Ash trees can be maintained without insecticides, read more….
The umowed fescue field turning into Callery pears, the fence line covered in invasive vines and shrubs, and the burning bush in your neighbor’s yard maybe within one’s circle of concern but these things are out of your control. Focus on expanding your circle of control and influence through forming or joining a local group group. Learn about and choose the highest quality environments remaining in your region so that you can and make an impact where there’s the most left to lose; and most left to save.
Watch Video Above Before Reading Article
Starlings; the primary dispersers of Invasive Pear trees (Pyrus calleryana)
Invasive European Starlings are a dominant species in metropolitan landscapes which also is where Callery Pear varieties are most concentrated in landscape plantings. In the fall you’ll notice the starlings gather in large flocks of hundreds to thousands consuming in mass; Callery Pear fruits, Amur Honeysuckle berries, and also stripping native food sources clean such as Poison Ivy fruits and Eastern Red Cedar fruits that native birds prefer.
When you see fields, vacant land, and unmowed pastures of pears and honeysuckle establishing; consider what birds utilize these non-native plant dominated open environments?
You may see a killdeer, a native sparrow species or possibly a meadowlark if the field is large and diverse enough, but none of these birds eat Callery Pear fruits. The single species of native bird that likely contributes to a small amount of dispersion of Callery pear fruits into open environments is the American Robin, who do utilize these open environments, but never with the flock quantity or consumption quantity of the invasive starling flocks that strip the large majority these trees clean during their murmuration season. Robins do mass-consume fruits, but with the exception of ornamental crabapples and a few callery pear fruits, their consumption and dispersion is nearly purely of native plant fruits.
Starling foraging patterns of mass shrub/tree/vine fruit stripping followed by field/pasture ground foraging make them uniquely adept foresters of trees, shrubs, and vines. Unfortunately on this continent, they’re creating invasive plant thickets/woodlands.
Unmowed/Unburned Open Environments are most Suceptible to Pear Invasion
The invasive tree/shrub fruit stripping proceeded by ground foraging allows for mass depositing of invasive plant seeds into vacant land/fields, farmland, lawns, and pastures which is how unmowed fields turn into even-aged stands of Callery pears and Amur Honeysuckle. This pattern also forms a management tactic for preventing Callery invasion. Keeping fields, vacant land, lawns, and pastures mowed at least once 1 year, preferably during the dormant season prevents woody plant invasion of all kinds. Where native prairies are established and prescribed burns are possible; burns can replace the annual once a year mowing. Missing just 2 or 3 years straight of mowing or burning one of these open environments can allow Callery pears to grow thick enough to damage some bush hogs. By year 5 of no mowing most bush hogs and tractor mowers can’t handle mowing an acre of 3” to 4” thick pear trunks. So, how do we manage these open environments in a way that fosters biodiversity while excluding Callery Pear Invasion?
Cultivating Biodiversity While Closing the Open Environment Pear Niche
This land management prescription is only for the pasture/field/prairie/vacant environments that are quickly turning into Callery Pear Forests.
Forming Continuous, Unfragmented Native Thicket
1. After Callery Pear/Honeysuckle removal; establish a native a mix of colonizing native thicket species and non-colonizing native thicket species to be managed as continuous un-fragmented thicket. As you can see in the Quapaw Wild Plum (Purnus hortulana) picture above, when native thicket species are allowed to establish continuously they form highly competitive interiors that are resistant to invasive plant invasion; though edges of thickets will always need some periodic management. Failure to create a continuous thicket will lead to invasive plant invasion throughout the native thicket, the niche needs to be closed and stabilized through unimpeded native thickets growth wherever the land won’t receive an annual mowing or burn. Good news is these native thicket species are perpetually trying to form this dwarf forest, and if they’re allowed to, they will. See the short list of colonizing thicket species and non-colonizing thicket at the end of the post.
Wrapping Annually Mowed or Burned Native Meadow/Prairie around the Native Thickets
2. If the land can be mowed or burned, establish a native prairie/meadow around the native thicket species. The more diverse the native prairie with competitive grasses and long lived prairie wildflowers, the more resistant the meadow/prairie will be to pear invasion. But as along as you’re sticking to mowing it once a year in the dormant season, then the make up of the native meadow/prairie matters less as the mowing will prevent pear invasion. On the other hand, the prairie grasses are necessary to create hot enough fires to burn back pear invasion. We don’t recommend burning the meadow/prairie until 10 years after the thicket species are planted so that the thickets have enough time to create dense enough colonies to resist fire damage. Fire is also non-selective where as mowing operator can mow around new native colonial thicket suckers allowing the thicket species to expand their footprint. The goal of the management plant should be to create a combination of continuous large islands of thickets in combination with annually mowed or burned native prairie/meadow to foster good ecological value and invasive plant resistance through a fully occupied and competitive native plant environment.
Here’s a list of colonizing and non-colonizing Native thicket species; plant them on 18-22 foot centers. Check to see if they’re native to your region before selecting them and chose 2 Colonizing species per 1 non-colonizing species for most effective land coverage. The exact thicket species selection ultimately should be determined by the characteristics of your site which often requires a native plant-skilled professional to determine.
Native Colonial Species (Space Eaters/Niche Closers)
Wild Plum species; Sumac Species, Roughleaf Dogwood, Gray Dogwood, Chokecherry, Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, Devil’s Walking Stick, Native Crabapple species (i.e. Malus coronaria)
Wafer Ash, American Hazelnut, Hawthorn Species, Eastern Redbud, Silky Dogwood, Arrowood Viburnum
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Native Plant Agriculture (NPA) is the implementing of edible native plants as the basis of a primarily perennial agricultural system that mimics native plant communities in format. The goal of NPA is to expand native vegetation back into agricultural land to support a significant level of biodiversity while improving human-food productivity for a changing climate and growing population.
Hyperlinks for the Printed-Version
Part 1. A Native Nursery Model - 4 Chapters ; A Guide for Empowerment, Nursery Materials vs. Pay-off, Nursery Layout, Watering and Fencing
Part 2. Native Plant Propagation – 6 Chapters; Herbaceous Plants, Woody Plants, Recommended Pots and Fertilizers, Seed Sowing and Transplanting Seedlings, Growing on a Micro-scale for Small Projects, Organic Pest Management
Part 3. Sales, Installation, and Native Plant Horticultural Guidance – 3 Chapters; Selling the Plant Stock, Installation, and Native Plant Horticultural Guidance
This page servers as the external, online document to bring the printed version of this book to life by providing the hyperlinks available in the e-book version to readers who chose the printed version.
The links are organized by Chapter, and in sequential order.
This Book is designed to empower individuals, businesses, non-profits, and public organizations to grow high quality native plants for their projects in support of biodiversity and restoration. The 13 Chapter eBook is sectioned off into 3 parts; Part 1. A Native Nursery Model, Part 2. Native Plant Propagation, Part 3. Sales, Installation and Native Plant Horticultural Guidance.
Our goal with this Book is to make the lack of native plant availability a non-issue through providing people the native plant tailored horticultural knowledge needed to propagate native plants. It is most applicable to the states and regions depicted on the underlying map of the book cover. The information in this ebook is sourced from the first hand experience of the business; Indigenous Landscapes.
The Printed book price is $19.75 + $2.75 Shipping within the U.S.
The ebook version is $18.50 available at this link. Kobo works with with PC, and tablets or smartphones, but not Mac-Laptops.
I. A Native Nursery Model - Chapters
A Guide for Empowerment - Chapter 1.
Nursery Materials Vs. Pay-Off - Chapter 2.
