Friday, May 17, 2024

Campus Grounds Sprout Local Flora

Some areas of Princeton University's intensely landscaped campus are starting to sprout local native flora. Using native plants doesn't necessarily mean those species will be found in local nature preserves. Many native plants popular in landscaping--purple coneflower, red buckeye, bottlebrush buckeye, oak-leaved hydrangia, witch-alder, Virginia sweetspire--are seldom or never seen growing on their own in the local wild. 

But recently, the University has been planting the actual species frequently encountered in local nature preserves like Herrontown Woods and Mountain Lakes. This spicebush shrub in front of the Lewis Center for the Arts, 185 Nassau Street, resonates with the spicebush  so common in our woodlands.  

Turf has been replaced with a sedge meadow, probably the same Pennsylvania sedge that can be encountered in remnant meadows in local woods.

Masses of Christmas fern now grow on campus as they do along the slopes of the Princeton ridge.

A few species, like the foamflower making this mass of white, are rare to nonexistent in local woodlands, but the overall trend seems to be to treasure what is authentically local. 

Though some of the University's early efforts to plant native landscapes became overrun with weeds, this 2-3 year old planting down near Robert's Stadium is thriving. Better soil prep and thick mulch (and more knowledgeable gardeners?) have, at least thus far, conquered the weeds. The native species chosen are again those one finds in the local wild: cutleaf coneflower, arrowwood Viburnum, and wild rye grass. 

People naturally want to plant things that are special, and special used to be defined by distance--as in exotic plants imported from distant continents. Distance made the botanical heart grow fonder. It's heartening to see a shift in what is viewed as special, towards a valuing of what is truly local.  

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