A revolution is under way, and Chautauqua County won't want to miss it.
I recently returned from the fourth annual Native Plant Symposium in Ithaca, N.Y., and found that the news is spreading fast. Multiple sources are saying that using native plants at the lakeshores and stream banks is a best management practice. Their roots grow deep to better hold the soil from eroding. Their native characteristics encourage native insects and wildlife to survive. Their ability to absorb water and nutrients helps keep those nutrients out of the nearby water bodies. Their native ''wildness'' and colors have been shown to provide beauty to manmade rain gardens and buffer strips. With all of these accolades being true, the advantages of natives have been mostly broadcast over the years by conservationists and low-impact developers.
Native plants are gaining a new, possibly surprising voice. Plant nurseries and growers are listening to the demand from environmentally conscious gardeners, homeowners and developers. They are listening not just because the native market can improve their business but also because they know natives are best. Direct from literature of one retailer: ''our plants are NATIVE to New York ... SEED-GROWN for genetic diversity ... (from) seed LOCALLY COLLECTED ... (and) all our plants are NURSERY PROPAGATED, never wild-dug. Our prices are lower than our competitors for the reasons listed above.'' This is not only marketing magic - there is biological brilliance in those four bold-faced concepts.
Native plants are used near the shoreline at Chautauqua Institution to keep soil and nutrients from entering the nearby waters of Chautauqua Lake.
Photo by Jane Conroe
NATIVE: These plants preserve our natural heritage. They provide food and habitat for native wildlife and that native wildlife is a part of our natural heritage. It is estimated that nearly 25 percent of all plant species in North America are at risk of extinction. Natives require little long-term maintenance when established. Since they are adapted to the region, they are more tolerant of local conditions including drought, disease or herbivory.
SEED-GROWN: The importance here is based in genetic diversity. Plants of all kinds, including food crops, have been genetically engineered for a good color, high yield, pest resistance and more. Thus, many greenhouse and nursery grown plants come from one gene pool instead of the diversity of favorable genetic instructions that are in nature. Non-native parasites and other pests have devastated vulnerable ''monoculture'' fields of plants that lack the genetic variations and favorable adaptations that might otherwise provide chemical defenses or other natural protective strategies against the attackers. If there is no genetic variety, there is no natural selection process to allow the survival of the fittest. Seed variety allows the strengths of a native plant species to continue into the future.
LOCALLY COLLECTED: Nursery employees gather the precious seeds by hand into small brown or Ziploc bags. The seed is dried, cleaned and stored in a refrigerator or in soil in bags until it is ready to be sowed. The ultimate success of the process is shown in the hundreds, maybe thousands, of new plants sprouting in the spring. Forty to 50 species are propagated this way by this one supplier.
NURSERY PROPAGATED: This is the main way that man's caring, watchful eye keeps invasive species away from their products. There is comfort in knowing that if it has been grown under nursery supervision, the label on the pot is the only plant in the pot. Every gardener who has ever accepted a plant from a friend does so knowing it may come with added volunteers.
The revolution for using natives is upon us. Horticulturists have recognized the dangers of single genetic cultures for years. ''The loss of biological diversity is currently one of the greatest challenges facing the environment and sustainable development,'' states the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. Preserving the genetic diversity of the world's food crops is the reason the Svalbard Vault was established. It maintains the greatest plant diversity because it recognized the urgent need for future food security. An American counterpart is managed by the USDA in Fort Collins, Colo. But this urgency is not felt only for the food industry, it is recognized by nursery growers as well. They understand that their buyers are looking to improve the landscape, and they understand the dangers of single genetic stock. They are saying the time to go native is now, before it is too late.
For more information, go to:
For technical assistance with your native planting, contact one of our conservationists at firstname.lastname@example.org or 664-2166.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit 501(c)(3) land trust and watershed education organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information on its current projects and programs and/or to join, visit chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.