Micro/Macro Nutrient Liquid Fertilizer—-Anderson Band Pots —-800 conetainer pots —-5 foo T-Post—--Fencing —-Nursery Mat —-Staples—-Wheelbarrow—-16’ x 20’ Tarp —-Scoop Shovel —-Timer —-Hose—-Sprinkler —-3 gram Fertilizer Tablets —-Micronutrient 50lb bag—--Bareroots for tree/shrub production——Resources such as this one
Nursery Layout - Chapter 3.
Watering and Fencing - Chapter 4.
II. Native Plant Propagation - Chapters 5-10
Herbaceous Plants - Chapter 5.
Woody Plants - Chapter 6.
Recommended Pots, Pot-Loading, and Fertilizer - Chapter 7.
D40L Deepots—-Mini-Tree pots (MT37)—- D60L—-Tree Pots (CP412CH)—-Anderson Band Pots (AB512)—-D40L—-MT37—-D60L—-CP412CH—-AB512—-Support boards recommended—-Pot Loading and Fertilizer Application Video —-Fill the pots to the top—-Fertilizer application step ——Micronutrient —— NPK Micronutrient ——Liquid Fertilizer Application—— 10 gram NPK/Micronutrient tablets
Seed Sowing and Transplanting Seedlings - Chapter 8.
Growing on a Micro-Scale for Small Projects - Chapter 9.
Organic Pest Management - Chapter 10.
III. Sales, Installation, and Native Plant Horticulture - Chapters 11-13
Selling the Plant Stock - Chapter 11.
Installation - Chapter 12.
Native Plant Horticultural Guidance - Chapter 13.
For a broader Indigenous Landscapes educational resource see this website link.
This page consolidates our educational facebook page posts, and E-Books for your educational use. Our topics range from native thickets, savannas, forests, grasslands, native plant gardening, invasive species, native plant agriculture, native wetlands, and native-aquaculture.
Facebook Business Page
As of 2019, our Facebook Business Page is the number 1 native plant, restoration, and sustainable horticulture page as far as likes, comments, and shares per post; proportionate to our total FB followers. We think it’s a page worth clicking the “see first” option on as we aim to provide high quality material with each post, typically posting 3 times a week.
We’re actively using our Linked In page, posting once to twice a week.
This Newsletter will be sent out 6-8 times a year, announcing E-Books, Presentations, and Events such as our future Native Food Festivals that will promote Native Plant Agriculture.
What's the only renewable energy that sequesters carbon while restoring biodiversity? Native Grasslands; sequestering an average of 100 tons of carbon per acre in the soil, while producing 3-6 tons of biomass per acre, which is the renewable energy harvest. Since it's the only renewable energy that in anyway restores an ecosystem, we call it a Restorative Energy.
The way prairie grass biomass becomes an efficient source energy is through condensing it into pellets to use as a coal replacement for electricity production and for direct heating for buildings (commercial, industrial, residential). Ethanol production conversely (conversion to liquid fuel) is a net-loss of energy whether it's from corn, soybeans, wood, or grass, as it takes more fossil fuel energy to produce it, than it yields, yet 40% of our corn production is wasted on this net-loss energy production. Conversely, Grassland Biomass has a 10 to 1 energy output per input ratio.
Prairies contrast with wind and solar as a restorative energy through the fact that the infrastructure (grasslands) is a form of habitat that will restore a level of biodiversity. The biomass energy produced is renewable because it doesn't add additional carbon to the atmosphere that wouldn't be re-sequestered in the following year's vegetative growth (Carbon Neutral). Above ground vegetation in prairies is destined for the atmosphere either through decay or burning either way, harvesting the biomass just turns the vegetation into a renewable energy (biomass pellets) before it decays or is burnt on-site. This carbon is then recaptured from the atmosphere through the following years vegetative growth, making the burning of it carbon neutral.
Biodiversity increase and carbon sequestration are two things wind farms and solar panel fields do not support, though wind farms could potentially be married with grassland biomass production prairies. This is why Prairie Biomass needs to be a part of every renewable energy conversation in the U.S.
The only ecosystems that sequester significantly more carbon than grasslands are boreal forests where decay is slowed by low temperatures, and wetlands where decay is slowed by saturation. Grasslands sequester about as much carbon per acre as tropical rain forests, but in the soil, not in the above ground vegetation. Hemp, and Non-Native Bamboo have little ecological/biodiversity value in comparison to native prairies, and do not hold the soil carbon sequestration value for lowering the PPM in the atmosphere, making native grassland restoration the best foot forward.
This is a remnant tall grass prairie west of Columbus Ohio of the Darby Plains region. This half of an acre remnant once stretched across millions of acres of Ohio, currently now nearly all livestock feed. What's happening around the world today; the conversion of ecosystems into livestock feed, has already happened in the U.S. primarily during the 1800's and 1900's. The soybean/corn crops are converted at a 87%-99% waste ratio into meat. Learn more here: http://www.pioneersprouts.com/blog/2019/1/7/the-number-1-source-of-ecosystem-displacement-in-the-eastern-us
To make space for significant restoration of native grasslands as a biomass source of energy , like with other biodiversity and climate change mitigations, it requires a great reduction in the production of livestock feed.
This presentation indicates that wildflower diversity in these plots decreases grass biomass but increases overall biomass production, suggesting these biomass fields can much more than prairie grass. See the 22-25 minute mark for a quick summary of those findings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zxw3IRC1jE4
Consider sharing this article to help people become aware of this biodiversity and climate change mitigation option.
Did you know the majority of Ecosystem Displacement/Habitat Loss in the Eastern U.S. and Canada is due to the production of annual crops for livestock feed and ethanol production? The 40% of corn grain that is turned into Ethanol occupies is far less energy efficient than renewable energy as far as energy put in vs energy output. Some studies have even found that Ethanol is a net loss of energy.
One aspect about meat production that is not well known is Cows convert only 1%-3% of what they eat into human harvested food (97%-99% waste). Chickens are the most efficient of all livestock converting 11%-13% (87%-89% waste) of what they eat into human harvested food, and pigs lie between cow and chicken as far as conversion efficiency. People often surmise that cow production is acceptable because they eat grass that grows in areas where we can't productively grow crops for humans consumption. This is only the case in arid or very cold regions that do not grow much human edible food in the form of plants. But anywhere that's highlighted green is cropland capable of growing perennial or annual foods for direct human consumption.
Ironically our driest cropland grows the most human consumed food, Wheat. The most intense area of wheat production occurs in the driest region of cropland where soy and corn can’t grow as productively. Wheat production is the least wasteful as only about 10% is feed to livestock, 50% is exported to be eaten directly by humans, 4% is harvested to replant, and 36% is eaten by Americans. So the fact that wheat grows in our driest cropland region, and +85% consumed by humans, makes it our least negatively environmental impactful crop outside of corn directly consumed by humans such as sweet corn and Native American varieties of corn. The reason why Native American varieties of corn, which have never been bred to feed to livestock, would be the least impactful annual crop is due to the fact these varieties of corn would still produce more food per acre than wheat, and they are bred to be consumed directly by humans. Livestock varieties of corn are not considered desirable for human consumption.
Foods directly consumed by humans cut out the 87%-99% loss that is the cost of converting feed (corn/soy/hay/sorghum/alfalfa) into meat. Some meat conversion studies have found ratios even lower, at 1% to 11% from Cow to chicken (89%-99% Waste).
