Putting Native Plants to Work

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

prairie, timber and thin, rocky outcroppings called glades.

"We have ridges in all directions," Jim said, "and that gives us a great amount of diversity."

They bought their property in 1990 and used Flora of Missouri to identify the native species they had, and to determine what would have grown there before settlement.

They found 350 native plant species, and they added others from several Grow Native! member nurseries. When they began periodically burning their landscape, Missouri's yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) started popping up.

Now they burn their prairies and thinned woodlots regularly. They burn some parcels annually, and others once every three years.

Although prescribed burning is central to their native landscape management, Jim and Andrea caution others who are interested in prairie restoration not to use fire until they've been trained and have some experience with it.

"Fire is a great management tool," Jim said, "but you have to know what you're doing."

In addition to tracking native plant species, Andrea, Jim, and their children keep a bird list.

"We've seen 142 species, including Henslow's sparrows, a scissor-tailed flycatcher and an upland sandpiper," Andrea said.

The Kennedys spend a lot of time thinking about their landscape, working with it and enjoying it. In fact, it is an important part of their family life.

"The kids love to help with the projects and name the plants and birds," Andrea said.

"We'll be working on this forever, and we don't really have an end in mind," Jim added. "It's just great to see how things change from one year to the next."

A school's "Secret Garden"

In southwestern Missouri, a secret garden grows in the middle of Marshfield's Edwin P. Hubble Elementary School. Totally enclosed by the school building, the Secret Garden features cozy reading areas beneath canopies of native dogwood, redbud and hawthorn. On late spring afternoons, you might find kindergartners napping in the shade.

The Secret Garden wasn't always so picturesque, said Anita Lael, the school's principal.

"A group of teachers actually initiated the Secret Garden in the mid 1990s," Lael said, "but by the time I arrived in 2001, those teachers had all retired, and the outdoor classroom was just overgrown, full of bugs--a disaster!"

To restore the garden, Lael sought help from master gardener Jane Robertson and conservation education consultant Jay Barber. Robertson worked with teachers and community volunteers to clear out weeds and overgrown beds and replant the area with a variety of Missouri native plants.

Barber acquired native shrub and wildflower species from the state nursery, and from a Grow Native! member nursery. Since then, he's developed several life-cycle educational programs that send kids out into the garden to survey butterfly eggs, larvae, pupae and adults, as well as frogs and tadpoles.

"Secret Garden is a great way to do cross-curricular activities, and I encourage other schools to develop their own if they can," Lael said.

Grow Native! Makes it Easy

In their efforts to put native plants to work on their landscapes, Missouri's homeowners, farmers and teachers receive help from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The two agencies jointly administer Grow Native!, a marketing and education program that makes it easy for Missourians to discover, choose, purchase and successfully use native plants.

The Grow Native! web sitecombines the departments' efforts to educate people about native plants and to help them find and purchase them. The site provides a searchable database of more than 200 native plant species and lets users sort plants according to their site requirements, color, texture and value to wildlife.

The web site also features ready-made designs to help first-time users add native species to their landscapes. To make purchasing easy, the site provides a shopping feature that lets users search for native plant nurseries, products and landscape services within their ZIP Codes.

For more information about native plants or the Grow Native! program, e-mail <info@grownative.org> or call (573) 522-4115, ext. 3833. Professionals interested in the business development and marketing side of Grow Native! should call (573) 522-4171

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