One person's weed is another's treasure -- take, for example, the intricate patterns on the leaf of a trillium, the importance of South Carolina's sweet grass for Gullah basketweavers and the pure white bloom of a native Easter lily.
These local gems are just a few of the species rescued and propagated by members of the Spring Island Trust, where a group of residents have dedicated themselves to saving the Lowcountry's plant heritage and encouraging the use of natives in landscaping.
"We got started because we wanted to rescue rare native plants from sites on the island where houses were going to be built," said Susan Leister of Spring Island, a member of the native plant project. "After asking the homeowners' permission, we saved the plants from bulldozers."
Now in its third year, the Spring Island Trust Native Plant Project is dedicated to the propagation and distribution of native plants, and to providing education about how to use them in yards and public spaces.
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"We quickly figured out that propagating them involved fewer snakes and chiggers than rescuing," Leister joked.
Spring Island is a private, 3,000-acre nature preserve and residential community. It includes an equestrian center, a 13,000-square-foot fitness facility, a tennis center, an Arnold Palmer golf course (currently being renovated), historical sites and wooded homesites for 410 homes. About 1,000 acres of maritime forest on the island are preserved and maintained by the nonprofit Spring Island Trust.
Proponents of native plants say they are beautiful and hardy, and once established they require less maintenance than non-native species. Native flowers and grasses also provide food and shelter for a host of birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. A non-native plant might host or provide food for one type of animal, while a native plant might benefit up to 50 animal species, for example.
About 75 Spring Island residents work on tasks as part of the native plant project each year, members estimate. The group has a small climate controlled greenhouse where seedlings require attention, and a nursery for larger plants. Much of the work focuses on propagating thousands of native plants from seeds and from cuttings treated with rooting hormone. It also takes a lot of work to get plants ready for the annual spring and fall sales events.
Members of the Spring Island Trust Native Plant Project offer tours to local garden clubs and naturalist groups. These groups enjoy lunch on the island, and ride from the greenhouse to the nursery in a hay wagon adorned with a wooden sign reading "Spring Island outdoor classroom."
Karl Ohlandt, landscape ecologist for the Spring Island Trust, oversees the native plant project. Relaxing for a moment on a leather couch at Spring Island's Mobley Nature Center, he said that since the project's inception in 2009, more than 4,000 native plants have been returned to their native habitats.
About 100 species will be for sale on April 14, he said, including some species that are considered endangered. Buyers from Beaufort County, Savannah and Charleston come to the sale because native plants often aren't readily available at commercial nurseries, Ohlandt said.
A TEACHING GARDEN
Ann Baruch's intricate garden on Spring Island shows that native plants can be used effectively in a more formal setting. An ample path winds through the swells and swales of her waterfront yard, providing habitat for native cactuses, gorgeous white false indigo, pitcher plants and other bog species. Baruch allows her neighbors to stroll through her garden any time, and it's a frequent stop on educational tours. She hopes her visitors enjoy the garden as much as she does.
"I could work out here all day and not get tired of it," Baruch said. "This is my absolute favorite place in the world."