Saturday, November 7, 2015

9 Native Replacements for Bush Honeysuckle

(American Wild Plum, Black Haw Viburnum, and Flowering Dogwood in bloom-Click HD)

Driving from metropolitan area to the next, you may notice as you're driving on the highway a significant decrease in invasive vegetation the further you get away from a metropolitan and significant increase in invasive vegetation the closer you get to the next one. One study found that Horticulture aka the art of landscaping, has brought us 82% of the invasive woody plants currently present in the environment. Since our cities and towns are the main places where horticulture is practices, they tend to be hubs for old, "on the rise", and new invasive plants. In the Cincinnati/NKY/Southeast Indiana Metropolitan Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is one of our older invasive plants, and most established/destructive species. Due to its origin in a colder bio-region of within Asia, it holds on to its leaves well into late November locally, and begins budding out in late March. Due to its early onset of leaves, spring wildflowers of the forest can't take advantage of the early season sunlight before the trees put there leaves on in the canopy. This leads to this shrub destroying wildflower diversity within forests. Furthermore, since we've fragmented what was once more or less a continuous forest ecosystem, honeysuckle now dominates on the edges of forest which would be a niche native shrubs and small native trees like those I'll list below. This species is at the point where you could just stop mowing your lawn, and in 5 years, your lawn will have become a formidable thicket of honeysuckle forming (Don't test that statement out.).

I'd like to list 9 native replacements for once you've removed honeysuckle from your property, that not only beautify and attract native wildlife, but also have the adaptability to spread/reproduce and reclaim the niche that the honeysuckle had been occupying.

Full Sun Exposure Replacements (+6 Hours Sun Exposure)

To the left is a picture of 2 American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana) in prime fall color at UK Arboretum in Lexington, Kentucky in 2012 (The pictures below shows their growth since then). Hazelnuts are one our most widespread, hardy shrubs finding niches within Forest, Savannah, and Prairie ecosystems. In Cincinnati this shrub is rarely seen, likely having it's potential niches occupied fully by Bush Honeysuckle, the dominant invasive of the moment.

American Hazelnut - Corylus americana

Once established one can observe quite the action within and around them. The nuts are consumed by Ring-Necked Pheasant, Bobwhite Quail, Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Greater Prairie Chicken, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay amongst others. The male catkins and buds are a source of food during the winter for the Ruffed Grouse and Wild Turkey. Mammals also chow down including the Eastern Chipmunk, Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, Red Squirrel, White-Footed Mouse, and Deer Mouse. White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbits browse on the twigs and leaves so leave the shrubs protected until well over 4' high. 

This is a picture from a different view of the same two shrubs 3 years later. They've been allowed to completely grow together creating a tall 9' hedge, but could be trimmed horticulturally and maintained at much shorter heights if desired. The lighter free clusters at the end of the twigs bundles of hazelnuts, palatable to human consumption as well. Due to this dense branching structure and large leaves, it naturally provides excellent cover for various kinds of wildlife and good nesting habitat for songbirds. Plant American Hazelnut on wood edges that are exposed to Southern and/or Southwestern sunlight or in full-sun for best growth. The plant can grow with less sunlight, but will produce less nuts. These will tolerate moderately poorly drained soil, as well as rocky dry soils throughout the midwestern climates. 

(American Wild Plum, a sporadically occurring species with interesting attributes)

American Wild Plum - Prunus americana

American Wild Plum is a fast growing, thicket forming species of the Cherry genus (Prunus americana). The flowers are stunning when mixed with Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) which blooms near the same time. Like many plants in the Prunus (Cherry) genus, it is most popular with a wide variety of pollinators. It is adapted to poor rocky soils, sandy, silty, and clay bound soils, the most constricting condition to this plant along with all other plant life is compaction. No plant life thrives under those conditions. Plant American wild plum along southeastern, southern, southwestern, and western exposed wood edges after honeysuckle removal and they'll colonize through underground roots. Though if you would like wildlife, or your friends to feast on the plump-plum flavored fruits, plant multiple uncultivated (non-cultivar/clone) plants within 20-30 feet from each other and as close as 7 ft from each other to ensure cross pollination. For more information on the American Wild Plum, see this link. The thicket pattern of growth, and branching structure is also idea for nesting habit for adapted birds.  Photo Credit to Larry Reis of the plum fruit. Flowers open in April.

