy to have these little engineers around! They are just a sign that you have a healthy yard!
“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.” -Linda Hogan
Great Natives Of Mid-western Ecotype Primary Business Address 1753 Wick Way Montgomery, IL 60538
Great Natives of Mid-western Ecotype (GNOME) is an organization focused on the preservation and expansion of native floral and faunal species. The mission is to provide a netbased forum where members can share their passion, plans, ideas, and questions with other people having a common interest in native species.
Join our facebook group! Add the “groups” application and search for us! (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=45643568296) This is our primary forum location. The newsletter as well as open discussions are there and
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Our household is fortunate enough to have a Cooper’s Hawk that frequents our yard in search of winged meals. On several occasions we have looked out and glimpsed a brown blur, near enough to see overlapping primaries, making its way toward evergreen trees and the small songbirds held within.
Now I know what you might be thinking. “I never did lose that curiosity.” You are right, some people never do. But I see plenty of adults completely oblivious to the natural world around them. I’m not going to go on a rant about all of the things that people do to damage or ignore nature in their own spaces. I would like to get people to think about that question I posed. I would like people to reflect on those childhood memories of the great outdoors. How are you going to ignite that passion in our youth? The future thought depends on present action.
Cooper’s Hawk in my backyard in November, 2008
My amazement isn’t so much at the bird (even though I feel it is a special treat in a new subdivision without mature trees). It is how my children and their young friends are enthralled by its presence.
is lifting up rocks, picking flowers, chasing butterflies, or climbing trees, they just can seem to get enough if left on their own to explore.
It seems to me that children are inherently captivated by the natural world. Whether it
When do people, in the process of growing up, lose that curiosity?
The next time your child comes in with muddy shoes, don’t yell at him. Give him a smile and ask him about his adventures.