The Dance

I know the squirrels will soon be hanging upside down from the branches of the elm outside my window. They do this so they can use their front paws to eat the puffy pink buds that dangle from the tips of the branches. Two consecutive days of above 70 degree weather is enough to get anyone excited.

It’s time to set up the germination box, stratify some seeds, move some shrubs, make a rabbit fence, cut down the grasses, pokeweed and snakeroot, plant some seeds outside and do some major planning. But all of this is very hard because I’m still trying to regroup from that article by the University of Pittsburgh I read about a month ago and since no one seems to have much in the way of answers I’ve come up with some ideas of my own.

What I found very interesting about the article was the chart that seemed to suggest that most of the non native seeds commonly found in wildflower seed packets actually seem to have less potential to negatively impact remnant native plant communities than the native species (of non local ecotype). This tells me several things. First, the term native plant is frustratingly vague and second, ecological gardening is about as confusing as it gets.

Apparently, somehow, some way, my city with all its pavement, buildings and noise harbors ecologically valuable and unique native plant communities. Apparently, many cities were built in places rich in biodiversity like along rivers or bays or in swamps and many of the plants originating in these places have somehow managed to survive where hopefully they are providing food or homes to other unique or specialized species.

And somehow, some plants originating across an ocean might make better ecological companions for these remnant native communities than those originating on the same continent? Maybe it’s too much All in the Family. I don’t know. Anyhow, I’m baffled, perplexed and somewhat paralyzed.

And while all this inconclusive research is going on, I’m wondering how best to proceed with caution. I came to a conclusion in another post which really sounded good but seriously, am I really going to ask the county if I can pick seeds from the natural areas? Seeds which probably wouldn’t do all that well in my garden anyway? Seeds which probably should be left to propagate where they’re already doing ok. I can afford to buy a few plants/year at the local native plant sales but that’s about it.

And then I came across XERCES Mid-Atlantic Pollinator Mix from Ernst Conservation Seeds and I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s a mix made up for the Mid-Atlantic area with seeds originating from West Virginia to Pennsylvania. Now that’s not so local and if the highly regarded Xerces Society recommends it, it must be ok. (You can buy by the ounce from Ernst Seeds)

And I had another idea.


Annuals (usually non native) are some of the plants rated by the study as least likely to negatively impact remnant native communities. Most have been in this country since European arrival so if they haven’t become invasive yet maybe they won’t?

But my real thinking is they make great transition plants. I can buy a few local ecotype natives and surround them with annuals until the local ecotypes spread or set seed. And since annuals live only a year, hopefully I can easily manage them without lots of unnecessary soil disturbance.

Now I know annuals can be prodigious self seeders and often aggressive so that might be a management challenge but one I’m willing to test. The real goal here is that I and hopefully my ecological community will get more bang for the buck until things go about returning to some kind of harmonized state. Because after all, what I’m dealing with here is an unbalance of sorts.

So I sifted through the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog for annuals that could be direct seeded and cross referenced each one with the Invasive Plant Atlas’s list of invasive herbs/forbs and Cornell University’s list of flowers and the chart from the study by the University of Pittsburgh to lessen the possibility of choosing annuals that might be invasive or potentially harmful for remnant native plant communities in my area. And I made a spreedsheet.

And so the dance begins. A complex mix of forces both random and ordered, each influencing the others in some way. Hopefully with knowledge, thought, observation and care, I’ll be a graceful dancer among them.

*All these charts along with the study can be found on my new page called Reference.