Eastern Redbud - Cercis Canadensis

Eastern Redbud is a commonly sold native tree that is adapted to full-sun conditions as well as partially shaded conditions. The actual root/crown of the tree can easily live for over 35 years, by pruning the old-quickly decaying wood back to the main leaders allowing new heartwood and sapwood to develop. Otherwise the original trunks will fall apart after 25-30 years on average as a very quickly growing and climaxing small tree. 

Native pollinators as well as honeybees are very well adapted to the April emerging flowers. When selecting native trees/shrubs, understand that each species plays a intricate role to the complex ecosystem that extends from deep into the soil into the sky above the canopy of a forest.  I won't deceive you by saying plant this, over that, because of this 1 select reason, such as pollinator support. Nature cannot be simplified in such a way, so a general rule of thumb is to plant some of everything to maximize diversity, based on how they occur in the wild. In the wild, Eastern Redbud occurs in prairie openings in harsh dry soils, forest openings, woodlands, and savannah. You can often find them, along with many of the other shrubs and trees listed on this blog post stretching out over creek and stream banks that naturally let light in through the canopy of the surrounding forest. For more information of the Eastern Redbud, follow this link

Partial Sun-Partial Shade Exposure (3-6 Hours Sun Exposure)

(PawPaw can take full sun, but thrives in partial sun exposure, between 3-6 hours of sun exposure)

Pawpaw - Asimina triloba

Asimina triloba-Paw Paw, is one of the better know native fruit trees of the midwest. It produces the largest fruit in the United States. Though it can grow in moist soils in full sun, it also is a great candidate for planting on Northeastern, Eastern, Western, and Northwestern faced wood edges after honeysuckle removal. They produce more fruit in the sun, but again require ample soil moisture. Locally they have niches in nearly all forest types, creating colonies on the forest floor and waiting patiently for canopy trees to fall to shoot up into the mid story and begin producing fruit/seed. The aesthetic of the tree speaks for itself. The dark green, thickly leaved, pyramidal shaped trees standout in any landscape, though they're best planted on a wood edge or in a bed surrounded by lawn so the suckers do not create a thicket where undesired. The flowers are pollinated by flies and beetles, and tend to get pollinated effectively but insects but require genetically distinct (non-clones/suckers) plants to set fruit. As long as you're willing to give them a couple of inches of water during a drought, feel free to give them over 6 hours of sun, otherwise utilize them in partially shaded/sun exposed conditions. For more information on PawPaw, follow this link.

(Blackhaw Viburnum is one of the most common and adaptable viburnums)

Blackhaw Viburnum - Viburnum prunifolium

Viburnum prunifolium is adapted to considerably deep shade of the many different non-floodplain forest types. On southern and western faced slopes in southwest Ohio, where shallow limestone/shale soils stunt the overstory, this species thrives alongside Eastern Redbud and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). In the landscape, like Pawpaw, this species easily withstands full-sun exposure in moderately moist soils, but thrives in sun exposures of between 3-6 hours. To date, 104 and moth/butterflies have been found to lay they eggs and rear their caterpillars on the foliage of the Viburnum genus. The flowers, also open in April around the same time as Redbud and American Wild Plum. A wide variety of pollinators utilize as you'll see a few in the video I shot of them this past spring of 2015. The berries are consumed by early winter by songbirds. The fall color ranges from pinkish to light burgundy red. You can expect the plants to turn into multi-trunked small thickly branched trees of about 10 feet wide and 15 feet tall. For more info, follow this link

(Flowering Dogwood naturally grows in prairie openings, forest understories and wood edges)

