Mother Natures Mysteries

No matter how much we study ecosystems and think we know the answers for which plants will grow where and under which circumstances, there are many instances when there is no obvious answer.

Most of The Ravines Conservation Area looks like this: dry soil with longleaf pines, oaks, and low groundcover.

Most of The Ravines Conservation Area looks like this: dry soil with longleaf pines, oaks, and low groundcover. Its managed with regular prescribed burns.

For instance, there is a 965-acre conservation area adjacent to our neighborhood thats owned by the St. Johns Water Management District and maintained by the county. Most of it is a dry, sandy upland dominated by longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) and oaks (Quercus spp.). Its been managed with fire over the years to maintain the open pine ecosystem. There are also some wet bottomlands and a riparian shoreline. The trails are open to hikers and people on horseback, but no motorized vehicles. So its a pleasant place to take in nature and one of the local highlights for people who stop by to visit us.

This natural grove of oaks has resisted the fire maintenance regimen.

This natural grove of oaks has resisted the fire maintenance regimen.

Alder shrubs grow well in wet habitats next to Black Creek.

Alder shrubs grow well in wet habitats next to Black Creek.

Explainable plant communities

Some of the plant communities and relationships can be explained in this mostly wild area, like the pines and their adaptation to fire and some groups of oaks that have resisted the fires. The riparian areas next to the waterway are populated by moisture-loving plants such as bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and alders (Alnus serrulata). But other communities are a complete mystery.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a singular patch of moss and club moss about 10 feet long and 6 feet wide in the middle of an otherwise dry sandy, but partially shady, area. One oak sapling is artfully placed in an off-center location, but other nearby saplings had no patches of moss.

What caused this beautiful patch of moss in this dry sandhill?

What caused this beautiful patch of moss in this dry sandhill?

So what caused this beautiful anomaly? If I were to try to figure this out scientifically, Id need to compare the soil in this spot as opposed to soil in nearby areas that looked the same otherwise. It would probably take a few years and samples would need to be taken at least 4 times per year. All my studying would ruin this beautiful little oasis in the high pine sandhill community and my research still might not be able to decipher which came first, the microhabitat, soil type, or the moss that altered it. So Ill let it be one of Mother Natures mysteries.

In addition to mosses, there are lichens and club mosses.

A close-up: In addition to mosses, there are lichens and club mosses.

Why are Mother Natures mysteries important to us?

As native plant enthusiasts, wed love to have those rare, but beautiful lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium spp.) or farther south ghost orchids (Dendrophylax lindenii) in our yards. The desire for these showy orchids is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fussy plants that need a specific habitat or special soil fungus to thrive. Many fall into this category like those dimpled trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicatum) I wrote about a couple of months ago that grow naturally only on the slight slope facing north.

A native plum and one of its many pollinators.

A native plum growing at the edge of the conservation area.

The chances of our duplicating these very specific habitat requirements on our urban/suburban properties are remote. Our yards are not native ecosystemsonly a pale imitation. Our best options for natives are those that are less fussy and those that can be commercially raised for a profit.

After seeing a native plum tree (either a chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) or a flatwoods plum (P. umbellata)) blooming at the edge of this conservation area, I asked Kari Ruder of Naturewise Native Plant Nursery* for either of these plums and she said that they dont hold well in pots. So here is a beautiful native tree growing in my own neighborhood that looks like it should do well in my yard, but it doesnt do well in the nursery. I may be able to special order it, but meanwhile I bought a less-fussy Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) instead to serve as a flowering understory shrub.

* I featured Kari in an article I wrote Supporting the native plant industry. If we want native plants, we need our native nurseries to survive. I hope you have a relationship with your local nurseries.

Mother Natures Mysteries

While we can enjoy her mysterious ways out in parks and native wildlands, most of us are better off not trying to duplicate very specific habitats for fussy plants. Lets hedge our bets and go for the easy-to-grow natives that are the most likely to be successful on our properties.