Percent/Units of Edible Output per 100 Units of Feed
Poultry – Calories – 11% (89% loss)
Pigs – Calories – 10% (90% loss)
Cows/Beef – Calories – 1% (99% loss)
Source: World Resources Institute (w/UN & WB): Creating a Sustainable Food Future, p.37
Let’s be fully aware of the land/ecosystem sacrifice it requires to waste 87%-99% of the crops we grow for livestock feed to harvest the 1%-13% of human harvested food in the form of meat. There is not only a nearly unimaginable biodiversity cost, but the carbon and methane released from the conversion of Savanna, Forest, Wetlands, and Grasslands into annual crop production is also major climate cost in the form of greenhouse gases. Much of the deforestation in South America in present day, is a page out of this playbook of converting ecosystems into livestock feed for meat production. Not to mention the +30% of the fish caught from our oceans are fed to chickens, pigs, and fish farms.
This post doesn’t factor grazed forest, savanna, or pasture/grassland, of which there can be more “sustainable” grazing patterns employed at a low enough stocking rate to promote some level of biodiversity. But this purely grass fed diet would still require lessened meat production and would also be a waste of land as far as calories harvested per acre in the moist Eastern half of the U.S and Southern Canada, which can grow crops directly consumed by humans due to our rainfall. The less calories we harvest per acre, the more acreage is needed for crops in a world destined for a population 10 billion people by 2050. The more acreage needed for crops or cow grazing in the eastern half of the U.S., the less opportunity for large habitat restoration.
Americans consume the 2nd most meat per person in the world, weighing in at over 270 pounds consumed per person per year. The lowest countries in meat consumption come in at 7 pounds per person per year. If we could limit our consumption to 1 pound a week, it would put us at 52 pounds per year, which is a 81% reduction. Shifting that 1 pound per week to the most efficient converters of feed, Chicken and Fish, would also minimize the land needed to produce the meat we consume. These are kind of changes needed for large scale restoration and climate change mitigation to be possible.
The best case scenario for Native Grasslands and our climate, remains the cessation of grain production for livestock feed, and large scale restoration of native prairies for Bison/Elk as opposed to grasslands managed purely for meat production. This wouldn't threaten our ability to feed ourselves, but it would require lessened consumption and lessened export of meat products. We also export grain to feed other countries livestock, at the same 87%-99% crop waste rate. Global demand is a factor that is mostly out American citizens control, but if the U.S can greatly decrease meat consumption and replace ethanol production with renewable energy production, we can free up land for large-scale grassland restoration for our native grazers, biodiversity, and for carbon sequestration. This is to say, cows are not necessary for biodiversity improvements in grasslands, bison and elk can fill that role as they have for millions of years, without human assistance, specifically in scenarios that wolves or meat harvesting plans are allowed to balance their populations.
It's impossible to holistically consider conservation and restoration without being aware of the fact that our most displaced ecosystems are not displaced out of the necessity of feeding human populations, but rather, for the commodity of meat production in the form of livestock feed and inefficient ethanol fuel production.
This is why, Indigenous Landscapes is devoted to the research, demonstration, and application of Native Plant Agriculture. Through the conversion of cropland into native edible plants, we can support an agriculture system that includes, rather than excludes nature, and helps to return some of the carbon released from our ecosystems back into the soil and woody vegetation.
For more information on this alternative for Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration, see our website here: http://www.pioneersprouts.com/npa
The Challenges Facing Native Thicket Species
Throughout the glaciated midwest, upper midwest, and the more agriculturally impacted areas of the south; the rise of invasive shrubs and vines in combination with habitat loss of prairie and savanna from agriculture have lead to an incredible decline of native thickets.
Thickets that form in forests have faired much better than thickets that form in prairies and savannas, as proportionately more prairie and savanna ecosystems have been converted to agriculture than forest ecosystems in Eastern America. So while forest thicket species of Bladdernut, Spicebush, Redbud, Flowering Dogwood, PawPaw, and Black Haw viburnum still have great population strongholds in the less invaded forests, savanna/prairie thicket species such as American Hazelnut, Wild Plum species, certain Hawthorn species, Wafer Ash, and Sweet Crabapple are suffering localized extinctions. These Prairie-Savanna thicket species require much more sunlight than the forest-thicket species. With humans having converted most of these Savanna-Prairie habitats to agriculture for livestock feed, the prairie-savanna thicket species have been abandoned to live on fence rows and forest edges. Further decline over the past 70 years or so is from those fencerow and forest edges being over taken by invasive thicket species such as Buckthorn, Amur Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, Oriental Bittersweet, Kudzu, Japanese Honeysuckle and other edge dominant invasive plants, most of which are expanding their dominance outwards from metropolitan areas.
The Value of Native Thickets
Currently the biggest voice for conservation of native thickets is the hunting community due to their recognition that thickets attract and support much of the wildlife they seek out. Birders also often note that thickets are frequently used by native birds for nesting, insect forage, and fruit and seed foraging. Think of native thickets as mini-forests which within every plant creates a berry or fruit, a seed or nut, or leaves that can be used by a great portion of the wildlife community from insects, to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Prairie-Savanna thickets naturally would have been complemented by native wildflowers and grasses along with fire tolerant oaks and hickories that could withstand the surrounding prairies burning. The combination of native wildflowers/grasses, native thickets, and savanna spaced oaks and hickories was arguably the most wildlife supportive native ecosystem compared to continuous forest or continuous prairie. Beneficiaries of native prairie-savanna thickets would be Bear, Elk, White Tail Deer, Turkey and other ground dwelling birds like Bob White Quail, Prairie Chicken, Rough Grouse as well as non-ground dwelling birds, Raccoon, Possum, Skunk, Groundhogs, Rodents, Fox, Weasel, Rabbits, Snakes, and Tree and Meadow dwelling Frogs. Beavers once played a nation-wide role of thicket maintenance through the felling of large thicket suppressing forest trees which promoted faster regenerating thicket species who could withstand more frequent beaver harvests. The wetlands Beavers created also promoted wetland thickets. Edible species of native thickets also hold great value and potential in Native Plant Agriculture including the many Wild Plum species, American Hazelnut, PawPaw, Chokecherry, and Sweet Crabapple.
Our Native Thicket Conservation Project
1. To establish native thickets containing our Conservation Target Species (CTS-explained at the end of the article) each year from the local collected seed, grown in our nursery for installing on public or non-profit owned land as well as privately owned lots.
2. To protect remnant populations of our Conservation Target Species through invasive plant management directly around the individuals found on non-profit, private, or public property. These are also our seed sources for local genotype.
3. To create the same awareness in public/private conservation efforts that focus on reforestation, wetland restoration/construction, and prairie restoration/construction; to the forgotten yet essential plant community that is native thickets/shrubland. Thickets are often thought of as merely successional as opposed to a long-term part of our different ecosystem types. The perception of native shrublands/thickets must grow to be recognized as a part of savanna, prairie, wetland, and forest ecosystem that adds notable biodiversity to these systems.
1. Execute the establishment/restoration of native thickets for educational/awareness raising purposes from the local genotype plants grown in our nursery in the public/private sectors.
2. Work to eradicate invasive plants surrounding remnant populations of our conservation target species on public, private, or non-profit owned land.
3. Use our Business Facebook page as our media outlet to model to and educate local and regional metropolitans about the need for intentional management of thicket species for biodiversity and to protect local populations.
4. Secure the short-term future of our conservation target species through creating horticultural and native plant-agricultural interest. These private sector plantings can conserve local genotype seed sources for long-term restoration. This does not mean the breeding of cultivars, rather, the adoption of straight species into the private sector landscape for seed production.
Conservation Target Species (CTS)
These are species deemed most at risk of localized extinction due to historical savanna/prairie habitat loss combined with more recent invasive plant expansion. All of the following species were once dominant in Prairie-Savanna Thickets.
