Preservation begins (and perhaps ends) at home

May. 11, 2013 @ 06:14 PM


One of my favorite things to do this time of year is walk in the woods in search of native wildflowers. Pink lady’s slipper, jack-in-the-pulpit and columbine are just a few I’ve seen. Others are less showy, revealing their secrets only upon close examination. I recently discovered Hexastylis, an intriguing plant whose small brown flowers are buried under the leaf litter.

I think there is a perception that nature preserves can provide the necessary habitat for these treasures. The problem is that even if you add up all the public gardens and parks, they cover a miniscule percentage of our total landscape.

That’s easy to forget. Driving across this great state, it’s striking how much of the countryside is blanketed with tree cover. And yes, we are blessed with amazing riches in our State Parks and National Forests. But truth be told, the vast majority of our forest land, the pines, oaks and poplars that have shaped North Carolina’s history and culture and which are home to diverse fauna and flora, are in the hands of family farmers.

This happens to suit me just fine, and in fact I’m half of a family that owns a small chunk. I doubt anyone treasures the trees, soil, creeks and hills of a farm like the family that lives there.

I guess where I’m going with these ramblings is that we have a vast natural treasure in North Carolina, and we all can play a role in its care.

For example, I think native plants should be an important part of our home landscapes. North Carolina living offers many delights, and our population continues to grow. As natural landscapes are lost, I believe our home landscapes can serve as mini-preserves for plants that become increasingly rare.

And while, in my mind, rare plants are worthy of preservation for their intrinsic value, they also play ecological roles we are only beginning to grasp in the way of connections to other plants and animals.

We have also learned that certain non-native plants deceived us with their beauty, only to become aggressive bullies after being invited to our gardens. English ivy, as I’ve noted before, wreaks havoc when it gets established in forestland, choking out habitat for native plants and animals. If you want to keep it as a groundcover, that’s fine, but guard vociferously against its attempts to climb trees, where it will produce tasty berries for the birds to spread. And wisteria should be attacked with vengeance wherever it appears (the Sarah P. Duke Gardens pergola perhaps being the sole exception).

And while government budgets are stretched tight, consider supporting programs that keep farmers on the farm, and which provide incentives for good stewardship. Forest landowners, for example, may be eligible for help with invasive species control, prescribed fire (great for wildlife and native plants!) and other sound management practices.

To learn more about the wonders of native plants (and spend a fabulous couple of hours), visit Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham or the N.C. Botanical Gardens near Chapel Hill. Be sure to take the kids or grands, as a growing body of scientific evidence suggests numerous benefits for youngsters who spend time chasing bugs and smelling flowers!