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The Basics of Harvesting Hyper-local Plants

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The Basics of Harvesting Hyper-local Plants

bryan quinn

When it comes to choosing plants for your yard or garden, it’s important to obtain species that originate from a close geographic area. Plants with local genotypes are more likely to establish themselves and thrive than those from distant locales. While many species have an extremely wide distribution, time has adapted them for life in a smaller, more regional environment—not enough to morph into a distinct species, but still different enough to contain traits which most likely aren’t suitable for similar habitat types on opposite ends of their broad range. Take the white oak (Quercus alba), for example. It ranges from southern Canada down to Florida. If you’re looking to plant one in New York, you’re certainly not going to want to get plants from a nursery in the Deep South. Why?—Apart from living in a completely different climate, garnering traits to survive in perpetually muggy and sultry weather, immunity levels differ as well. There are a myriad of bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens, not to mention insect pests, which are exceedingly spotty throughout the eastern U.S. Local plant populations which have encountered the pathogens have probably built up a resistance to it over time (assuming it’s not a recently introduced invasive species). If species are brought in from different geographic areas, they may entirely lack resistance to a regional problem, and a single encounter with the organisms could prove to be fatal. Additionally, importing plants can also help facilitate the transfer of these pathogens to new regions, even if preventive measures are taken.

Collecting wild plants isn't just a good way to preserve genetic integrity, it's also a fun way to get outside and enjoy the landscape.

Collecting wild plants isn't just a good way to preserve genetic integrity, it's also a fun way to get outside and enjoy the landscape.

At times, it can be difficult to find a nearby nursery that sells hyper-local plants. It may therefore be in your best interest to harvest plants directly from the wild. To many, this proposition may seem to be counterintuitive, especially when geared toward a conservation related project. It is, however, perfectly fine as long as done in a sustainable manner. This definitely beats the other option of planting possibly inferior non-local specimens that could result in an entire project failing. A few relatively common plants taken from a healthy forest will hardly be noticed. It’s best to remove no more than 10% of any given population. Be sure to get permission before collecting anything from the wild.

Any size will do when it comes to harvesting trees, be it seedlings or bulkier 5 to 6 foot tall specimens. While larger trees will undoubtedly be of more work to dig up and maneuver, there are several benefits to selecting older individuals. Apart from taking less time to mature, more robust trees are less likely to be browsed by wildlife, such as deer. Also, with larger and longer roots, they have a greater chance of surviving in drier conditions and won’t have to be watered as often.

For medium to large sized trees, 5 gallon pots or planting bags generally work best. Dig up the tree with as much of the roots intact as possible that will snugly fit within the pots. Some species will obviously be easier to pot than others. While willows and birches easily uproot, trees such as aspens, which frequently propagate by means of clones emanating from thick, singular roots, may be practically impossible to viably remove. Other plants, like hickories, which possess deep taproots, can be similarly difficult to dislodge and temporarily store. In cases such as these, seed collection may be the best option.

Determining which species transplant best can be quite arduous, requiring a lengthy trial and error process. To save you a bit of time (and digging), the list below has been created detailing easy to dig-up species that have an above average survival rate following transplant:

·         Maples (Acer sp.)

·         Oaks (Quercus sp.)

·         Willows (Salix sp.)

·         Shadbush (Amelanchier sp.)

·         Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)

·         Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

·         Basswood (Tilia Americana)

·         Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

·         Gray & Paper Birches (Betula populifolia & papyrifera)

·         Red Osier & Silky Dogwoods (Cornus sericea & amomum)

In regards to soil type, about 1/3 of it should come from where you removed the tree, and the rest from a fortified potting mixture. The nutrient rich potting soil will go a long way to prevent a tree from becoming vitamin or nutrient deficient while tightly confined.

In order to minimize the impacts where plants are being removed, it’s necessary to eliminate all traces of a human presence. Holes should be completely filled in and covered over with a thin layer of leaves or detritus. Pay close attention to what you take. Anything that looks like it could be diseased should be left alone. You don’t want to be responsible for transporting invasive species to a new area. Be particularly wary of ash and hemlock trees. The emerald ash borer, a tiny insect that burrows through the living wood of many ash species, has already killed off billions of trees in the Northeast. The equally destructive hemlock-woolly adelgid, which looks like a fuzzy white fungus, yet too, is actually an insect, clings between needles and sucks the sap of out branches until the dainty needles wither away, resulting in the tree slowly starving to death. These tiny beasts are capable of toppling lofty centuries old giants in a matter of years.

One Nature’s nursery located in Montgomery, NY, is almost entirely populated with hyper-local plants harvested from the Northeast. Expansion of the nursery is continually taking place. In addition to stocking common and well known plants, we will soon be offering harder to find species, not only of trees, but also of herbaceous plants, such as grasses, ferns, and spring ephemeral wildflowers, among many others. We are currently in the collection and propagation phase. There isn’t any place the staff of One Nature isn’t willing to venture to in order to bring you the highest quality local genotype plants. From the thicket of overgrown urban lots to the craggiest mountain summits, we scour remote pieces of southeastern New York to bring into your reach descendants of plants which have since the end of the last ice age, twelve millennia ago, adapted themselves to the remarkable landscape of the Hudson Valley.