Wild Plums species: Prunus americana, Prunus mexicana, Prunus angustifolia, Prunus munsoniana, and Prunus hortulana
Hawthorn species: More research needed to identify which are most at risk and which are more common/stable.
Sweet Crabapple (Malus coronaria), American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), and Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata)
Non-Conservation Target Species that will be included for biodiversity depending on the site: Roughleaf Dogwood, Flowering Dogwood, Silky Dogwood, Elderberry, Ninebark, Nannyberry Viburnum, Chokecherry, Arrowwood Viburnum will be the majority. In later stages of thicket maturation, native vines that co-exist with thickets will be introduced such as American Bittersweet and Virginia Creeper, for added biodiversity.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
1. Contributing Seed and learning how to identify CTS for seed collection and remnant protection. Following the infographics the Indigenous Landscapes Facebook page publishes is a great start in understanding these at-risk species.
2. If you work for a park system or non-profit land conservancy, talking to co-workers about the need for native thicket restoration, and creating a plan of action to add native thickets to existing fields or prairie restorations.
3. As a private individual, become a protector and/or promoter of native thickets through the establishment of native thickets on your property. The CTS are best established on sunny wood edges where invasive honeysuckle/buckthorn/autumn olive has recently been removed or in fields/prairies/lawns where they have the opportunity to spread out and fruit heavily. These private sector native conservation thickets will serve as future seed sources for larger restoration along with attracting local wildlife to your yard.
We’ll have all of our CTS available at plant sales next year for public purchase.
This blog post will cover a few things you can do to maximize tree growth, survival rate, health, production (fruit/nut), and longevity. The following instructions should lead to the following benefits to your tree.
1. Reversing soil compaction around the tree, increasing percolation of water, porosity, bettering soil structure and water + air holding capacity which benefits ability to photosensitize and grow.
2. Minimizing root competition from lawn which boosts growth, health, and longevity especially during the immature years of the tree.
3. Localizing an abundant reservoir of bio-available (plant absorbable) minerals and nutrients, while creating a biological hot zone around the tree providing natural benefits to the soil. This includes the restoration of a very biologically active O layer.
Negative effects of managing tree root zones with lawn or small mulch rings + lawn.
Mowers + the weight of human traffic (we're big animals!) maintains a level of compaction one does not encounter on a forest floor. That is why you can "sink" an inch or two into the topsoil of a forest floor, but in a lawn, it is more sturdy, solid, compacted. Compaction means less pore space, less pore space means the soil has a lessened ability to hold air and water, both essential to plant photosynthesis. Compacted soil can be one of the most limiting growth factors that a plant faces. Newly constructed developments, especially within the past decade or so, are notoriously compacted, but we can reverse that. Compacted soil not only has poorer pore space, but directly related to that issue, water has a more difficult time percolating, so more water runs off the surface instead of seeping into the soil.
Lawn gets an early start in up taking available nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. Because most lawns in the midwest are composed of cool season grasses, they begin growth in late march/early April in many springs, just when many of our native trees are sending sap back above ground, but well before our native trees begin to leaf out. Turfgrass then continues rampant growth throughout May and June trying to reach flowering height so it can set seed by July, we interrupt that cycle through mowing causing the turf to perpetually attempt to reach flowering height absorbing significant amounts of nutrients as long as the soil is moist enough to promote new growth. One positive thing though is, since we mow lawn, it has very short root systems, and tree roots can often monopolize moisture in the subsoil.
When we're trying to establish saplings or even large balled and burlap trees, the trees have to send roots that fight through the tight sod of lawn, inching year by year to find underground niches of available water/nutrients that either the lawn isn't using or the tree outcompetes the lawn for. This competition that lawn provides to establishing trees, is one of the main retardants of tree growth while immature. Most trees if planted correctly and sited well, eventually over come the lawn and establish their dominance, but the lawn still played a retarding role in each of those tree's establishing growth, and possibly the tree's longevity.
Lack of O layer; the O layer (Organic matter layer) within the soil profile is different from ecosystem to ecosystem. A prairie O layer is very thick and well developed unless it's a glade like prairie. O Layers of temperate forest soils are often rich of partly decomposed leaves, twigs, branches, and logs, all the while relatively shallow compared to a Prairie O layer. The O layer in a wetland or boreal forest is often very deep, as organic matter has a hard time breaking down due to too much moisture (anerobic conditions) or not enough heat and unfrozen moisture (boreal forest). The O layer of a lawn (thatch) is typically plain pitiful in comparison to the O layer of a real ecosystem. So our trees are growing without the most biologically active, and nutrient rich layer of the soil profile. We'll talk about reviving the O layer later in the blog.
The Short Version (Recap)
The Many Effects of Compaction
Mowers + human foot traffic maintain an unnatural level of compaction, reducing pore space in the soil which reduces available soil moisture, air holding capacity, and reducing percolation all of which are retardant factors affecting of growth, health, and longevity.
Nutrient and Resource Competition
Cool season turfgrass gets an early jump on available nutrients, and spends a lot of energy spring and early summer trying to flower causing the grass to continue to compete for available nutrients. Turfgrass roots/sod must be conquered by every tree we're trying to establish in a lawn, traditionally, (we're going to discuss a new way) therefor in the establishment years of a tree, they're forced to fight inch by inch through the already established, perennial turfgrass to create their own root zone retarding growth and vigor. Imagine putting a Zinnia in a lawn, and a Zinnia in a container, which will row faster, mature larger, and possibly even live longer?
Absent O Layer
Outside of Deserts, nearly all ecosystems have significant O layers (Organic Matter Layer) which often hold the largest reservoir of bio-avaialble nutrients and biologically activity (soil life). The O layer of lawn is a very thin layer of thatch that cannot start to compare with the value of a forest, prairie, or wetland O layer. Our trees are essentially missing a very important layer of their original soil profile. Lack of O layer also creates highs and lows in soil temperatures and lessened ability to hold moisture in the A layer (topsoil), which is not good for anyone
So we need to flip all of these limiting factors, into reasons why our trees are thriving, live long, and grow vigorously. This requires biomimicry with some modification to speed up, maximize , and sustain nutrient availability + humus production.
Instead of planting our new native tree in a lawn subjected to mowing, foot traffic and lacking an O Layer, we're going to give our newly planted tree a patch of Savanna-like soil conditions and add some deer protection, which is often lacking but completely essential in Midwestern metropolitan property open to deer browse and rubbing.
Have you ever "potted up" a young tree? This means to move it from a 1 gallon to a 5 gallon pot, or a 5 gallon to a 15 gallon pot. When this happens the tree has a chance to expand it's roots, which corresponds with an increased ability to grow above ground in stem/leaf form. When you plant a tree sapling, or 1 gallon or 5 gallon or whatever sized tree into a lawn, you're essentially potting it up, except the pot has no bottom.....or edges.....but this new pot (the lawn) has water and nutrient thirsty turfgrass.....and heavy animals called humans compacting the soil.....and the sometimes heavy machinery, mowing the thirsty grass.
So what can we do to give our new planting a easier time expanding it's root system?
Get rid of the grass. How? Smothering with cardboard if organic, herbicide by the label, if not. Organic method is better for soil biology in the short-term, at least. Tilling and Solarization with black or clear plastic damages soil biology in the short-term, at least.
We've stopped mowing, and stopped walking around the tree. We've also gotten rid of the grass within the recommended diameter circle pictured above.
Ok easy enough, so what's next?
Next we work on restoring the O layer.