Flowering Dogwood - Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood is a small 15' wide by 15+' tall conspicuously flowering tree. The flower petals are called bracts, a form of color altered leaf that beckons pollinators to the cluster of true flowers in the center of the bracts. See the video below to see that process in action. Flowering Dogwood is exceptionally adapted to dry soil conditions when in partial shade, this is noted by it's ability to persist in shallow rocky southern/western sloped forests in the understory catching sunlight through the stunted canopy of trees. In adams county, you can often find them penetrating the edges of prairies which have such inhabitable soils, our most adapted tree that can actually close the prairie openings is only the Eastern Red cedar which is known to grow out of cracks in rocks. Hike your local forests in early May, and look for this flowering tree while paying attention to the niche it is developing in, they're often found in forest canopy openings as well where large trees have fallen and the forest is yet to close back up. The bright red fruit, and reddish maroon fall color send signals to songbirds that the feast has begun. Through primarily bird distribution the plants are spread far and wide but mostly succeed if they land in the above described niches. If you have a forested wood edge, plant it about 10 feet off it, as this dogwood was bird planted off the wood edge in the above picture. Alternatively, plant it on the western or eastern side of your home to give it shade at some point in the day. In moderately moist, uncompacted soils, they also can thrive in full-sun. For more information on the flowering dogwood, follow this link.

(Euonymous atropurpureus-Eastern Wahoo is a native alternative to the invasive Burning Bush)

Eastern Wahoo - Euonymous atropurpureus

Eastern Wahoo is a plant unknown to most gardeners and "plant people" alike. This is one of our native plants of the Eunymous genus, which horticulture has brought us invasive counter parts Eunymous fortuneii (Winter Creeper Euonymous) and Burning Bush (Eunymous alatus) from other continents. This particular native Euonymous (Eastern Wahoo) forms a small single trunk tree, which in maturity can get about 10' wide by 15' Tall. Even though our American Eastern Wahoo has not been cultivated/selected for fall color like the asiatic varieties, when given enough sun exposure, they give bright pink-reddish fall expressions which the leave behind pink colored fruit favorited by our native bird species. This plant is very adapted to shady conditions, and can most often be found on wood edges reach upwards and outwards away from the canopy trees to catch just enough sunlight to produce its fruit. Placing this plant on the Eastern or Western side of your home, or of a large to medium sized tree is good placement. This plant will likely not thrive in very rocky compacted clay soils, just as nearly all plants do not thrive under those conditions. Select this plant to add diversity to your yard, and give this native a competitive advantage over our ever abundant invasive species by nurturing it in your landscape from which it will be spread around by birds. For more info on the Eastern Wahoo follow this link.  Photo credit of the Cardinal goes to Betty Hall

Partial-Full Shade ( 2 or less direct hours of sunlight)

 (Maple Leaf Viburnum grows in mature forests of varying canopy densities)

Maple leaf Viburnum - Viburnum acerifolium 

This Viburnum species grows in the full shade of the mature old growth forests and 2nd growth forests. Like spicebush, which we'll talk talk about below, this plant has the ability to reproduce long-term in the full shade of a forest canopy, not requiring openings to produce fruit and seed. The plant reaches its most ornamental impact on the wood edge, but this is one that can survive well with 1-2 direct hours of sunlight. With more sun exposure, the fall color is burgundy red as seen to the right, and in more shade the fall color is of light pink color ranges. Wildlife benefits are similar to Black haw Viburnum, it just tolerates more shade than black haw viburnum can, while still reproducing and flowering. This plant does not invade open habitats naturally, so it is best kept in less than 4 hours of direct sunlight for  optimal longevity. Try this shrub on the Northeast or Northwest corner of your home, of medium to large shade tree. Alternatively, remove the Bush Honeysuckle from your forested land, and replant in the understory with this species as well as the next species; Spicebush. For more information on Maple Leaf Viburnum follow this link.

