Should we plant wildflowers?

Vince Summers vsummers at
Mon Jun 1 08:31:01 EST 1992

In article <1992May31.170704.4908 at> klier at writes:

   From: klier at
   Newsgroups: bionet.plants
   Date: 31 May 92 17:07:04 -0500
   Organization: University of Northern Iowa
   Lines: 57

   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.
Enough said.
Vince Summers

vsummers at

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