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May 23, 2008

Plant American! help offered on using native plants for wildlife and beauty

Wildlife biologists, foresters, extension agents and other natural resource professionals are increasingly turning to native plant species when managing land for wildlife, forest products, aesthetics, forage and other goals.
North Carolina State University recently launched a Web site that provides detailed information on how to choose, plant and manage native species on lands ranging from urban yards and parks, to rural conservation lands.  Dr. Chris Moorman, extension wildlife specialist for North Carolina State, headed up the team that put together the "Going Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants."

Moorman, who obtained his doctorate in wildlife at Clemson University, says that although the site is primarily focused on the North Carolina landscape, "Most, if not all, of the plants we present on the site work equally well for South Carolina." Covered are issues such as:

(1) why native plants are preferable (because they generally do not require coddling during extreme weather conditions nor to protect them from insects and other pests, since they are adapted to local environments; native wildlife species thrive alongside them, since they have interacted with one another for thousands of years; and they are part of our natural and cultural heritage)

(2) how to choose the right species for certain soil types, light and moisture requirements, and particular wildlife species, which species are resistant to deer browsing

(3) how to establish and manage these plants.
The Web site of the South Carolina Native Plant Society also has valuable information on why and how to plant and manage native species. Sudie Daves, wildlife biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in South Carolina, and member of the society, says that "native alternatives for long-used invasive exotic plant species are out there, it is just a matter of folks learning about them." Native herbaceous plant seeds are now becoming more readily available from seed vendors. Species that can be planted for soil stabilization on roads, disturbed areas, and for wildlife habitat include quickly establishing native grasses like Virginia wild rye, Canada wild rye, silky wild rye, deer tongue panic grass, and smooth panic grass. Native wildflowers like partridge pea, black-eyed susan, coreopsis, and Florida beggarweed work well in grass and forb seed mixes and will greatly benefit pollinators.

In the past, natural resources professionals all-too-often sadly ignored many of our native plant species, and instead brought in alien species from Europe and Asia when bare ground needed stabilization, and in attempts to create wildlife habitat and pasturage for livestock. The legacy of that trend is evident in the millions of acres in the U.S. that are infested with fescue, kudzu, autumn olive, interstate lespedeza, bahiagrass, privet, princess tree, tree-of-heaven, and other noxious pests. These species don’t stay where they are planted, and what is planted on one tract soon ends up on neighboring tracts, costing much time and money to control.

In South Carolina, residents like to promote use of local products. The S.C. Department of Agriculture promotes locally grown agricultural products with its "Nothing’s Better, Nothing’s Finer" slogan, and many residents like the idea of "Buying American" because they have pride in our own products, and like to support our country’s economy.

Long ago, wildlife biologists realized that managing native wildlife species made much better sense than introducing exotic animal species from other continents. Exotic animals tend to be either aggressive and take over habitat from native species, or else require constant nurturing in order to survive. It took us a lot longer to realize it, but biologists now know that introducing alien plant species for native wildlife habitat is often inefficient at best, and at worst can be economically and ecologically destructive. So help preserve our Southern heritage by planting and managing native plants, the ones that belong here.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina's natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state's natural resources and its people.

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