Spicebush- Lindera benzoin

Spicebush is a native shrub that occurs in a many different forest types throughout primarily the eastern half of the U.S. It occurs in the understory of well drained and poorly drained hydrologies, occupying canopy openings, stream bank openings, forested wetlands and edges, and in fully shaded old growth forests. This species doesn't often invade open habitats, just like Maple Leaf Viburnum. It can proliferate on moist forest edges, and grow into beautiful thickly branched small tree form when given just enough moisture. Eastern, Northeastern, and Northwestern sides of homes and trees are good places to plant spice bush. If planting in the understory of a forest, place it near stream bank edges where it can reach out to gain sunlight from the slight opening created by the stream/ravine. It can thrive in full shade, but produces much more fruit when given just a hour or 2 of direct sunlight. This shrub is very deer tolerant, as its fragrant leaves are not very palatable. The berries however are loved by resident and migrating birds as they're high in lipids and proteins sequestered in the oily fruits. Compared to the invasive Bush Honeysuckle, spice bush berries are very much superior in nutrition for its consumers. It is one of the first native woody plants to bloom in the spring, often breaking bud by late March in local forest habitats. For more information on our native spice bush, follow this link.  Photo credit of fruit goes to Mary Anne Borge


My business Pioneer Landscapes is looking to help property owners in and near the Cincinnati Metropolitan transition their land back to ecological balance by planting native prairies in place of lawn, restoring forests/woodlands by removing honeysuckle/other involves and nurturing the existing native vegetations, as well as renovating their landscapes with native plant focused design. Wether you're interested in just consultancy/design, design + installation, or the full ride of design + installation + maintenance our services are being made available and affordable to the public. 

To learn more about our services follow this link. If you're interested in a free site/planning visit, within 50 miles of Cincinnati, contact us at 513-545-1079 or . 

Also, to stay up to date on workshops/presentations/classes we're teaching "like" our Facebook page and check our "Workshops and Classes" tab on our website often for updates. You may also find our resources page of use to you or your organization. 

Please share this blog post in your network to raise awareness of the Bush Honeysuckle dilemma and alternatives.

See our first Newsletter post here:  Pio-News. If you'd like to subscribe, just click that so titled button in the top left corner of the Pio-news hyperlink. The newsletter is another easy way to keep up to date with workshops/classes/presentations, special offers, and resources such as this blog post. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Riverbank Grape: Utilizing A Wild Vine For Nutrition And Energy Efficiency

(Vitis riparia-River Bank Grape, an under utilized vine with great potential)

Winter of 2014-2015 I was doing a lot nutrition research on crops that could be used in sustainable agriculture applications. I found that when it comes to calories (Fat, Protein, Carbs-Sugar/Starch/Fiber) seeds are the most dense in nutrition, as well when it comes to minerals and much of the Vitamin B Complex. Per 100 grams, nuts like Hazelnuts, Walnuts, and Pecans deliver 600-700 calories. Peanuts, Acorns, and Sunflower seeds come in around 500 calories per 100 grams, Legumes (Beans) and Grains-around 250-350 calories per 100 grams. Meat-130-180 calories per 100 grams. Root Crops like Potatoes and Parsnips-70-85 calories per 100 grams. And finally fruit and vegetables provide anywhere from 10-90 calories per 100 grams. Looking at nutrition facts, there are very few fruit worth growing if looking for nutrients, as they are water heavy, and do not sequester significant amounts of vitamins and minerals when compared to other plant products such as roots, leaves, and seeds. Leaves of dark greens such as Grape Leaves, Kale, Spinach, and Amaranth sequester significant amounts of minerals and vitamins without having to eat pounds of them each day. 

Grape Leaf/Seed Nutrition

When comparing Grape Leaf nutrition to all other vegetable crops, Grape Leaves stood out for not only providing the highest amount of calories per 100 grams (93 calories including 6g of Protein), and the most Calcium (36% of Daily Value) and top 3 in Iron (15% of Daily Value) and Magnesium (24% of Daily Value). The 93 calories per 100 grams is even more impressive for a leaf when you consider that Potatoes and Parsnips which are Root Crops weigh in the 80's as far calories per 100 grams. 

