Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Riffing on Wetlands at Princeton High School


This is one of the merry crowds of environmental science students who came outside to hear me riff on wetlands while standing firmly planted in that wonderful mud. Princeton High School's ecolab wetland is blessed with an upscale metal fence around it to lean and learn on while gazing down at all the native plants, crayfish, and other life. While sounds of jazz drifted over from the performing arts wing, I described the ecolab's beginnings in 2006, and how being in a band had helped me learn the basics of bringing people together to make something beautiful, applicable to all community initiatives.


Inbetween classes, there was time to photograph the contrast of seedheads and leaves on a buttonbush,

and the abundant seed clusters of boneset and Joe-Pye-Weed.

Teacher Jim Smirk explained how the school's sump pump provides a consistent supply of water from the basement, kicking on every 15 minutes or so, even during droughts. Without that hydrologic stability, many of the wetland's species would die out, leaving only those plants that can withstand extremes of wet and dry.

The rich balance of native species requires periodic intervention to weed out the more aggressive types that would otherwise take over, particularly willow and cattail. There's a great crop of Hibiscus seeds (black salt-shaker-like capsules in the photo) because students pulled out cattail this spring that would otherwise have overshadowed the Hibiscus.

I explained that, without this sort of followup by people who know which plants to leave and which to pull, native plantings can become overrun by a few aggressive species, which can then lead to a decision to mow it all down and return the area to lawn. A native planting is dynamic and evolving, requiring an ongoing care relationship that goes far beyond the static "mow, blow, and go" custodial approach that gives us the tidy but monotonous urban landscape of trees and turf.

The ecolab wetland has worked out so well over the years that Mr. Smirk and his students want to collaborate with me and others to plant two additional detention basins at the school. All in all, a fun day of talking to the kids about a favorite topic.


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