Monday, June 26, 2017

Creating Charging Stations for Pollinators

Gratifying to see the Smoyer Park detention basin growing into its new persona as a native meadow.

Last year's conversion from turf to native grasses and wildflowers came in pretty sparse after the initial seeding in May,

and deer munched on the few flowers that grew to maturity.

This year, the deer's appetite was overwhelmed by black-eyed susans and daisies.

The gaps in the original seeding left room for some of us local wild gardeners to add additional species. Some volunteers with Friends of Herrontown Woods, which has offered to give this wet meadow the tlc it needs to prosper, scattered and raked in wildflower seed from local populations, and planted some live stakes of buttonbush, bareroot transplants of Hibiscus, cutleaf coneflower, and others. Much of it seems to get pulled up, most likely by deer, but even if only a few specimens of these additional species survive, they'll produce their own seed and form viable populations. So many local wildflower species are barely hanging on, essentially isolated genetically. Establishing new populations will make these species more secure and functional--genetically and ecologically. One project underway since about 2006 has been to spread the floodplain species found along the canal into other wet areas of Princeton, be they detention basins, backyards,

or the little raingarden in front of the Whole Earth Center on Nassau Street, which is fed by water from the roof and sidewalk. Think of these wet, sunny spots as charging stations for pollinators during summer months when the local woodlands offer little in the form of pollen.

In the photo is a nursery-grown oak-leafed hydrangia on the right, but the cutleaf coneflowers rising towards bloom on the left are from seeds harvested originally along the towpath.

These elderberries blooming at the Princeton High School wetland, tucked away on the Walnut Street side of the school, began as 2' stem cuttings from along the canal, then pushed into the basin's mud years ago to sprout leaves and roots.

Here's a photo only a botanist could love, of an area of the high school wetland cleared by environmental science students of too-aggressive cattails so the fringed sedges and Hibiscus could thrive. In July and August, this same spot will be in full flower.

The Smoyer Park and Princeton High School detention basins, along with another at Farmview Fields were converted to natives with the help of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife--part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's a good example of how a little input from "big government" can kickstart local initiatives that then can thrive with a few strategic workdays a year.

Common milkweed blew in on its own, a bit of serendipity to augment human intention. We'll see if the monarchs show up.

It can't be emphasized enough that wet, sunny locations are the easiest sort for wild gardening. The soil tends to be soft, making weeding much easier, there are lots of vigorous native species that prosper if the most aggressive species are proactively controlled, and watering tends to take care of itself after the plants have established. It doesn't seem to matter if the soil has much in the way of nutrients. In fact, poor soil can help limit rambunctious weeds, and it's better if the water running through these basins doesn't pick up nutrients that then would end up downstream in Carnegie Lake.

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