We're concerned with restoring a biologically active, moisture retentive, nutrient dense O layer which doesn't significantly form within a lawn, but was part of all of our major ecosystems soil profiles excluding deserts. If you used cardboard to kill of the grass in the rootzone, remove it before adding the below recommended materials.
If you're installing the zone in the fall, get as diverse amount of tree leaves as possible. Some tree leaves aren't very carbon dense and break down quickly like Hackberry, Silver Maple, Black Cherry, Black Locust, Black Walnut, and Honeylocust. Sugar Maple, Black Maple, Oaks, Hickories, Beech Trees, and a few other trees produce leaves heavier in carbon, and longer lasting. Try to collect more of the latter than the carbon-lite leaves.
If you use a strong push behind or walk behind mower that can bag the shredded leaves or mulch them in place, go for a a <1" application of shredded leaves. This is a bit more than would naturally fall in one area, but since they're shredded, they shouldn't last more than 1 year which means the soil biology is releasing their nutrients through decomposition into the root zone of your new tree.
If you can't shred your leaves go for a 2-3" application of un-shredded leaves, but be sure to not pile the leaves directly around the trunk, as that can promote negative fungal activity on the bark of your tree and rot it to death. By the end of the winter the 2-3" application should look like a 1-2" matted application of tree leaves. Shredding the leaves is best for quicker release of nutrients aka decomposition. Though unshredded leaves may be better for attracting beneficial insects due to the micro-habitat created within layered leaves.
If you're installing the zone in the spring, utilize straw bales going for a 3" layer somewhat loosely laid, perhaps 2" if straw is compacted well. Straw won't have the mineral quality of tree leaves, but will provide some trace minerals, nitrogen, and carbon for humus (o layer) formation. Alternatively apply 1-2 inches of leaf compost, or 3-4 inches of regular compost throughout the root zone with 2" of straw on top.
Pictures above Fill the Root zone with fall leaves from as many different species as possible. Then mow all of the leaves up in place or bag them with a mower and spread the shredded leaf matter throughout the zone. Your finished product should have turned the leaves into not much visually, rest assured, there is an abundance of nutrients ready to be released from those leaves.
Maximizing Available Nitrogen + Other Nutrients within the No Mow Zone
The tree leaves or straw will be providing a broad spectrum of minerals as they decompose over the course of 8-12 months after applying. Again, shredding is best, though it is more difficult to shred straw without an actual leaf shredder. These materials are high in carbon and many minerals, promoting the formation of the O Layer (partly decomposed organic matter). These materials are not very dense in nitrogen though, and to make sure your tree has an abundance of this key nutrient available, the rootzone will need some nitrogen rich materials added throughout the growing season (Late March-September)
After the first growing season
The rootzone of your tree should be developing humus (mostly decomposed organic matter). It should also be inhabited by beetles, ants, spiders, and many other insects moving throughout the O layer. You can add a log or two into the root zone which may attract beneficial insects. As long as it's not buried, it wont' significantly affect your Carbon : Nitrogen ratio balance, though it should be colonized by the fungal community over time which may be connected with your establishing tree exchanging nutrients and biochemicals. If you're limiting your walking in the zone, you should also feel the soil softening/aerating after the first growing season, perhaps you can push your finger into the soil a bit, or a lot, if you're so lucky to have a burrowing animal tunneling through your root zone! All of this soil life, burrowing/tunneling activity, and insect activity are positives for our key goals: nutrient availability, reversal of compaction, moisture retention ability of the soil profile, humus formation, and water percolation.
Throughout the summer months (May-August), if you're local area is falling behind on average rainfall, give the whole rootzone 1.5" of water, twice a month. You can measure that setting up a sprinkler, and placing an open evenly shaped container in the zone watching to see how quickly it is reaching 1.5" of water in the container. Tuna cans work great for that or just a rain gauge.
By the end of your first summer, your root zone should not have an O layer thicker than 2". Also un-decomposed organic matter, again, should not be pilled up or in direct contact with the trunk. It would be best to add only shredded leaves each fall, this will ensure quicker breakdown of the leaves, preventing the O Layer from being "too thick" and carbon dense. How thick is too thick? I'm not sure. But the objective isn't to create a compost pile around your tree. Revisit the soil profile picture above. 2" is probably the thickest you want the O layer.
After 7-10 years (Growing seasons)
Keep the root zone protection in place to protect the drip line, and instead of adding tons of carbon and nitrogen rich organic matter, simply add enough tree leaves in the fall to maintain a 2” thick O layer. There's also no need to shred the leaves at this point unless they are being wind swept over the winter.
At this point you can also expand the root zone, to give you're maturing tree more biologically active, non-compacted soil, if you can afford to loose more lawn, the tree will be most appreciative.
Ornamentalizing the Rootzone
Killing the turf grass within the No-Mow/Walk Zone is ideal. We recommend for it to be replaced with a simple short seed mix of Black Eye Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Great Blue Lobelia, Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Golden Alexander, Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), and Virginia Wild Rye. This would be mowed down in the fall, or winter once a year over or under the tree leaves. Their mowed stems, if mowed high enough (3"-4" high), will also help the tree leaves stay in place. It is important the shred the leaves finely the first fall, so that this seed mix can make soil contact over the winter (Fall seeded). If this seed mix is applied overtop or underneath unshredded leaves, it will not germinate well.
Hickories are a common tree of Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern Forest types. These trees are known for producing edible kernels and economically valuable timber. They support the caterpillars over 200 butterflies/moths. Indigenous people pound the nuts and separate the shell to create different food products or process them with water to release the oils and flavors. Many people know of hickory through the flavor the wood’s smoke imparts onto grilled foods. Pecans are the most well known of the hickories, though this is written from primarily an Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana experience, and does not include pecans due to lack of encountered field samples in the natural environments of these states. Hickories have the highest calorie density and fat content of almost any food outside of whale lard which is nearly pure fat, making the small kernels worth processing from a sustenance perspective. There’s certainly a promising future for Hickories in Indigenous Agriculture.
In the OKI (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana) region at least 1 hickory species finds a niche to sustain itself within all forest types outside of the most frequently flooded floodplains dominated by Sycamore, Cottonwood, Silver Maple and formerly Green Ash. The 6 hickories we’re describing here are all large shade trees, often 3/4th’s of the mass of Oaks in maturity though every bit as tall. So when using them in the metropolitan landscape, plan for them to reach heights of over 65 feet tall, and widths of over 45 feet. All hickory kernels are edible, but Bitternut Hickory is like an acorn in that it must be leached of tannins before it is palatable.
This blog post will provide the specific habitat niche of each hickory species, restoration implications, and defining I.D. characteristics.
Shellbark Hickory - Carya laciniosa - OKI Habitat/Niche
Shellbark Hickory occurs on neutral-alkaline alluvial terraces, occasionally flooded neutral-alkaline flood plains, neutral-alkaline glacial outwash, weakly acidic (6.5+PH) to alkaline glacial till or bedrock soils (residuum) of the same PH range. It is commonly associated with Blue Ash, White Ash, Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, Bur Oak, Bitternut Hickory, Black Maple, and Sugar Maple. This tree is a good indicator of a soil PH of at least 6.5 or higher. It reaches its greatest productivity on Wisconsin Glacial Till of variable drainage and glacial outwash. It is tolerant of seasonally high water tables (swampy), and has a similar flooding tolerance (river/stream flooding) as Black Walnut and Bur Oak whom are common associates with it on occasionally flooded flood plains and/or alluvial terraces.
For restoration, while it can be established in acidic soils, it is most naturally competitive in the stated PH range of +6.5, and is best kept in that range for long-term success/unassisted reproduction. This is a good tree to plant, if human-planted trees on your site are showing signs of iron chlorosis or magnesium deficiency, typically seen in Acidic soil obligate species such as Red maple, Sweet Gum, Swamp White Oak, River Birch, and Pin Oak.
