Look around; it is spring...
Spring doesn’t officially start until the equinox. This year the spring equinox will occur on March 20 at approximately 5:29 a.m. CDT.
The trees, bulbs, and other plants haven’t paid attention to the calendar. When the blooms appear, some individuals may want to get out and start working in their yards. They are thinking of planting now to enjoy during the summer.
If you are like many, this will mean a trip to a nursery or a big box store to pick out the new plants to incorporate into your personal landscape. You are likely to select from the plants provided based on the limited information provided on the plant identification stick provided in the pot.
Does this plant like sun? How far apart should they be planted? Those little labels can’t possibly provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision.
You might do a bit better by studying one of the garden catalogs. These may help you pick a specific varietal that may be suited for this area. But, most of the time, we don’t necessarily think about the longer term impacts of our choices.
Over the past week, you may have seen news stories related to a popular flowering tree, the Bradford Pear.
It seems that the Oklahoma State Extension Service is recommending that individuals consider an alternative to the Bradford Pear and some are going as far as attaching the invasive species label to the tree. The Extension Service is also asking homeowners and landowners to consider the practice of xeriscaping.
To explain these recommendations, one must first understand what an invasive species is and the potential harm it may cause. Invasive species have become such a problem there are several non-governmental organizations like the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) and the Oklahoma Invasive Plant Council (OkIPC) are looking for solutions to the problems that these species can cause.
The NISC provides this definition of an invasive species: “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” And, further clarifies the definition to be “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration.”
It is a species that is not native to the ecosystem and has the potential to harm. Why? Because, the ecosystem that these species were introduced did not evolve with that species. Thus the invasive species has a significant biological advantage over native species as they can be resistant to the threats present. (Which is one reason that humans tend to be the culprit in introducing the species in the first place.)
Using the definition and our own experience, it is easy to see why plants like the Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) or Cheatgrass (Bromus textorum) or the Russian Thistle (Salsola targus) would be on the OkIPC’s Dirty Dozen list. (You can request a Dirty Dozen Poster from the OkIPC’s website at https://okipc.wordpress.com/the-dirty-dozen/.)
But, the Bradford Pear? Why has it being talked about in the same fashion? Because, it did not stay confined.
Originally, the Bradford Pear was thought to be sterile, i.e. it would not propagate without special measures like grafting or other horticulture techniques.
It had traits that made it desirable as a landscaping tree; it was adaptable to many soil and shade conditions, it was easy to grow, grew fast and has flowers in the spring.
However, at some point, the Bradford Pear managed to cross-pollinate and produce viable seed, which allowed it to propagate easily. Now the tree is showing up in fields and along fence lines. It has reached the OkIPC’s watch list prompting the recommendation to avoid planting this tree.
But, what to do? How do we avoid propagating invasive species?
This is where the practice of xeriscaping becomes a viable alternative.
Technically, xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes using various methods for minimizing the need for water use. From a practical standpoint, it is a bit more as one of the primary methods for minimizing water use is to utilize native plants as they are adapted for the environment in which they are planted.
The practice of xeriscaping promotes biodiversity and reduces the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and water. This ultimately reduces the overall lawn maintenance as well. However, this practice takes a bit of preparation and planning to work.
So, when you are headed to the nursery or garden center, stop and think about the ramifications.
A bit of planning and knowledge and you may be able to help the environment as well as making things a bit easier on yourself.
Editor’s note: This is a series of science-related articles by author Frankie Wood-Black, Ph.D., REM, MBA, to appear in Mid-Week section of the Ponca City News. The author currently runs her own environmental consulting firm based in Ponca City, Sophic Pursuits, Inc., and also serves as a Physics Instructor and the Director for Process Technology at Northern Oklahoma College.
A BRADFORD Pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') in bloom. Although widely considered beautiful, due to cross pollination, pear trees have now proliferated exponentially across our environment and are considered by some to be an invasive species.