Habitat Restoration Series: Native Plant Suggestions for Western New York/Southern Ontario – Part 2

Here is our second installment in our Habitat Restoration Series for Spring.
Native Plantings for WNY/Southern Ontario – Submission #2 for wet/moist soils:

Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

web_MistyElderberryThese shrubs grow best in rich, moist, neutral soils that have good drainage. I have mine planted on a very shallow slope just above a very mucky spot and they do tremendously well. Sunlight should be from full sun to partial shade (they are often found along the woodland edge in the wild). They will shoot up new canes each year and are subject to spreading so you can choose a spot where they can spread at will or control them through pruning back older woody canes or mowing. It generally takes from 3 to 5 years for fruits to develop after planting young canes. Flowers develop in June so are not usually subject to fruit loss due to frost. Fruits begin to ripen in late Summer and persist well into October. This area native has many, many benefits. It is rich in vitamin C and potassium and has many medicinal qualities, especially in terms of the immune system.

Homeopathically (like treats like) Elderberry is considered to be good for the areas of the body that are “tubular” or “hollow” – blood, respiratory, nerves – based on the plant’s hollow stems. Both flowers and fruits can be used. Be advised that raw Elderberries Elders in flower on "The Acre"can have a strong cathartic effect so we advise that the fruits be heated for 5 minutes to neutralize those characteristics (generally small amounts may be eaten raw – just be prudent). Wildlife thrives on the berries and these shrubs can produce more than enough for sharing. You can have your pie, wine, jam and medicinals while leaving enough for birds and deer to “fatten up” on for Winter.

Sources for Elderberry, other than local nurseries, can be found on our webpage. Be sure you choose the Sambucus canadensis varietal as this is the true native in Eastern North America.

Did you miss Submission #1? Have no fear, you can read all about Winterberry HERE!

An Invader Wins

There are few things more frustrating to one attempting to restore and maintain native habitat than the reality that an invasive species cannot be reasonably and responsibly eradicated. Such is the scenario in the wet meadow that dominates “The Acre”.

When first moving to this property in 1999, the wet meadow was more or less a happy balance of both native and alien plant species. Notable, however, was the lack of invasive species, with the lone exception of Spearmint (Mentha spicatawhich created a bright green carpet along the drainage path leading off to the West Branch of Cazenovia Creek, a major channel within the Buffalo River Watershed (this area’s dominant drainage system).

Before the discussion continues, there are two considerations of open field environments in this Great Lakes region that one must keep in mind:

  1. Most open field plant species are alien, long ago (2 centuries at least) having usurped the native populations.
  2. Historically, one has to question the actual identity and dominance of open field native species as both Indigenous tradition and Colonial documentation consistently agree that this area was overwhelmingly deeply forested, so much so that the Onödowa’ga:’ (Seneca) peoples had to clear forest land to practice agriculture. (If told I’ll live to 120, perhaps this question could spur doctoral research).

In the intervening 13 years, the wettest portions of the meadow have seen dramatic change in the plant community, which is most telling as mid-Summer progresses. The colors of white, yellow and crimson have receded and the color purple has inundated the moist areas. And by that I mean Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Purple Loosestrife dominates the wet meadow on "The Acre"

Purple Loosestrife dominates the wet meadow on “The Acre”

When the Loosestrife first began appearing, heroic attempts were made to pull it (heroic because it is notoriously difficult to uproot). When it became clear that this type of manual control was not enough, the procedure was augmented with dead-heading what could not be yanked in order to control seed production. Dozens of hours were spent in this hot, wet field accompanied by resident mosquitoes in hopes of limiting the spread. Huge piles of plant material were dried, eventually becoming tinder for the fire pit.

This exhausting process seemed to work for a couple of years but the last few have brought the reality that continued dispersal of seed via road drainage has allowed the Loosestrife to take over. There is no way to control for this and, so, the invader wins. I’ve resolved myself to keeping small patches near the meadow’s edge clear in order to allow re-introduced Common Cattail (Typha latifolia) to take hold and native Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) to continue thriving.

Boneset, a native medicinal.

Boneset, a native medicinal, does well in many spots on “The Acre”.

One positive note to somewhat assuage any guilt from this surrender is that the Bumblebees and small Butterflies are making use of the Loosestrife’s nectar. Perhaps, one day, our native critters will somehow adapt and become important factors in controlling this difficult, albeit beautiful, invader. Other factors that help me to accept this defeat are the points brought up above. Certainly #1 helps to clear my name in that the problem of invasives is older than the nation itself. Point #2 tells me that time and succession itself will one day be the ultimate solution as the field slowly progresses into a wet woodland. More Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) appear each year so the process has already begun.

In the meantime, the next invasive project involves that looming stand of  Phragmites (Phragmites australis) in the background of the above photo. I hold firm that THIS species will not win as shading with water and salt tolerant trees is the plan of action (serving, also, as a little push along the path of succession).

Amphibian Demise in the Hands of Humans

Amphibians are bell-weathers for environmental health and so many currently are at risk, mostly due to human activities. Habitat loss and invasive species introductions are taking a tremendous toll. Add to that the mysterious Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), which is decimating frogs by the millions worldwide. The spread of this deadly fungus also has been linked to humans through global trade and historic commonly used human pregnancy testing.

A recent film on the plight of the Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa) in British Columbia spotlights the precarious state of amphibian populations. It reminds us strongly that our behavior has ramifications far beyond the immediate and deeply thought out planning that includes potential consequences should be part of our daily agenda.

Video directed by Mike McKinlay and Isabelle Groc
Research, Story, and Interview: Isabelle Groc tidelife.ca
Cinematography and Edit: Mike McKinlay mikemckinlay.com
Original Music and Sound Mix: Mark Lazeski
Online Edit and Colour Correction: George Faulkner gbfaulkner.com
Camera Assistant: Steve Breckon

This video was produced with the support of the Wilderness Committee and the Vancouver Foundation