Monday, October 30, 2006

Transcript from State Fair of Texas Program

Thank you for attending the 2006 State Fair of Texas. David and I are honored to return on behalf of Texas Dept of Agriculture’s GO TEXAN program. There are plentiful remarkable people and businesses in our state who strive to preserve the myth, the legend, and the stature of Texas.

Our role in this program is to advocate Texas-grown, Texas-made products. We do this through the marketplace, via our business – NATIVEDAVE.COM. Our mission is to create positive changes in our community (which includes ALL of Texas and the planet) by way of nature-focused & sustainable design and consultation services and public speaking engagements, like this one. More specifically, we are your native plant experts; it is our duty – and humblest pleasure – to help you restore the natural beauty of Texas. When so many companies are growing exponentially planting non-native species, why would we choose to work exclusively with natives and a few adaptable species? Why would we NOT offer ‘seasonal color change-outs’ or chemical applications or shrub-trimming services?

Plenty of reasons. But let me start by saying that David is a 7th-generation Texan – and you know how proud Texans are of their heritage! I am of course a ‘transplant’, but I think after living in Texas for 25 years I’ve earned ‘naturalized’ status. After exploring creeks and prairies of North Central Texas during his childhood, David was accepted into Longwood Gardens professional gardener training program. Located in Kennett Square, PA, Longwood Gardens is America’s premier institution of fine gardening. He completed that program and later earned the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. All his life he has understood the importance of planting native plants, and now our job (and hobby) is teaching others about their benefits. First let’s identify what a native is, then we’ll talk about why we all should use them. Exclusively.

What is a ‘native’? Officially, a native plant is one that grew or has continued to grow naturally in a specific place since pre-Colombian times. That means, ‘before Christopher Columbus.’ A native plant isn’t necessarily one that you find growing ‘like a weed’ in your yard or your neighbor’s landscape. In many parts of the country native plant landscapes have been a routine part of life for a decade or more, but in most of Texas you find the same 10 or 12 plants repeated lot by lot, block by block, town by town. They are everywhere because they are cheap and easy to find. Plants like, Red Tip Photinia or Wax Leaf Ligustrum or Crape Myrtle. You might be amazed to learn that none of these plants is native. Yes, they grow quite well in much of Texas, especially here in North Central Texas. Too well, in some cases. Privet (a type of Ligustrum), for example, produces lovely berries that attract birds. The birds eat the berries, disperse them after they have been ‘processed’, and from these scarified seeds emerge little evergreen Privet seedlings. In this part of the state at least we are short on native evergreens, so Privet would seem like a great plant. Right? Wrong. Because it is non-native Privet has no natural processes to keep its population in balance. Further, it is dispersed by birds haphazardly and is evergreen, so as it matures Privet prevents sunlight from reaching the native deciduous vegetation. The result is, populations of native plants dwindle, further diminishing the natural food source of native birds. If the food isn’t there, or if ‘exotic’ food is all that’s available, the native birds will eventually go to where the food source still exists. The native species gone, the door is left open for the grackles to take over…

There is a native plant that isn’t a Ligustrum at all but is sometimes called Privet. It looks similar to the exotic invasive Ligustrum Privets; its botanical name is Forestiera pubescens and is commonly called Elbow Bush, Desert Olive or Swamp Privet. This is a fabulous bird-attractor, tolerates dry or moist soil, sunny or shady conditions. Because common names vary region by region be sure to look for this plant by its botanical name. Don’t plant Ligustrums!

Often a non-native plant that seems to grow well in our neighborhood will succumb to extreme weather. This summer, for example, mature specimens of Indian Hawthorne literally were fried by intense heat and severe lack of water. Annuals seemed to spontaneously combust and turfgrasses looked dormant, as if it were winter. Actually, just about every tried-and-true landscape tree, shrub, flowering plant or turfgrass lost their battle against the drought…except natives. Our projects showed signs of stress but they survived. The only plants we lost this summer were those that were overwatered or eaten by wildlife desperate for any foodsource.

Much of this part of Texas, stretching from the Red River south to the Texas Coast is the Blackland Prairie, the southernmost extension of the Great Plains. Our ecoregion is in danger of extinction due to single crop rotation, overgrazing, neglect and, more recently, development. Less than 1% of our native vegetation survives today. This situation is dire but not hopeless. By gradually incorporating native plants into our landscape, we all can restore our slice of the Blackland Prairie. If we do not, we are likely the last generation to observe this beautiful, necessary region of Texas. Restoration projects like these benefit us all, regardless of how we vote or allocate our finances or perceive ‘beauty’. Just ask residents of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina wrecked much of their city (and decimated miles of the Mississippi Gulf Coast), one recurring conclusion has been the need to restore the vital wetlands along Louisiana’s coast. The city of New Orleans has discovered that disposing of treated sewage into the marshy wetlands injects nutrients and promotes natural restoration processes.

In this area, however, restoration is a much simpler endeavor. Plant natives. It’s almost that simple.

There are numerous reasons to use natives. When used properly, native plants thrive with very little water and maintenance. The current drought situation has brought to the forefront the urgency to reduce our water consumption. Considering 60% of a city’s water usage is attributed to irrigating residential lawns and landscapes, the number one way to conserve our water resources is to plant low-water consuming plants. Our state’s population continues to grow but our water sources do not. So that we don’t find ourselves without water altogether or unable to continue developing, it is imperative that all us good Texans find ways to reduce our water consumption. And these changes must be forever, not just through the end of the drought. Even if it rains tomorrow and for the next forty-five days and all the lakes spill over their banks into floodplains, we still can’t afford to waste water ever again. And why would we want to?

Natives prefer a little neglect after they are well-established, and they really don’t want you to drown them in chemicals. Geometric shapes have no place in your shrubbery; forego the gas-powered maintenance equipment and you curtail pollutants being released into the air we breathe. You also cut down on the annoying whir of machinery interrupting your peaceful weekend!

Native plantings increase property values. Example: Seaside, Florida. Architects coined ‘New Urbanism’, now the concept is beginning to catch on in Texas. See Beachtown Galveston. Municipalities like Frisco are considering new landscape recommendations in the form of incentives, maybe ordinances. Historically we Texans don’t like to be told what to do, but landscaping and gardening with natives isn’t a liberal thing or a tree-hugger thing or a fad. We should not resent development, but we should continue to seek smarter and healthier ways to create communities.

Plant natives and native wildlife will return. Plant natives and bring back the Blackland Prairie.

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