Key Defining Characteristics
The shaggy light gray bark of the Shellbark shares similarity only with Shagbark (Carya ovata) locally. Use the leaflet of 7, and sometimes 9 with the shaggy bark to separate it from Shagbark as Shagbark nearly always has leaflets of 5 locally. In the winter time, if you don't have access to the leaflets, use the very large nuts + Bark to separate Shagbark and Shellbark. Shagbark nuts (not husks) should not be larger than the spread of a quarter, while Shellbark should have larger, more spherically or elongated golf ball sized nuts. See first diagram for reference.
Shagbark Hickory - Carya ovata - OKI Habitat/Niche
Shagbark Hickory occurs as a common species in strongly acidic soils to near neutral PH (5-6.8PH). It is a consistent indicator of acidic soil where naturally occurring and associated with one or more these following species; Sweet Gum, Black Gum, Sassafras, Mockernut Hickory, Pignut Hickory, Pin Oak, Black Oak, Scarlet Oak, Red Maple, or Shingle Oak. It is an indicator of weakly acidic or neutral soil (6.5-7.0 PH) when associated with one or more of the following species Chinquapin Oak, Shumard Oak, Bur Oak, Kentucky Coffee Tree, or Blue Ash. Because of it's preference for acidic soil and adaptability to low or high moisture availability and poorly drained soils, it finds a place in many forest types. It’s co-dominant in Acidic Forested Wetlands featuring Pin Oak, Swamp White Oak, Beech, Green Ash, Red Maple, Sweet Gum canopies; it’s also very shade tolerant in these Acidic Forested Wetlands. It can also be found in very well drained acidic soils, the common denominator is acidity, not moisture level. In restoration it should only be planted in soils of a PH less than 7.0 to mimic or match it’s original niche.
Key Defining Characteristics
Bark-See above Picture Leaflet-of 5
What separates Shagbark from all other hickories except for Shellbark Hickory is the mature form of it's bark. In the growing season, use the leaflet of 5 paired with the bark to separate it from Shellbark. In the winter, use the nut size comparisons shown in the opening picture + bark, though nut comparison is less reliable to the inexperienced eye.
Mockernut Hickory - Carya tomentosa - OKI Habitat/Niche
Mockernut Hickory is overall less common than Shagbark Hickory, but occurs in very similar habitats. It is an occasional species in Acidic Wetland forests, though in my observation, its often directly associated with White Oak, Beech, and Sugar Maple which are less high water table tolerant as Swamp White Oak and Red Maple, indicating that it may be occurring in slightly better drained portions of Acidic Wetland Forests. It’s been observed increasing in dominance on slopes of over 3% on high water table acidic glacial till plains where drainage is better supporting acidic well drained soil associates such Black Oak and Pignut Hickory. Mockernut Hickory’s other niche is well drained acidic soil, whether from acidic bedrock (residuum) in unglaciated regions or acidic glacial till deposits in glaciated regions. Restoration is fairly straight forward, stick to acidic soils that are better drained than the most poorly drained high water tables, and it should be able to regenerate-long term. If drainage is questionable, but you know it’s acidic, use it on a slope of 3% of greater.
Key Defining Characteristics
Leaflet of 7 to 9 Nut (see original diagram) Bark (see picture above)
The leaflet of 7 to 9 narrows it down to being Shellbark, Mockernut, Sweet Pignut, or Bitternut Hickory. The nut clearly disqualifies sweet pignut, and bitternut. The Bark will clearly separate it from Shellbark Hickory as it doesn’t shag. The buds are also the largest of these 6 hickories, and they can be seen from the forest floor like the buds of a Buckeye. As you see more and more mockernut, you’ll also notice the twigs are less numerous and more proportionately thicker to support the heavy nuts, like walnuts, bur oaks, and buckeyes.
Bitternut Hickory - Carya cordiformis - OKI Habitat/Niche
Bitternut Hickories are the most widely adapted of our hickory trees, more generalist; less specialized. It will occur in soils within a PH range of 5-7+, and is the most commonly regenerated hickory of neutral to alkaline soils. They can occur on occasionally flooded flood plains with Shellbark Hickory, Black Walnut, and Bur Oak, or they can occur on thin bedrock soils the same. The two niches they do not occur in often are frequently flooded flood plains and forested wetlands. The nuts are high in tannins, like acorns, and are left much of the winter by wildlife until needed, choosing to eat less tannic nuts first if they are available. Humans can leach the tannins from these just like acorns are leached by indigenous people, and the reward being a hickory kernel that has a much higher nut meat to wood/shell ratio than the other 5 mentioned hickories in this post. Through pressing, a high quality hickory nut oil can be obtained, that also lacks the bitter/tannic quality of the unpressed kernels. This is the fastest growing hickory out of these 6 mentioned, and is one of the more shade tolerant (in its youth) of the bunch.
Key Defining Characteristics
The leaflet is most often 7-9, never 5, the wings on the husk of the nut are also a consistent, defining feature which separates it from all of the other 5 described. The terminal buds are yellowish, which is unique to Bitternut. The bark can sometimes look like Sweet Pignut bark at certain stages, it can also look like Mockernut bark in some expressions, the bark only easily separates it from Shellbark and Shagbark Hickories. You should be able to I.D. Bitternut with the leaflet of 7 to 9 plus terminal bud or the winged husk on the nut. With enough observation you’ll be able to recognize Bitternut based on the bark alone in most cases.
Pignut Hickory - Carya glabra - OKI Habitat/Niche
Pignut Hickory is a less dominant hickory in our region compared to the other hickories. It’s restricted to acidic soils like Mockernut Hickory and Shagbark Hickory but it does not occur in seasonally high water tables, and tends to stick to rocky acidic residuum soils and acidic glacial till deposits on slopes greater than 5% (well drained). Where soils are acidic and drought prone due to lack of depth and/or steep sloped, it seems Pignut has an competitive advantage though it appears as a minority species in deep acidic, well drained soils too. For restoration, I strongly recommend excluding Pignut from neutral and/or alkaline soil plantings as in all of our field studies it is always absent from this PH range, while showing an increase in frequency the more well drained and acidic the soil becomes. I’d also avoid seasonally high water tables, as it’s also completely absent from our field observations in these winter/spring saturated soils. Side note, Pignut Hickory may have the most magnificent fall color of all of the hickories listed here, from bright gold to orangish gold. It’s also a myth that all pignut hickories taste bitter or bad. Every pignut I’ve consumed had no bitterness and is on the same Pecan flavor spectrum that all hickories on, bitter or not.
Key Defining Characteristics
Nuts (Essential to I.D.)
The leaflet of 5 will narrow it down to Shagbark Hickory, Sweet Pignut Hickory, or Pignut Hickory. The bark will separate it from Shagbark Hickory. Sweet Pignut Hickory most commonly has leaflets of 7, but sometimes has populations that have leaflets of 5, where as Pignut is nearly always leaflets of 5….but sometimes 7. The only way to definitively separate Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) from Sweet Pignut Hickory (Carya ovalis) is the husk of the nut. If you look at the link we attached, Pignut Hickory husks do not dissect from the top to bottom on all sides, so the husk remains on the nut throughout the winter and rots away. Sweet Pignut husks, like Shagbark, Shellbark, and Mockernut, do have these creases/dissection lines that run from the top of the nuts to the bottom which causes them to release the nut fully as they dry out and mature. This is the most reliably defining characteristic, though as stated before, commonly, Sweet Pignuts have leaflets of 7 and Pignuts have leaflets of 5.
