Our Earth Day Message: Planting Native

planting natives

The mission of the Long Island Conservancy is to help communities restore native habitat, whether in their open spaces or in their own yards. We support local stewardship, working with municipalities to teach the public about the importance of planting native. The future of our native wildlife depends on how well we can protect and restore native habitat. Invasive plants and insects run rampant. An already congested island is further imperiling what remains.

planting native
Long Island Suburbia

Our first mission as an organization is to communicate effectively with the public in every community: What problems are you facing here in terms of algal blooms, or stormwater damage, or runoff? How can Nature be brought in to repair the issue? Most importantly we wish to express to people what planting native is so important.

In Suffolk County, we are in the midst of an ongoing restoration project at Meadow Croft, aka The Roosevelt Estate in Bayport, working from the original planting plans, while also removing invasive plants and planting natives. The aim is for the native plantings to become a educational tour for school children, with QR codes, virtual experiences.

planting native
Native Wildflower Garden at Meadow Croft

In Nassau County, much the same is planned. Spadefoot Design and Construction removed over an acre of kudzu at The Science Museum of Long Island, and brought in trees and shrubs, planting native. Again, the restored property is to become an outdoor virtual classroom, one produced by The Long Island Conservancy.

Invasive Removal, Saving and Planting the Natives

As The Long Island Conservancy’s mission is to educate the public on the many environmental issues that face Long Island. To that end, we are launching a series of podcasts and PSAs that will address the many issues that have to do with Long Island’s long term sustainability. What would it truly take to address our many challenges? Can the archetypal suburb be retrofitted so that we can allow nature back into play?

We depend on each community to reach out to us. Is there a pond that is dying, a stand of trees being brought down by invasive vines. In brief, “How can we help?” Tell us below!

If you want to share an issue of concern with us, one where we could potentially protect or rebuild habitat, we’d love to speak with you. If there is a local park that needs stewardship, we want to see what could be done.

We are also happy to speak before your civic group / organization about how Long Island can go native, and what the benefits of that would be. Equally, if you would like to present your issue in a 90 second format as part of our podcast, please reach out. The Long Island Conservancy champions local stewardship. No one cares more for a park than those who live around it.

If you are asking yourself what can I personally do for Earth Day, it would be this: Go Native This Spring! Just take a small patch of your yard, and plant a pollinator garden. Butterfly Milkweed, Joe Pye, New York Ironweed.

Go Native For Earth Day
Butterfly Milkweed in Bloom
Go Native For Earth Day
Purple Joe Pye
Go Native!
Boneset (foreground), NY Ironweed (tall, middle ground), Purple Joe Pye (background)

Nature will swiftly reward you. The above took a year to grow, and drew a lot of wildlife.

planting native
An American Chestnut Tre

For Arbor Day, April 28th, you should be planting native

The Long Island Conservancy recommends that of course you go native, but more than that, remember that trees come in stands, or clusters. They only stand alone if we cut everything else down around it, which has become standard in suburbia. So as you celebrate Arbor Day, make it a party. Invite a cluster of oaks where the soil is dry and sandy or a stand of black willows or red maples where it’s wet.

The Long Island Conservancy, working with Spadefoot Construction and Design, will soon be offering a “Mother Orchard” package with 8 American Chestnut Saplings. Working with The American Chestnut Foundation and representing it’s Long Island chapter, we are breeding a blight resistant strain from these orchards. It will take a half a generation to get started, but the environmental impact would be immense. This tree until recently dominated the forests of the Eastern Seaboard. Let’s bring it back!

Here is another important thing to do: When you do get new trees and shrubs, make sure they are native to Long Island. Our local wildlife is depending on you for that. Also note that natives are much easier to maintain and tend to thrive, in droughty conditions with poor soil, which describes much of Long Island. They don’t need extra water or fertilizers or pesticides. Do our woods?

On the other hand, the lawn may be the most destructive invasive plant of all in the US, covering 40,000,000 acres. Environmental scientist Douglas Tallamy has calculated that we need to convert 20,000,000 of that to native habitat if we are to have enough of it to support our local wildlife in what is the Sixth Great Extinction, the one we are causing.

