Friday, December 7, 2012


They say I do a lot of volunteer work.  I guess I do.  The vast majority of it is spent promoting the use of native plants.  Why?  There are some volunteer activities I do face to face, one on one, with people in need.  And this always gives me an immediate and rewarding satisfaction.  And yet I find most of my efforts are in an area where progress seems slow, is often frustrating, and on the surface seems disconnected from larger issues.  Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time this way?  Everyday I realize the need to help people is huge.  Everyday in watching the news or reading the paper, I see the faces of people devastated by war, hunger, homelessness, natural disasters, and on and on.  So why spend my time on native plant education, my own included?  I struggle when faced with these seemingly much larger needs.   Am I spending my time wisely?

As I wrestle with the question of how to spend my time, here's what I've come to believe.  It seems to me much of the world's woes are self inflicted.  We've squandered, unwittingly perhaps, the treasures we've been given.  We've thought we were owners of these natural resources instead of stewards. 

Small wetland in Marshall County, Indiana
photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Literally millions of people across the globe don't have clean water to drink.  We are constantly polluting our water with farm and residential chemical runoff among other things.  We've been digging up wetlands which are nature's technique of purifying water that eventually becomes our drinking water and the environment in which all aquatic life lives.  The wetland restoration at Grand Lake St. Marys is a good example of returning to nature to protect an essential resource.  Using deep rooted native plants in rain gardens and wetlands helps to filter the pollution, recharge the aquifers, and trap the sediment that runs into our waterways from these sources.  Native plants are important for clean water.

It is absolutely incredible how many people don't have enough food to eat.  The large numbers of children who go to bed hungry every night is shameful.   Manos Community Garden on the edge of downtown Toledo and situated in a extremely poor area of the city, encourages passersby to pick the fresh tomatoes and take home green beans, squash, and other fresh vegetables.  They have also made this into a bird sanctuary and wildlife habitat by introducing some native plants.  This past summer they asked our local Wild Ones chapter to help design and recommend more native plantings.  This will not only help make a serene peaceful setting, but also increase the populations of native pollinators.  These native insects are highly efficient and will improve the productivity of the vegetable gardens.   On a larger scale, research is showing benefits to farm production in utilizing native plants to increase native pollinator populations.  Native plants help produce food to feed the world. 

Health care costs are escalating out of sight, diagnoses of autism and other childhood developmental disorders seem to be on a meteoric rise, and cancer is on an unrelenting march forward.  Arguably, but with growing evidence, the lawn and agricultural chemicals we are so addicted to use are linked to the increase in these maladies.  Native plants are integral to a balanced ecosystem that doesn't require these expensive chemicals that lure us into believing we can redesign nature for a better outcome.  The use and restoration of native plant communities helps to stop the destruction of biodiversity.  Native plants are the cornerstone to healthy ecosystems and diverse biological systems.  Noted Entomologist, Dr. Doug Tallamy says:

"The ecosystems that support us - that determine the carrying capacity of the earth and our local spaces - are run by biodiversity. It is biodiversity that generates oxygen and cleans water, creates topsoil out of rock, buffers extreme weather events like droughts and floods, pollinates our crops, and recycles the mountains of garbage we create every day."

Yellow Trout Lily
Erythronium americanum
Do native plants cure all the major ills of the world.  Certainly not.  But in my time spent on learning about and promoting the use of native plants I've come to believe that our long term survival has to come from living in harmony with nature rather than fighting it.  And that's why I'm now comfortable spending most of my efforts working to save and restore ecological systems with the use of native plants.  Besides, walking in the woods, hearing leaves rustling under my feet, seeing the Trout lilies rise to greet the spring sun, listening to the friendly chirp of the Black-capped Chickadees, hearing the katydids at night, watching the Monarch butterfly lay her eggs on the Milkweed plants, being tickled by the upside down march of the White-breasted Nuthatch, marveling at the hovering nectar-thirsty Ruby-throated Hummingbird, these all energize my own soul and help me realize that what we do as individuals ultimately impacts the health and vitality of us all.    I'm good with spending so much time on this. 

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