Should we plant wildflowers?
vsummers at polaris.cv.nrao.edu
Mon Jun 1 08:31:01 EST 1992
In article <1992May31.170704.4908 at iscsvax.uni.edu> klier at iscsvax.uni.edu writes:
From: klier at iscsvax.uni.edu
Date: 31 May 92 17:07:04 -0500
Organization: University of Northern Iowa
Let me put on my devil's advocate hat, and suggest that wildflower
planting is not an unmitigated good.
Consider a program in my own state, which advocates using native
prairie vegetation in roadside ditches to cut maintainance costs
associated with mowing, herbicide spraying, etc., and at the same
time gives more wildlife habitat. It also makes for much prettier
and more diverse ditches in a state that has lost about 95% of its
native plant acreage.
From what we have seen so far, it does indeed cut roadside
mowing & herbicide costs, and increases wildlife production (esp.
pheasants, an introduced species popular with hunters).
In connection with this program, and _just_ getting off the ground,
there is a "local genotype conservation program", aimed at increasing
seed from small local prairie populations for use in the roadsides at
some future date. It is very rare that a roadside that was in
introduced species has been reseeded using seed from local remnant
prairies: the remnants are quite small, hand-gathered seed is very
expensive, and prairie plants do not produce much viable seed.
Most of the roadsides that have been reseeded into native species
have been seeded with a variety of species grown at seed farms in
Nebraska and South Dakota (much drier than Iowa), and usually that
have been selected for high forage production (for instance,
'Blackwell' switchgrass). When 'Blackwell' is grown with wild-type
switchgrasses, the wild-types are generally outcompeted.
Most of the prairie remnants in this state are quite small -- under
10 acres -- and are usually old cemeteries, railroad rights-of-way,
"unimproved" pastures and ditches. I would not be surprised in a
few years time to find the "tamed" prairie plants from roadside
reseeding projects taking over some of the prairie remnants, particularly
those that are subjected to frequent mowings or overgrazing.
Since I'm working with gene flow in prairie populations, I'm also
concerned that extensive replantings of "tamed" natives or genotypes
from another area of the country could potentially swamp out local
genotypes in remnants. It could certainly make some of the
studies I've been doing in the last few years nearly impossible to
do with certainty in the future.
So, much as I love the native species, I wonder if planting human-
selected types will improve the long-term survival of native plant
populations. We might be better off using foreign cultivars that
don't hybridize with native species for decorative purposes, and
increases of local genotypes for such purposes as the roadside
Devil's advocate hat now off. Disputes welcomed.
Kay Klier Biology Dept University of Northern Iowa
Kay: This is an opportunity to emphasize a good point you have brought
out, that so many people seem to think is no big deal.
There are what many people call varieties of the same plant, having
similar popular names, which are not equivalent. To plant one as
being the same thing as the other is just short of criminal. The
American wistaria is not nearly so aggressive as the Japanese or
Chinese counterparts. The oriental variety puts the american variety
of bittersweet at decided disadvantage, also. People don't stop and
consider that little moves on their part can cause serious consequences.
How many matches does it really take to start a forest fire?
There is absolutely nothing wrong if people RIGHTLY plant native plants.
But what is a native plant? Do most know? They often have the thinking
of persons in the construction industry. They bulldoze all the 100
year old native trees, build a house, and maybe plant some foreign
variety four feet tall.
vsummers at polaris.cv.nrao.edu
More information about the Plantbio