After looking through all of the crops I could grow, things that sequester Calcium, Iron, and Magnesium are hard to come by, these leaves just happen to be one of the highest in all 3 categories. So this spring, summer, and fall I set off on a quest to taste all of the local wild grape vine leaves for palatability as I'd prefer to eat them raw, rather than to cook bitter tannins out of them which would destroy and leach out much of the vitamins and minerals. You may wonder, why wild grape vines? I chose to seek out wild locally indigenous Grape Vines because I was also after the seeds which provide a plethora of health benefits as well and wild vines will have the largest most numerous seeds in the grapes compared to cultivated grapes that have been breed to be seedless or have small seeds. Also, wild vines are going to be the most vigorously branching plants having directly adapted relationships with local soil characteristics and soil biota creating a very productive leaf and seed crop. Searching through and tasting vine after vine, they delivered punishing aftertastes of astringency and bitterness, my tongue was pleading for me to stop the quest. While exploring an alkaline floodplain of the Little Miami River I finally came across Vitis riparia (Riverbank Grape AKA Frost Grape). This leaf was less hairy than the other grape vines, and the taste had no bitterness, but rather a lemon flavor without the "bite" of a lemon. The grapes taste similar, lemon-acidic taste with no bitterness, very palatable before frost, but literature states that after the grapes are frosted in late fall, they turn sweeter. Lastly, the seed of Riverbank Grape has no distinct taste which is a great thing as many seeds of wild plants are loaded with tannins to prevent predation. Since that first sighting, I've also found the same species growing in multiple places in acidic well-drained uplands at high elevations showing it's ability to not be restricted to alkaline floodplains.

( The fading leaves after a long summer are giving way to lemon-sweet flavored grapes)


The implications are huge of being able to utilize the seeds (the most nutrient + calorie dense food) as well as the leaves of this plant which are more calorie dense than potatoes per 100 grams, and sequester vitally important minerals (Calcium, Iron, Magnesium) at some of the highest amounts available. The fact that it is also a perennial woody vine creates opportunities to use the plant vertically in spaces that are typically not usable for crops.

Energy Efficiency 

Vines that are potentially damaging to the walls and roofs of houses due to their clinging habit include Virginia Creeper, Boston Ivy, and English Ivy all are tolerated to different extents by some homeowners for different reasons, but Grape Vines climb with tendrils so they can't damage tiles or grow under sidings of buildings. Infact they need supports to climb on like wires or arbors, something they can wind a tendril around as opposed to climbing straight up surfaces like the aforementioned vines. Grape vines can grow over 15ft in 1 year, so if applied correctly, these vines can be trained on to 1 and 2 story houses for quick cooling as opposed to waiting 50 years for an Oak, Hickory, or Maple to shade your home for energy efficiency. I'll be collaborating with Jake Thompson of Barefoot Design (like them on Facebook) to mastermind-design and build supports on my one story home for River Bank grape to cover the unused +2,000 square feet of my roof that is directly open to summer heat from the southern and western exposures. For centuries grape vines have been used to create cool summer environments in the outdoor rooms supported by different structures (See Picture above), it is time to get creative and figure out how to support a controlled growth feasible for covering homes with. Look forward to a future blog post about how our project at my home is progressing. Imagine that solar heat oppression being turned into photosynthesis, cooling, pollinator supporting (from flowers), edible leaf/seed/fruit producing fun!

Pole-Form Cultivation

Thinking about how could I harvest enough seeds for it to compare with grain, legume, pseudo-grain, and nut production as well as sustainable harvest leaves throughout the season; I had to admire the way many vines adapted to our tendency to erect poles in our environments. To the right is a picture of Trumpet Vine that grew up a utility pole, and likely due to its sheer beauty, was allowed to live by the often violent hand of land management. Realistically speaking though, I'm not suggesting growing Riverbank Grape up utility poles as that would make harvesting the leaves and grapes unnecessary stressful. But if we could erect similar wooden pole structures of 20-30 ft. in a permaculture/sustainable agriculture/polyculture setting or even someone's residential backyard, one could easily train this Grape Vine to claim the pole as its own. It would be best to plant 2 per pole perhaps for cross pollination and maximum grape/seed production if the poles were going to be kept a fair distance away from each other. Keeping the poles spaced out by at least 6 or 7' would all them to never touch and bind with each other and other adjacent structures, in that case 1 plant per pole would likely suffice. A pole format would also lend itself to foraging large amounts of leaves with ladders whenever need be starting from the bottom going up, and fruit/seed harvest would also be easy as the grapes would be hanging directly from the poles. If any one has any other ideas on how to get this vine into permaculture/sustainable agriculture/residential settings please leave them in comment section. 

