Getting back to our roots

May 1, 2011 

Where have all the wildflowers gone?

Some say that's the way of civilization, of progress, of development. Any way you define it, you know it involves clearing wilderness land, destroying native plants and building hardscapes that can lead to problematic water run-off into streams or flooding of lowlands.

There have always been caring people who have worked to preserve natural lands for wildlife and for future generations of people. This brings me to the Spring Island Trust Native Plant Project. Its mission is to rescue, propagate and distribute native plants and to provide education about how to use them in the landscape.

Since the project's inception in the spring of 2009, more than 4,000 native plants have been returned to their native habitat. Plants are rescued or are grown from seed or stock primarily collected on Spring Island located in Beaufort County. Forty Spring Island members serve as volunteers to manage the project; a greenhouse serves to propagate thousands of native plants from seed and by cuttings.

The nursery contains more than 100 species of plants with a focus on herbaceous flowering plants, grasses and ferns.

Lucky me. I learned of the April Native Plant Sale that this special group of gardeners was holding on the Spring Island baseball field.

With many other Lowcountry native plant devotees, I arrived mid-morning to find the unusual varieties were going fast. Popular Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), wild violet (Viola papilionacea) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) sold out early.

I was elated to discover most of the wild plants were familiar to me, having volunteered in my yard over the years. To add to my collection, I purchased a Carolina crown beard (Verbesina walteri), a Liatris Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) and a Carolina wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis). All three plants were of a large size and look to be well-rooted. I look forward to the later summer purple flowering of the Blazing Star; it is a looker and often cultivated into flower gardens.

All told, there were 69 varieties of native plants for sale. This included five varieties of ferns, 13 grasses (yes, they had purple love grass), nine shrubs and trees -- including loblolly bay -- and three vines. I tell you this as there is a repeat fall sale scheduled for Oct. 29. Get there early.

This morning I stood on our back deck and took a good look at the yard beyond. It was filled with Virginia creeper plants, creeping their way into the woods. In past years I've pulled them all. Now I know they are on our local plant list of endangered plants. IF I must pull away, I go slowly so as not to pull out a desirable that has volunteered. This is most often wild ginger (Asarum canadense), a shiny-leaved spreader with rhizomes that smell and taste like cultivated ginger.

Yesterday within a sea of Virginia creeper growing under a large, old camellia, I found a tiny camellia plant. It must have grown from seed dropped.

It might be that many good-looking Lowcountry gardens do not contain native plants because they are not as showy as cultivated varieties. Their flowering period is brief, but with the exception of the months of December and January, one can have flowers -- some dramatic in shape and color -- in bloom all year.

Small trees of buckeyes and horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) lead the parade in February. The horse sugar tree or "sweetleaf" has declined in recent years but may be seen at the Audubon Newhall Preserve off Palmetto Bay Road on Hilton Head Island. Seen at the home of Marion and Richard Gosson in Hilton Head Plantation blooming now is a large, showy snowbell tree (Styrax Americana).

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