Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Roadside Revegetation with Native Plants: An Interview with Stefan Weber

Article by summer intern, Saige Patti.

Thousands of kilometers of highway in Ontario are lined with non-native legumes, which are ecologically useless for pollinators, and have shallow roots that aren’t as good at filtering water or preventing erosion as are native plants.
By Haljackey at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31335717
Introduced plants like crown-vetch, black medic, white clover, and red clover have been popular choices for roadside plantings, which are aimed at preventing erosion of roadsides, but short roots and low salt tolerance make them less than ideal for roadside vegetation. A native tallgrass prairie community may be the best option for roadside plantings.

Roadside revegetation with native plants 

Roadside revegetation with native plants is being studied by Stefan Weber, a PhD student in the Biology department at McMaster University. In 2016 the Ontario Ministry of Transportation put out a request for proposals for their Highway Infrastructure Innovation Program Fund to study the best practices for establishing native roadside vegetation. Now, Weber’s project has two sites on highway number 3 outside of Tillsonburg and Norfolk county, and two sites in Saint Mary’s on highway 7.

Weber says the primary step to restoring habitat is preparing the site adequately. It can take two years to get rid of most of the invasive and noxious weeds, and even then the weeds and invasive species can persist. “I love the phrase ‘undressing a salad’,” he says, “It’s impossible to undress a salad. If you want to undo changes that have been made to the biotic community, it might not be possible; so many things have happened in terms of changes to soil structure and soil chemistry. It may not actually be possible to revert some roadsides back to the native landscape.”

blue vervain
It can be extremely difficult to remove non-native seeds from the soil seed bank, and multiple methods can be used. One method includes repeated herbicide spraying and tilling, but excavating can usually be more effective. Completely removing the first foot of soil down to the subsoil can remove the seed bank and nitrified soil. Native plants are tolerant of low-nutrient environments, so eliminating nitrogen from the soil will mainly affect non-native weeds. Prairie plants are adapted to colonize mineral soils; areas with sand, alvar, or exposed rock and gravel. This is because these prairies are early-successional communities – they are made of plants that are the first to appear when plants colonize an area. If the community was left undisturbed it would eventually be succeeded by ‘late successional’ communities like forests.

Weber says that we can keep our tallgrass prairies around by keeping these communities in an early state. This can be done by managing them with grazing or mowing. Historically, these prairies were maintained with fire by First Nations people. In a roadside setting, mowing is an essential activity for keeping prairie plants thriving. It helps eliminate competition from fast growing weeds which can shade these prairie species out.
“A successful project requires choosing species that are most appropriate for the physical characteristics of the restoration area,” says Weber. “The goal is to build what we want to see into the future, not recreate some historical scene that doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t travel back in time, so that’s not really the point.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Monarch Awards 2017: Winners Announced!

Winners have just been announced. There's a profile article on the Monarch Awards web site as well as the media release. Congratulations to all the finalists, the Buzzin' Dozen, and all the entrants!

The 2017 Monarch Award winner is Amy Taylor!!
Amy, a 2016 finalist who lives on Edgemont Street North in Crown Point, is a herbalist and tea-reader who has an eclectic and broad knowledge of plants. An experienced gardener, Amy made some changes to her garden over the past year, removing some most of the aggressive non-natives (despite their herbalism usefulness) and ramping up the native plant content. Amy’s garden showcases the potential for blending unusual native plants into a traditional—and small—garden setting.
Amy's Garden.
One judge remarked on the overwhelming “interestingness” of the space. There’s a huge diversity of species to guarantee blooms right from April through November, along with personal whimsical decor, several amenities for wildlife (bird baths, bug bath, bee boxes, nesting spots), a shed made entirely of recycled materials, and a pergola with natural shade provided by hop vines that are harvested for beer making.

There is always a “mess” potential in gardens designed with ecosystem benefits in mind but Amy has cleverly and discretely sited the composters, brush piles, and all three water barrels. The front yard is completely planted and, although the needs of the plants have trumped the aesthetics somewhat, the effect is respectful of the streetscape and neighbours.

This year the judges chose to award four finalist prizes.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Creating a Pollinator Paradise: video

What's the buzz about pollination?
Learn why pollinators and native wildflowers are so important, why they have a problem, and find out what you can do about it!

Script, video, and audio by Saige Patti, Hamilton Naturalists' Club Summer Intern.