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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
We Can all Contribute to Biodiversity


Chicago Sun-Times

By Nancy Clifton

It's feels like spring! The garden tasks increase as the air and soil temperatures rise. When planning your garden consider the role of conservation and its long-term effects. It's a global concern, yet as an individual there are many ways to help support the many groups involved in promoting plant biodiversity. Aspects of conservation include restoration, education, research programs on native plant communities, seed banking, population genetics, rare- and invasive-plants monitoring, soil ecology and plant reproductive biology. If it all sounds very scientific, it is! To understand more about conservation, what the Garden is doing and what you can do, visit the Garden's Web site.

Restoration of natural ecosystems is more a study of the past and how to mimic it on manipulated land. What was once native or pristine land has been altered by man by the introduction of nonnative plants, animals, insects and other species, especially in our woodland, river and prairie ecosystems.

When restoring natural areas, it's important to determine which plants are truly native and how they can be restored and replanted again. Characteristics that improve survival in restored habitats are dependent on the natives' genetic adaptations.

Education is needed to train our future scientists. We have a need for trained personnel in conservation, especially botanists to study plant evolution or plant "genealogy."

Research covers many areas, including breeding programs and plant evaluation before commercial introduction. It is crucial to avoid growing and marketing potentially invasive plants. Plant breeders, growers and homeowners continually seek new plants that are hardy and adaptable selections for the landscape. The impact of any new introductions on the local flora is important.

Monitoring rare and invasive plants is needed. The study of rare plants is essential to see how populations are surviving when threatened by development, invasive plants, pollution or other environmental forces. Invasive plants threaten many of our natural areas. To reclaim this land, we have to manage, remove and reduce nonnative flora.

Soil ecology is also part of the native plant restoration process. Many areas no longer have "natural" soils. Local soils have been manipulated so much by construction, farming and soil movement, that there are very few native or natural soils. Even in natural areas, the soils have been disrupted by invasive plants, animals and even nonnative earthworms. Buckthorn is one of our major invasive nonnative plants in wooded areas.

Seed banking is an investment in the future. The Seeds of Success project is an international endeavor to collect and store seeds from 10 percent of the world's flora by 2010 for a total of more than 24,000 species. The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of the members collecting 1,500 species of tallgrass prairie species from the Midwest and Great Plains to assist this amazing project.

What can you do to help? Practice conservation methods to reduce the impact of your daily living on the environment.

- Recycle. Bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store and return the paper and plastic bags used by stores; they cause a great deal of litter. Compost your garden waste.

- Avoid using chemicals in your yard. Select your plants carefully and use natives when possible. Shop carefully to select plants that are not invasive or rare (some rare and native plants are harvested from the wild). Reduce the amount of turf and the resources needed to maintain it. Water plants only when needed. Use organic fertilizers and practice cultural methods to keep plants healthy. Remove invasive plants, such as garlic mustard, buckthorn and other nonnatives threatening our local flora.

Nancy Clifton is horticultural writer at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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