Monday, May 28, 2012

Watershed Center Survey

Barb and Sue bag a plant

Master Naturalists coming out of training are expected to complete a "Capstone Project", a way of immediately jumping into hands-on activities.  One example is the Valley Water Mill plant survey led by Linda Ellis.  A group of Master Naturalists, both new and "used" are participating in the monthly survey.

We meet at the Watershed Center with our bags, magnifiers and resource books and start down the two mile trail, identifying every species of plant we encounter.  Occasionally even our guru Linda will be stumped (surely not!) and a specimen goes into the bag for further keying out.

Indian Strawberry- Duchesnea indica
Not all the plants are native, and this information is valuable as well.  Some are harmless exotics like the Indian Strawberry, a pretty little diversion, even if it doesn't technically belong in Missouri.  Some of these were imported deliberately and others hitched a ride in ocean going vessels over the last 500 years.

Japanese Honeysuckle
Other exotic species can be quite invasive, gradually shading out other less aggressive native species which provide biological diversity as well as specific niche connections with insects and pollinators.  The beautiful flowers of the Japanese Honeysuckle led to importing the vines for our gardens, a seemingly good idea at the time.  They have since been spread over the landscape by birds.  The individual plants then spread by rhizomes, taking over the neighborhood like a gang that smothers native species.  Their tight vines can actually girdle small trees, stunting or killing them as though they were wrapped with wire.

We plan to prepare a resource list for visitors hiking the trails.   On the Valley Water Mill trail, visitors can hike along wetlands, woodlands,  springs, and karst features.  With a resource list as a guide, they will be able to identify a wide variety of native plants in their natural setting.  They will also learn some of the invasive species that may be living in their neighborhood.

The island of Valley Water Mill
Valley Water Mill, like most parks and preserved land, is an island, surrounded by farm land, residential developments, golf courses and highways.  The smaller the island, the greater the risk to diversity of plants and animals.  Its exposure to exotic plants is increased by the short flight times of seed eating (and pooping) birds.  Preserving it will require the work of same type of biped hands which brought about the problem in the first place.

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