January 2024 Native Plant News

| Native Plant News

To further Wild Ones’ mission to connect people and native plants, we are excited to introduce a new monthly blog focused on native plants in national news. This regular feature aims to educate, engage, and inspire action by spotlighting conservation issues and scientific findings related to native flora.

Arizona’s Ant Architects: A study from Northern Arizona University, featured in Environmental Entomologist in December 2023, sheds light on harvester ants in northern Arizona. Traditionally viewed as detrimental, these ants have been found to play a crucial ecological role. Their nest rims promote vegetation growth, even amidst drought and grazing pressures, serving as refuges for plants. However, the proliferation of invasive species on these rims, such as bull thistle and tumbleweed, presents new challenges. This research underscores the potential for using harvester ant nests in ecological restoration and management efforts. Harvester ant nest rims boost native, nonnative plants alike – Entomology Today

California’s Fire-Adapted Flora: California, native plants have a unique relationship with fire. Fire acts as a reset button for this ecosystem, and many native plants have adapted to fire in various ways. Some have evolved to survive by resprouting or reseeding after a fire, while others even require fire or smoke to begin growing. However, not all fires benefit native plants; increased wildfire frequency in recent years makes it challenging for these plants to reestablish themselves before the next fire. The ability of a plant to resist fire depends on factors like its capacity to shed dead vegetation and retain moisture. Coast live oaks, for example, are exceptionally resilient to fire due to their thick bark, deep roots, and moisture-retaining leaves. Some landscapers suggest planting them as “ember catchers” to protect homes from fires. Despite their adaptability, invasive species can threaten native plants, particularly when fires become too frequent. Native plants like buckwheat and sage, which used to dominate the coast, are now struggling to compete with invasive grasses that establish quickly after fires. This shift not only affects plant communities but also raises concerns about biodiversity and fire hazards in California’s landscapes.  Many California native plants adapt to fire, but some are threatened by it – Washington Post.

Minnesota’s Solar Sanctuaries: A study by Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory demonstrates the benefits of integrating native plants into solar farm designs in Minnesota. Initiated in 2018, this approach has led to a remarkable twentyfold increase in native bee populations, showcasing the potential for solar farms to support biodiversity and ecosystem health. This synergy between renewable energy infrastructure and natural habitat conservation offers a win-win solution, enhancing pollinator diversity and potentially benefiting adjacent agricultural lands. At solar farms planted with native vegetation, insects flourish – Yale E360.

Europe’s Diverse Forests: Research from the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE), published in Functional Ecology, highlights the importance of tree diversity in European forests’ resilience to storms. The study reveals that forests rich in diverse and slow-growing species, like oaks, are better equipped to withstand extreme weather, particularly in regions facing the brunt of climate change. This insight is crucial for forest management strategies aimed at enhancing ecosystem resilience against increasing storm events across Europe. Diverse forests are best at standing up to storms | ScienceDaily.

Virginia’s Seed Solution: Virginia Tech researchers are leading a project aimed at addressing the shortage of native seeds for restoring damaged lands in the southern region of Virginia. The initiative, supported by a nearly $700,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Equal Conservation Opportunities program, seeks to create a sustainable supply of native seeds. In addition to conservation efforts, the project aims to involve underserved farmers from the region, providing them with new economic opportunities. The team plans to identify seed availability gaps and economic barriers faced by Southside farmers, partnering with them to establish a native seed demonstration area. Native seeds are crucial for maintaining the health of natural ecosystems and supporting local wildlife, as they have coevolved with the local environment. Why Virginia Tech researchers are answering a call for native seeds – WTVR.