In Closing

I myself, am stoked on finding more Riverbank Growing locally in the Cincinnati Metropolitan. I've collected bundles of grapes for their seeds to propagate plenty for 2016 to grow on my house, and give to others interested in utilizing this wild-superfood. It'll likely because a feature of my edibles section in 2016 Native Plant Nursery being kick off under my business name Pioneer Landscapes LLC. See my website here for updates on the 2016 opening of the Native Nursery and many other ecologically minded landscape services that we have available including reforestation, prairie restoration/creation, and native plant based landscaping including fun edibles. 

Lastly; if you cook the tannins out of all grape vine leafs and make different foods like Greek Dolma out of them, but you'll leach away many of those vitally important minerals, and destroy may vitamins in that heat intensive process. This is why Vitis riparia (Riverbank Grape) is so important. With leaves that have no bitterness, rather a smooth lemon flavor, and adaptability to grow well in a wide amount of environments while also bear seeds that are non-astringent or bitter, this wild food is asking in every way to be utilized in its raw form.

Checkout this video we made showing you a wild riverbank grape vine in Cincinnati

Also enjoy this video by wild forager who makes high quality foraging videos posted on his youtube channel. He's foraging Vitis riparia as it expresses itself in the northeast. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Big Picture Pollinator Conservation: Land Use and Diet Choices


(Butterflies feeding within the 16,000 acre Edge of Appalachia Nature Preserve)  

Pollinator Habitat Reclamation

Today I’m happy to hear peoples' minds are opening up to caring for and protecting pollinators. Decades ago, their well-being was likely given much less attention as other topics of the hour seemed more pressing. Now much of society is finding out that Honeybees, Butterflies, and the many native pollinators are suffering, and it is expressed through crashing populations. There’s now talk of creating pollinator corridors millions of acres large, people are stoked about Milkweeds for Monarchs, and there’s a lot of energy in some places to replace lawn and highway right-of-ways with wildflowers of different kinds.

I’d like to write about something I haven’t seen brought up in these discussions/actions, that I feel is essential to understand so that we may funnel our energy appropriately in these efforts.

It is very safe to assume, nature (including pollinators) was in it’s ever changing state of perfection before the plows broke the prairie sod, the ax felled the trees, and the wetlands were drained so alas, it is time to talk about land use.

(Bigelow Ohio State Nature Preserve. Photo: Andrew Lane Gibson)

This half an acre Preserve makes up part of the less than 1% of the Ohio Prairie that remains.  The rest has been transitioned to mostly agriculture.

You can barely spot the preserve under the pin on the map to the right, but this area was once covered in prairies and savannah of different kinds that supported an unfathomable amount of life and diversity. It is now almost purely agriculture. See the picture to the right to see an even wider view of what was once a working ecosystem. What need would there have been for a pollinator garden before our multi-million acre modifications?

Some Numbers

  In 2007, in the USA 1/5th of our land area was used for Crop Production:
408 Million Acres (2007) Below are the Big 4 crops that together made up 63.5% (259.2 Mil. Acres)
 Corn-84 Million acres with 40% Ethanol Fuel; 36% Livestock Feed
Soybeans occupy 73.8 Million acres and 32% is Livestock Feed
Hay (Alfalfa) occupies 55.7 Million acres and 100% is used for live stock feed.
Wheat occupies 45.7 Million acres and I couldn’t find out how much is fed to Livestock but the European Union in 2007 fed about 42% of their wheat to livestock so possibly we used a similar number but am not sure.
788 million acres (2007) of land is grazed accounting for 42% of our land space excluding non-arable Alaska land (375 million acres). Yellowstone National Park is only 2.2 million acres.