We strongly recommend reading Nature’s Best Hope, which makes a wonderful case for creating native habitat in one’s own yard, and will give you an excellent playbook for you to do just that.

Let’s think of how wasteful and unsustainable the suburban lawn is. So called “Kentucky Blue Grass” originated in Eurasia. It is currently crowding out native grasses in the upper plains. For us suburbanites, it is an invasive species that makes our lawns magnets for other weeds. If you have a lawn, you will have weeds. It’s almost axiomatic. Weeds thrive in disturbed habitats. The lawn is an invasive monoculture, and often it is fed chemicals to enforce this lack of biodiversity. The green glow seems hardly worth it.

On the invasive front, Long Island is losing badly in a battle it largely doesn’t know it is fighting. Make no mistake about it. The Spotted Lantern Fly is heading this way.

Hundreds of invasive spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula) covering the trunk of their host tree, the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) in Media, Pennsylvania, USA

As noted, this devastating insect finds habitat in the Chinese Tree of Heaven. The irony here is it was this tree that was the tree in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. If only it stayed there!

Look along any highway median or out the window on the train. You will see it.

planting native
Chinese Tree of Heaven – Latin name – Ailanthus altissima

If you haven’t pulled it out of your yard yet, consider yourself lucky. For all the hand wringing about the Spotted Lantern Fly, no one is saying to the public Kill the Tree of Heaven. They ought to.

We want to be planting native, but we are dealing with a whole horde of invasive plants — Oriental Bittersweet, bamboo, wisteria, porcelainberry or OMG Japanese Knotweed to name some of the worst.

Japanese Knotweed
Japanese Knotweed taking over a meadow

We are also seeing a lot of Lesser Celandine, which escaped from garden in Ohio in 1970, and is now rampant on Long Island. The flowers look pretty, until you realize they are smothering everything else in your yard.

invasive plant
planting native
Closeup of clump of spring yellow flowers, Ficaria verna, (formerly Ranunculus ficaria L.) commonly known as lesser celandine or pilewort

Somehow for some reason we have decided to ignore the fact that English Ivy is killing trees everywhere. Most of the damage is done when birds spread it into our woods miles away. Now research has shown that English Ivy helps to spread lyme disease by providing ground cover for The White Footed Mouse, which carries the bacteria that then infect the ticks.

So then for the sake of decreasing the incidence of Lyme disease by exposing the mice to our raptors and our cats, the ivy should go. And you can save some trees too. To begin the process: Cut the vines low to the ground around the circumference. Do not pull as that could damage the bark further and cause a fungal infection. It will whither away over time. Expect it to try and re-sprout of course. Dig deep.

We should also avoid planting any Callery Pears, a tree first imported in 1892. It’s popularity, and it’s invasive spread — has been explosive. In addition to being highly invasive, they are very expensive to manage. Fragile, short lived, fast growing.

We learn from hard experience. When we lost the elms to Dutch Elm Disease, we replaced them with fast growing Norway Maples to restore the canopy. But fast growing means soft wood, and Norway has a different climate than the windy salty South Shore of Long Island. The Norway Maple in a good storm takes down many a power line on Long Island. It is also highly invasive, pushing out our native trees, as we are growing increasingly to recognize.

We are now also starting to know the importance of supporting biodiversity locally. What plants and animals are native to here? How do we make space for them on this very crowded island? We have a lot of work to do. Let’s all discuss where we can start in your community!

It is imperative that we work to systematically remove invasive plants, and rebuild local food webs where we can. If you are asking on this Earth Day “What can I do to help?,” The science is clear: We need to have at least 70% of our plants native to support our native animal species, beginning crucially with the insects, which help to feed in turn everything else — our amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals.

A quick survey of your yard or of a local park will quickly reveal that here on Long Island, we are often at 25% native or less. One factor of course is that our properties have become heavily landscaped, where the trees and shrubs and flowers planted there are European, or Japanese or Chinese in origin, and are therefore of no ecological use here. So on this Earth Day, commit to planting native. We will help you do that in your yard or in your community.


Marshall Brown Executive Director

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