Sweet Pignut Hickory - Carya Ovalis - OKI Habitat/Niche
Sweet Pignut aka Red Hickory is about as common as Pignut Hickory, but has a wider range of adaptability. While Pignut hickory is completely restricted to acidic soils, Sweet Pignut has been found numerous times regenerating on Ordovician Limestone/Shale residuum soils of +6.8PH. Sweet Pignut also appears to be more common in the 6 PH range than Pignut Hickory, especially when studying forest regeneration on the Wisconsin Glacial Till Plains of SW Ohio and SE Indiana. However I don’t consider Sweet Pignut a PH generalist like Bitternut Hickory as it disappears in the higher alkalinity soils such as of Glacial Outwash parent materials; where only Shellbark (alkaline adapted) and Bitternut (True Generalist) have proven adapted. Glacial Outwash soils are generally more alkaline than Ordovician Limestone/Shale soils where Sweet Pignut has proven adaptation. The fall color ranges from yellow to plain brown, where as locally observed Carya glabra ranges from golds to orangish golds. Sweet Pignut, like Pignut, has not expressed itself in wetland forests of any PH range. For restoration, Sweet Pignut should regenerate long-term in moderately well drained soils in the PH range of upper 4 to 7.2 or 7.3. It is likely more adapted to acidic soils than neutral soils, it’s the most dominant hickory in the canopy of Lake Hope State Park in Ohio, where the residuum bedrock produces acidic enough soil to support Sourwood, in the 4 to 5 PH range.
Key Defining Characteristics
Terminal Bud (not yellow like Bitternut, not large like Mockernut) Bark (never as shaggy as Shagbark or Shellbark) Leaflet of 7 (commonly 7, but some populations have leaflet of 5) Nuts (Full dissection lines from top to bottom on all sides unlike Pignut)
Most Sweet Pignuts have leaflets of 7, but some populations consistently have leaflets of 5. If your hickory has a leaflet of 7, the bark will definitively I.D. it as Shellbark or Sweet Pignut based on the provided bark picture links. But Mockernut also commonly has leaflets of 7, compare the difference in nut size and the difference in terminal bud size to separate these two. Mockernut has large enough terminal buds to be seen from the forest floor like you can see Buckeye buds, where as sweet pignut buds are comparatively small. If it has a leaflet of 5, but lacks the shaggy bark of Shagbark hickory, it could be Pignut or Sweet Pignut. To repeat, sometimes Sweet Pignut has leaflets of 5 like Pignuts, so in this case in comes down to the husks of the nuts. Copied from the Pignut (Carya glabra) section; The only way to definitively separate Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) from Sweet Pignut Hickory (Carya ovalis) is the husk of the nut. If you look at the link we attached, Pignut Hickory husks do not dissect from the top to bottom on all sides, so the husk remains on the husk throughout the winter and must rot away. Sweet Pignut husks, like Shagbark, Shellbark, and Mockernut, do have these creases/dissection lines that run from the top of the nuts to the bottom which causes them to release the nut fully as they dry out and mature.
In exchange for this information, we ask that you share this post within your network to support our environmental education mission. Solomon Gamboa - Indigenous Landscapes.
This is the short version of an article written by Solomon Gamboa of Indigenous Landscapes. To see the full-length article written by Andrew Goebel of Indigenous Landscapes click here. The full-length offers more information on each topic written about in the short-version, as well as containing citations for quoted research.
In recent years we've become aware that Honeybees and Monarch Butterflies have suffered population declines due to various human activities. In response some organizations or individuals have tried to create habitat for pollinators within their properties. The chemicals that effect honeybees negatively have also been put under the microscope of the public's eye. The short version of this article is written to quickly broaden our perceptions and, perhaps, direct us in a productive path towards pollinator conservation.
Why do we care about pollinators?
If you care specifically about the production of honey, a product only attainable from the non-native Honeybee (Apis mellifera), there's no need to worry. As of this time, honeybee populations are stable, though colonies suffer from higher failure/death rates than in the past due to pathogens and parasitic insects. Our monoculture, weedless agricultural landscape of almond, apple, and cherry orchards can't support bees year-round, so these orchards are honeybee dependent by design not by necessity. This is to say, if we create habitat for our 4,000 species of Native Bees within our agricultural landscape, the honeybee is no longer necessary for it's pollination services. The convenience of being able to truck-transport honeybees from orchard to orchard enables these environments to be complete free of native plants that would support native bees and other pollinators on site for pollination. See the almond orchard picture below to see the system that creates portable honeybee hive dependency. Honeybees couldn't survive here either if they weren't trucked away afterwards, because there's nothing else to forage for after the Almond bloom peaks. They'd have to be fed corn syrup and sugar water to get by.
Why Should We Care About Native Pollinators?
Native bees account for over 50% of the insect pollination in our ecosystems. The plant diversity within our Desert, Grassland/Prairie, Savannas, Forests, and Wetland ecosystems is largely dependent on native pollinators which also includes flies, beetles, moths, butterflies and other species of insects. The remainder of the pollination is taken care of by the wind, which pollinates certain trees, shrubs, and grasses primarily. Since honeybees are non-native they are in no way necessary to the function of these ecosystems. While their negative effects haven't been thoroughly studied, resource competition and pathogen spreading from honeybees have indicated potential negative effects on native bee populations. See our extended version of this article for more details on negative impacts of honey bees on native bees. Without native plant diversity, we will see a further decline in biodiversity. Native pollinators help to ensure plant diversity through the pollination of plants that compete with wind-pollinated plants. To put it simply, loosing native pollinators would destroy the fabric of our ecosystems, which currently are the only terrestrial carbon sink mitigating climate change, improving water quality, improving air quality, and supporting the thousands of species that we exclude from our agricultural system.
What should I do, what should we do?
First, don't become a honeybee keeper, your passion and energy would be more productive doing some of the things we're about to recommend. Keeping honeybees cannot solve and in some ways may worsen the major issues with pollinator conservation. The decline of native bees and pollinators is primarily due to the destruction of our ecosystems (habitat loss), owed mostly to hundreds of millions of acres of agriculturally managed land. It isn't a farmer's fault entirely, our agricultural land is decided by what people demand/consume through diet choices and energy use but we'll save that for our next article. Further decline has happened as our rural and agricultural landscapes have become more intensively applied with herbicides that eliminate the wild plants our pollinator populations relied on. While invasive plants are now destroying the edge habitats which used to hold a high diversity of flowering plants where native pollinators could set up shop. Honeybees have actually been shown to increase the success of non-native invasive plants due to their willingness to pollinate them.
So what to do, what to do? Find ways to promote and support Indigenous Agroforestry.
Currently our agricultural system is based on annuals; corn, wheat, soybeans, and a few other crops which are all seed crops. Agroforestry replaces the annual seed crop system with perennial seed crops mostly in the form of tree nuts such as Pecans, Oaks, Chestnuts, Hickories, an Hazelnuts. These woody plants can be spaced out so their canopies don't touch allowing for smaller trees, shrubs, and herbaceous crops to be grown in between diversifying the agricultural landscape. Indigenous examples of the lower level plants would be Blackberries, Raspberries, Wild Plums, Serviceberry, Passionflower, Stinging Nettle, Groundnut, Grapes, Cut-leaf Coneflower, Jerusualem Artichoke, Evening Primrose, PawPaw, American Persimmon and many more. When agriculture shifts to an indigenous perennial system, soil is conserved, more carbon is sequestered in the soil and above ground, irrigation needs decrease, fertilizer needs decrease and biodiversity increases in response to the native plants. Since the plants are indigenous, it becomes "eco-inclusive", allowing all types of insects including pollinators, and higher life forms to co-exist. Compare this with our current agricultural system which is "eco-exclusive" primarily supporting one single species (humans). In fact, any food system that isn't based in indigenous plants is much more so eco-exclusive, as non-native plants lack the co-evolution with native insects and wildlife to support them.
