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CoastLine: Native plants in urban and suburban landscapes boost ecosystem, support human life

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Lucy Bradley / NC State Cooperative Extension Service
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Live Oak

The suburban monoculture dominated largely by traditional lawns could be accelerating climate change and species extinction. Supporting biodiversity by installing native trees, shrubs, and other plants means you are directly supporting the systems on which human life depends. Yes, human life.

On this edition of CoastLine, we explore native plants – what they are in southeastern North Carolina, the impact they have on climate change and biodiversity, and how to put more of them in your environment.

Thanks to the great suburban expansion in the United States, over 40 million acres of land in this country is lawn. According to a Princeton University analysis, lawns can function as “carbon sinks” by soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But the heavy carbon cost of maintaining lawns with gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers and synthetic fertilizers cancels out any potential benefit. Doug Tallamy, a well-known entomologist and conservationist writes, “Each weekend we mow an area the size of New England to within one inch and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”

But what is the job we are doing? Do you understand the effect of those non-native ornamental plants that you or your landscape designer plunked into the ground? According to multiple studies, they are contributing to the loss of biodiversity.

Caring about the robustness of pollinators, showing interest in the local population of butterflies is not an abstraction popular only among the graying, Birkenstock-wearing, Subaru Outback-driving, muesli-eating NPR listener base. Supporting biodiversity by installing native trees, shrubs, and other plants means you are directly supporting the systems on which human life depends. Yes, human life.

On this edition of CoastLine, we explore native plants – what they are in southeastern North Carolina, the impact they have on climate change and biodiversity, and how to put more of them in your environment.

Guests: 

Lloyd Singleton, Director, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, New Hanover County Center at the Arboretum

Amy Mead, Area Natural Resource Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, covering Brunswick, Pender, and New Hanover Counties

Editor’s Note:  We explored in this edition whether Osage Orange trees are considered native.  While it’s not answered in the episode, Lloyd Singleton later confirmed that these trees are not, in fact, native to North Carolina (even if they are well-behaved).

Follow this link for further information:  

https://projects.ncsu.edu/cals/plantbiology/ncsc/tnc/maclura.htm

The 2022 Native Plant Festival takes place September 17th from 10 AM - 3 PM at the New Hanover County Arboretum.

The on-site Festival at the Arboretum will feature hands-on activities from educational exhibitors such as Wilmington’s Heal our Waterways, NHC Soil and Water Conservation District, Native Plant Society-SE Chapter, Cape Fear Museum, Airlie Gardens, Alliance for Cape Fear Trees, Coastal Composting Council, NHC Beekeepers, NC Forest Service, NC Coastal Federation, Cape Fear’s Going Green, NHC Vector Control, Friends of the NHC Arboretum, Yaupon Tea Company, NCWF Island Wildlife Chapter, New Hanover and Brunswick Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, and others.

There will also be native plant experts in our Education Center.

The speaker schedule is as follows:

11:00-Title: Nature at Home, Matt Collogan, Consumer Horticulture Agent, NC Cooperative Extension

12:00-TBD

1:00- Keynote Speaker, Title: Coastal Landscaping Design, Madalyn Baldwin, Assistant Research Professor, NC State University, Coastal Dynamics Design Lab

2:00-Title: The Importance of Natives for Birds, Charley Winterbauer, NC Native Plant Society, SE Chapter

Where to Buy – Plants will not be For Sale at the Arboretum                                                                                                  Native Plants will also be available for sale at various vendors throughout the Cape Fear Area. **Some sites will host multiple vendors:

Blooms+Branches, 5523 Oleander Drive

Carolina Girl Nursery, 7026 Market Street

The Garden Shop by Wild Magnolia Designs, 1942 Moss Street

Tinga Nursery, 2918 Castle Hayne Road

Shelton Herb Farm, 340 Goodman Rd NE, Leland

**Yemma Farms, Above the Briary, Flytrap Jones, Wild Meadow Farm, Grizz’s Nursery

Wild Bird and Garden, 3501 Oleander Drive

**Sorrel’s Lawn Care and Nursery, Going Native Nursery

Extension Master Gardener Volunteers will be on hand at the Arboretum Plant Clinic and Shelton Herb Farm to answer gardening related questions. Docents will be available in the Arboretum’s Native Plant Garden to speak with visitors about how they can add well adapted native plants to their own gardens to help support insects and wildlife. There will also be a Seed Swap booth where you can receive free seeds!

Additional resources:

Doug Tallamy Webinar: Nature’s Best Hope, Wed, Sept 7, 7-9 p.m.

https://act.audubon.org/a/doug-tallamy-webinar-bringing-nature-home

Charley Winterbauer: Native Plants for Birds and Butterflies, Aug 23, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

https://www.islandwildlifenc.com/event-details/native-plants-for-wildlife-with-charley-winterbauer

Landscaping Design Ideas:  These landscaping designs, from the Coastal Landscapes Initiative, are intended for anyone interested in growing native North Carolina plants in their gardens and yards. Each design can be modified to meet lot configurations, and alternative plant choices are provided for flexibility.

https://ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/news/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2021/08/8.3.21-CLI-Templates_web_compressed.pdf

Doug Tallamy, Homegrown National Park:

https://homegrownnationalpark.org/tallamys-hub-1

Native plant finder:

https://www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/

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NC State Cooperative Extension Service
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Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.