Are mayapples, bloodroot, and wild geraniums ephermals if they go dormant during the summer? – Technically no. Some native plants are ephemeral such as Virginia Blue Bells, Shooting Stars and Dutchman’s Breeches. This means they will eventually go dormant regardless of the weather due to changing light and day length conditions. Other native plants go dormant because of weather conditions. Some of my prairie plants even went dormant during the extreme 2012 drought, but came back in 2013. It’s one of the ways they’ve adapted to our local conditions. Some non-ephemeral plants which have gone dormant may even green up again if the weather changes to their liking, others remain dormant until the next growing season. My sensitive ferns went dormant during the 2012 drought, but during the end of 2012, with just a few rains they re-appeared again just like magic.
Some native plants are invasive, aren’t they? – I prefer the words “out of balance” used by Stephen Packard in his article in the Wild Ones Journal Aug/Sept/Oct 2013 . Native gray dogwoods and Tall or Canadian goldenrod are two examples of native plants referred to as invasive by some. Although I’m not a restoration expert, my opinion is these plants are “out of balance” because we are missing something, don’t fully understand everything, or have introduced something not found in our original prairies, savannas, wetlands or woodland, or more likely a combination of all three. One example of this is Nachusa Grasslands, where the stewards there are re-introducing Bison for several reasons but mainly to control some of the taller, more aggressive native grasses through grazing. Read more about this at: “The Need for Bison at Nachusa Grasslands”. Although we don’t know everything about our original habitats, restoring and preserving our natural habitats has greatly improved biodiversity, has taught us so much, plus has given us the opportunity to enjoy these beautiful habitats.
Why can’t I dig up native plants or collect seeds and nuts from natural or common areas, like forest preserves or park districts, especially if they are abundant? First of all, if everyone did this, then we would lose many native species and all the benefits they provide. Some local wildlife go to certain locations or habitats looking for specific plants, nuts or seeds, so why harm their habitat (food, nesting or shelter areas). In fact , we have lost many of our beautiful native orchids, some of which were once abundant, to poachers. The removal process can cause damage to areas around the plants, seeds or nuts collected by increasing soil erosion and compaction plus the leftover open space gives invasive species a better opportunity to take over. Chances are you probably don’t have the correct conditions in your yard to grow many plants found in the wild, especially many rare plants, so why collect plants, nuts or seeds from the wild, only to have them die in your yard. Also, a reduction of a plant species in the wild could lower genetic diversity, which weakens the plant, eventually leading to its loss due to inbreeding. Lastly, it’s illegal to dig up plants or collect seeds and nuts from public areas! Read more about this under “Ethics and Native Plants”.
One final note: Some of us are fortunate enough to have native plant naturally growing on our properties, the lone survivors from areas that were once prairies, savannas, woodlands and wetlands. Since 95% of our land is privately own, I urge folks to preserve and protect these plants too. To learn more about how you can help protect and preserve some of our native plants on private and public lands, please go to : Plants of Concern.
So I hope I shed some more light on some common questions I get. Keep asking because I’m learning too and I have many of these same questions!