When our agricultural system incorporates indigenous plants as the foundation, we no longer have to look at the hundreds of millions of acres of agricultural land as habitat loss in the way that we do today. This would also in part, mitigate what is called habitat fragmentation, by connecting perennial indigenous agroforestry land to existing undeveloped habitat. We would not need to talk about Monarch butterfly decline or pollinator decline if our Agricultural system would include them, instead of exclude them. Though this requires a shift in awareness of indigenous foods and diet choice by the people to support such a major transition.
Our Upcoming Workshops as Fundraisers for Indigenous Farm
Indigenous Landscapes is preparing to purchase a 12-15 acre piece of arable land locally, in the Cincinnati Region. This land will grow over 65 native species of food crops, over 30 native culinary and medicinal herb crops, while housing over 40 more native species of plants within a prairie for pollinator support on site. This amount of land will not produce a significant amount of food for the metropolitan, but it will instead serve as the source of indigenous foods for annual indigenous food festivals. These food festivals will be the way we promote indigenous Agroforestry to the public.
If you would like to support us in this conservation venture, please attend one or all of our upcoming workshops which have a $20.00 fundraising fee. Keep in contact with our Facebook Page or watch our Workshops page on our website to be sure you're registered once registration opens. The first workshop will be this March, focused on pollinator conservation. Your attendance will not only deliver you a high quality workshop, but 100% of the proceeds will go to funding the land purchase for this local indigenous plant farm, to be.
To see the full length version of this article with more statistics, insights, and research citations written by Andrew Goebel, follow this link.
This is the extended version of our article "Do you care about Bees or other Pollinators, Please read this..." This version, written by Andrew Goebel of Indigenous Landscapes, has more detailed insight into to the current state of native bees and honey bees with research sited in the end of the article.
The problem with pollinators
Much attention has been given to the decline of honey bee (Apis mellifera) populations and the potential consequences of their demise. Recent years have seen a rise in awareness of the importance of pollinators in general with much money and effort going towards creating “pollinator gardens” and “habitats” in cities, along highways, and our backyards. The majority of this attention has been on populations of honey bees and Monarch butterflies. When thinking of a pollinator, these are likely the two examples people have in mind. Although well intended, this narrow focus limits consideration of the bigger picture and the potential negative impacts of honey bees themselves.
Missing from popular discussion is the less well known fact that native bee species have been declining in recent decades. Since most of the 4000 species of native bees lead a solitary existence (they are not social and don’t live in hives) they are difficult to study. Therefore the majority of native bee research has examined bumble bees (Bombus spp.) since they live in small colonies. The findings highlight the need to implement conservation measures sooner rather than later. One quarter of our bumble bee species have experienced significant declines, including some of the most common species (1).
Why do we need native bees?
Not only can native bees pollinate the majority of world crops they are essential components of native ecosystems. Honey bees do not have the ability to “buzz pollinate” which is a requirement for 15,000-20,000 species of flowering plants (1). Decreased numbers of native bees contributes to decreased seed set from plants that they pollinate. In fact, pollination limitation is one of the most commonly found causes of reduced reproduction in wild plants (2). This results in decreased future forage opportunities, which further pressures native bees (1).
What is driving the decline in native bees?
It is widely assumed that habitat loss and fragmentation are some of the leading causes of native bee decline. While urbanization certainly contributes to these conditions, it is agriculture that accounts for the majority of land use. In the United States over 60% of the land has been converted to different forms of agriculture representing an enormous loss of habitat and degradation of forage for numerous organisms including native bees. Some mid western states have undergone dramatic conversions. Illinois, for example, has lost its most of its prairies, wetlands, and forests to agriculture amounting to 95% of the land area in the northern two thirds of the state. Half of the bumble bee species found historically in Illinois have been either locally extirpated or showed declines in distribution (3).
Most species of bumble bees are ground nesting. They build their homes in abandoned rodent burrows or other cavities within the soil. Prairie habitats that include sufficient areas of clumping grasses provide the necessary conditions for rodents to dig burrows. When farms in Illinois switched from having permanent and temporary pastures with wildflowers and multiple crops to primarily corn and soybean, the steepest declines in bumble bees occurred (3).
Fragmentation can be understood as a problem of ecosystem simplification. Despite mounds of research many ecosystem dynamics are still poorly understood. One theme that has emerged is that more complex environments support more species and are more resilient to change. The current agricultural system in the US is based on only a few crops which are often planted in large monocultures. These may be interspersed with patches of semi natural areas creating islands of habitat within a sea of agriculture. Areas that were once covered in any number of our thousands of native plants have become solid stands of only a few non native crops. This simplification of the environment has consequences.
Bumble bees require a variety of plants that flower at different times to provide food throughout the season. They are further specialized in their own emergence times and by length of their tongues which impacts what flowers they will visit. Agricultural conversion to only a few species of plants reduces the foraging window for all pollinators.
Issues with honey bees and domestication of other bees
Introduced from Europe, honey bees did not co-evolve with native bees or the ecosystems in which they have been placed. Like many other introduced organisms, their presence can have unintended and negative impacts on native flora and fauna. In fact there is ample evidence that honey bees can contribute to the decline of native bees and flora.
Honey bees compete for forage with native bees. Bumble bees have been shown to have reduced amounts of foraging in proximity to honey bee colonies - sometimes avoiding entire areas. The closer the nest sites the less that native bees were able to compete (4). Further, since honey bees focus on nectar collection instead of pollen they are less effective than native bees and other non bees (flies, beetles, etc) at pollinating and may be linked to the spread of invasive plants as well (1).
When honey bees encounter native bees on the same flower there is potential to spread parasites and disease. This is also true of domesticated native bumble bees. The system of apiculture and native bee domestication creates populations that can harbor much higher pathogen loads than wild or native bees, increasing their chances of exposure. It may be possible for honey bees to spread deformed wing virus to bumble bees which has been implicated in the colony collapse disorder phenomenon (1). Honey bees are shipped around the country to match various bloom times, mingling sick and healthy colonies.
Furthermore, pesticides that have been deemed “bee friendly” are only legally required to be tested on honey bees not native ones (4). Bumble bees are often active during pesticide application in the morning or evening that is timed to avoid mid day honey bee foraging (4).
What can be done?
Changing current agricultural practices is a clear way to mitigate the decline of native pollinators. Farmland designed to include sufficient habitat could support native bumble bees which have been to shown to effectively pollinate most crops without human intervention. A shift away from intense use of non native honey bees and other domesticated bees would lower competition with native pollinators and reduce the potential of debilitating pathogen outbreaks.
Transitioning to a food system based on native food plants could address multiple problems at once. In such a setup, crop land itself could actually act as habitat and begin to reconnect our fragmented landscape.
(1) Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. (2016). An overview of the potential impacts of honey bees to native bees, plant communities, and ecosystems in wild landscapes: Recommendations for land managers.
(2) Potts, S. G., et al. (2010). Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 25(6), 345-348.
(3) Grixtia, J. C., Wonga, L. T. (2009). Decline of bumble bees (Bombus) in the North American Midwest. Biological Conservation, 142(1), 75-84
(4) Goulson, D., Lye, G.C. (2008). The decline and conservation of bumblebees. Annual Review of Entomology, 53, 191-208