© 2014, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Dont Miss the Wren Song Community

Wren Winter Singing crop

Free Exclusive Content and Member's Forum

Sign up for a free membership in the Wren Song Community and you'll have access to a lot more valuable information published exclusively for our members.

Meet other passionate wildlife gardeners from around the country. Share your successes. Learn from your failures. Discover the best resources to help you create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens with native plants so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

Learn more about the Wren Song Community

Comments

  1. suzanne dingwell says

    Ginny, love this practical advice! It was the discovery of Mother Natures mysteries that got me hooked on native plants in the first place, and finding those anomalies on forays into the natural areas is still both a pleasure and a challengewhy? I think the answers to those questions are as important to our future as the preservation of the plants. Certainly hope every single reader of this blog supports their most local native nursery and furthermore, makes their needs knows to the box stores.

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Maybe our love of mysteries is what allowed us to survive in our primitive beginnings.
      And yes, if we want native plants we must support the nurseries that sell them.
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Fixing a slumping problem

      Reply
  2. Katherine Edison says

    Such a timely article! The Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville begins this evening. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Katherine, Ill see you there!
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Fixing a slumping problem

      Reply
  3. Wednesday says

    I live on longleaf/oak sandhill habitat. I also have patches of moss here and there, often in very sunny locations. There is a lot of shade locations, but they are covered with leaf litter. Often, they blend in with the bare sand; faint, dehydrated, pale green mats.

    Even though sandhill is not very mesic, Ive been doing a lot of digging lately and noticed that with the steady rain weve had over the last couple months, the soil stays damp even during dry stretches. I suppose the mats could form completely decayed fallen trees, but I think the natural mycelium in the undisturbed sand is probably a more likely component.

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Yes, this has been a wet dry season. Im sure the soils ecosystems hold the answers to many of our questions. Heres what I said about soil in Sustainable Gardening for Florida.

      One gram of soil (about 1/5 teaspoon) could contain one hundred million bacteria, one million actinomycetes, and one hundred thousand fungiif strung together, their filaments or hyphae would measure about 16 feet in length. This same gram of soil could also contain hundreds of nematodes living on the damp surfaces of the soil particles and maybe a few insect eggs or larvae and some earthworm cocoons. The exact proportions of each of these organisms will depend on soil conditions such as moisture, aeration, amount of humus, and whats growing above the soil. Chemical conditions such as acidity will change the balance of organism populations. For instance, fungi are more plentiful in acidic soils, while actinomycetes and other bacteria prefer more alkaline conditions.
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Fixing a slumping problem

      Reply
  4. Stone says

    Im currently trying to garden in the Sandhills, and it takes time to see past the thorns To see the interesting plant communities.
    I too have plenty of moss and lichens One usually associates moss with water None here
    Very surprised to learn that someone wants flatwoods plum Or that it would object to being container grown. My total experience with prunus umbellata is in trying to dig it out And having it regenerate immediately. And trying to eat those tiny bitter fruit
    I maybe should try potting some.
    Stone recently posted..Hellebore

    Reply
    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Hi Stone,
      I saw both plums at todays native plant sale in Gainesville, but didnt purchase either one because they were already 8 or 9 feet tall. Thanks for your feedbackI dont feel bad about passing them by. Instead I spent my $$ on smaller plants that are more likely to make it. More details to come.
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Fixing a slumping problem

      Reply

Trackbacks

  1. Mother Nature’s Mysteries | Planting &amp... says:

    [] No matter how much we study ecosystems and think we know the answers for which plants will grow where and under which circumstances, there are many instances when there is no obvious answer.  []

    Reply
  2. Mother Nature’s Mysteries | Picto Communi... says:

    [] No matter how much we study ecosystems and think we know the answers for which plants will grow where and under which circumstances, there are many instances when there is no obvious answer.  []

    Reply
  3. When native plants die says:

    [] As informed gardeners we think we know what we are doing, but sometimes *things* dont work out for unknown reasons or because conditions have changed since the original planting. I provided some examples of Mother Natures mysteries. []

    Reply

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current day month ye@r *

CommentLuv badge