Wild Ideas:  Newsletter for the Flint Chapter of Wild Ones Natural Landscapers, Limited.

Fall 2000


As I was reading the article in the Flint Journal on the devastating Western fires, I was reminded once again of the problems faced by natural landscapers. We are trying to deal with a situation caused by decades of unthinking intervention in our natural environment. It is time we learned to respect the complexity of our natural systems. As we barge ahead with genetically engineered plants, pesticides, and biological controls, do we really know what we are doing?

Virginia Chatfield, President

"If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."—Aldo Leopold


While prescribed burning in Michigan is used to improve wildlife habitat by suppressing alien plants and promoting our fire-resistant Michigan natives, fire in the Western grasslands has become an ally of the invading species, aggressively promoting their spread. The following is a synopsis of an article published in the Flint Journal on August 20, 2000, titled "Botanists Fighting Weeds That Fuel Western Fires" that was passed on to me by Ginny Knag. The article recounts an interview with a botanist named Steve Monsen who describes how foreign weeds such as squarrose knapweed, medusa head and cheatgrass—most of all cheatgrass—are driving out the sagebrush and native grasses. These weeds are also highly flammable, fueling some of the blazes that have made this fire season one of the West's worst in decades. He says, "We have altered these systems to the point where we have devastating fires." Over one-third of the 75 million acres of the Great Basin in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and California have been taken over by alien plants.

Cheatgrass is native to central Asia and most likely arrived in the West around 1910 in imported grains. By then, grazing cattle and sheep had eaten so much of the native grasses and sagebrush that it didn't take long for the cheatgrass to gain a foothold.

Cheatgrass seed gets a headstart on our native plants by germinating in early fall or even in the winter. By May, cheatgrass has already grown, dropped its seed, and died, leaving behind acres of tinder ready to catch fire from a lightning strike, a careless campfire, or even a car.

The article says that where rangeland fire used to occur every 10 years or so, which is enough time for slow-growing sagebrush to grow back, they now strike just two or three years apart. One cheatgrass valley in Utah has burned four times in two years—making room for even more cheatgrass!

So far this year, more than 3,000 fires have burned 1.56 million acres in the Great Basin. All last summer, wildfires blackened nearly 2 million acres in the region. The botanist says that the solution is to restore native grasses.


by Ginny Knag

The 2000 annual meeting of Wild Ones Natural Landscapers, "Celebrating Your Native Landscape: Bringing It All Home," was held Saturday, August 12, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Several of our Flint Chapter members were able to attend: Ann and Doug McInnis, Debbie Miller, Emma Knag, Ginny Knag, and guest Bev Thompson. Our chapter president, Virginia Chatfield, did an outstanding job designing the conference signage!

Keynote speaker at the conference was Craig Tufts, Honorary Director of Wild Ones and Chief Naturalist for the National Wildlife Federation. He discussed the importance of creating backyard habitats using native plants and suggested several means of promoting native plants and gardens:

Joan Nassauer, Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan and author of Placing Nature: Culture and Landscape Ecology, stressed that the urban and suburban landscape is dominated by people and that a neighborhood is defined by people and their sense of place for that area. Through her research she has learned that what matters most to residents in a neighborhood is that yards reflect the presence of the people who care for them; that someone nearby cares for what has been planted. A visit to her research website will explain this very interesting theory and give you an opportunity to participate in her survey (www.landscape.snre.umich.edu). The survey takes about 45 minutes to complete. It's worth a visit!

Bob Grese gave a presentation about the development of his urban native plant habitat, which has become an inspiration for those who wish to live closer to nature in a conventional, neighborhood setting. A picture of his yard can be seen at the new web site for Michigan Wild Ones chapters.

Following lunch, a variety of indoor and outdoor sessions were provided. These sessions covered topics such as woodland ground covers, identifying prairie flora, managing invasive exotics, the role of native plants in your watershed, and transitioning your garden to a more native landscape. Two sessions which I found particularly interesting were a project to recollect specimens of native plants found in the U of M Herbarium and a presentation on propagation of native plants from the Belle Isle Nature Center.

Bev Walters, at the U of M Herbarium received a grant to gather new specimens of plants in the herbarium which were nearly 100 years old (or older), giving special attention to those species which are now on the threatened or endangered species list for Michigan. Each plant specimen has the location from which it was collected so she was able to return to the original site in an attempt to relocate each plant. Through her lecture and slides we learned that too often the original habitats no longer exist. Wetlands have been drained, houses built, roads and shopping malls pave the land. Sometimes, however, with persistence and patience, she was able to locate the same species in its original site.

Belle Isle Nature Center has been very successful in reestablishing native-plant communities on the island through collection of seed locally and in neighboring Ontario (Ojibway Prairie). Through research and experimentation they have compiled a list of Native Plant Propagation Notes, including data on plant characteristics and seed germination requirements. (For a copy, contact me, mtknag@ameritech.net).

All in all, the conference was a huge success, with over 300 people in attendance.


by Vicki Gagne

Question: I've heard people talk about using Roundup to get rid of invasive alien plants, but I’m worried about using an herbicide. Can you tell me about it?


Our Flint Wild Ones Chapter now has its own web pages (http://www.for-wild.org/flint/)! The Flint page contains our meeting schedule, past issues of the chapter newsletter, and chapter contact information. These pages are part of the Michigan Chapters web site (http://www.for-wild.org/michigan/ ), which contains event announcements, plant information articles, and other resources such as lists of native plant sources and natural landscapers.


by Virginia Chatfield

Spotted Knapweed

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