When one adds the acres of crops fed to livestock (+110 Million Acres) and the grazed acres, America devoted about 47% of our land surface to livestock in 2007.

Our Collective Metropolitan Diet Shapes the Rural Landscape

This is how our demand for Steak, Hamburger, Ribs, Hot Dogs, Chicken, Dairy and other animal produces expresses itself in the landscape under the most utilized grazing tactics. How can pollinators, or the many other earthlings native to our ecosystems of prairies, forests, wetlands, and desert thrive when so much land has been altered, destroyed, fragmented, and manipulated for our 1st world diet?

If 47% of the U.S. land area is devoted just to livestock (2007), another roughly 148.8 million acres (2007) are devoted to other monocultured crops for other uses  (Ethanol, Oils, Food), another 40-45 million acres are devoted to lawns, and roughly 17 million acres are mowed maintained right of ways by state departments….are our little 100 square foot monarch waystations and pollinator gardens really going to make a difference in this nation’s ecology?

Well of sarcasm.

But how? Well, 80% of people live on the 3% of the land that is labeled metropolitans. The bulk of the rest of people live on another 3% of the land known as Rural Residential. So pretty much 4/5 people live wthin 3% of the land, and the other 1/5 people live within the other 3%. This is an amazing convenient opportunity to reach the masses and connect them with the life concentrating in our pollinator gardens and backyard prairies/wetlands/forest gardens.  I suggest we reframe our thinking and actions with the big picture in mind, the fact that the majority of this country has had its habitats destroyed beyond recognition. Also become aware that there are sustainable agriculture methods available now such as John Jeavons Grow Biointensive method, that guides one to grow a balanced vegan diet on 5,000 square feet of land (.11) acres. Hypothetically that would feed the current U.S. population on just 36 million acres, which is less land than we already have as lawn! Agroforestry techniques are developing as well incorporating savannah like perennial ecosystems that produce food and create habitat.

Without changing our unsustainable "luxury over need" agricultural system in a world which will see an additional 2+ Billion people added before the end of the century, how else could we birth the possibility for large scale unfragmented habitat restoration?

That would spell the end of loosing keystone species like the Eastern Puma, the end of such high greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized agriculture, and the end of having conversations about pollinator species decline etc. etc.  Even if you have no land to garden, divesting from the meat and dairy industry while supporting awareness raising efforts around ecology is an action potentially more powerful than a garden itself in the big picture view. Volunteering to remove invasive species in metropolitans is also a big impact action, as one study found 82% of invasive woody plants were brought here for horticultural use, and most horticulture (landscaping) is concentrated in our metropolitans which consequently are breeding grounds for invasive plants. In the midwest, I've noticed the further one drives away from a metropolitan, the less invasive plants are present, and then as you approach the next metropolitan, invasive plants increase.

What really else should we do, but return things back as well as we can, to the way they were? And in my view, studding our little 3% of metropolitan land with pollinator gardens and prairies for pollinator support is missing the target if not done with the intentions of openings our community’s hearts back up to nature. The majority culture is in a state of indifference and unaware. These external changes in land will be most temporary, if they do not change the internal state of humanity, expressed through a cultural values shift.

Please comment below to continue the discussion.

Written by Solomon Gamboa of Pioneer Landscapes LLC

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Monthly Native Plant Profile: #3 Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

(Purple Praire clover, in a landscape setting)

Purple Praire Clover- Dalea purpurea

Purple Prairie Clover promises to be a future staple of Midwestern native plant gardens. Throughout it’s native range, it specializes in low fertility, droughty conditions in which it’s yellowish taproot branches through and underneath the roots of prairie grasses like Prairie Dropseed, Indian Grass, Little Bluestem, and Side Oats Grama. In the prairie the purple stands out amongst a sea of yellow flowers in early-mid summer, attracting many different kinds of native bees and honeybees.

It finds enough water to prosper from the shortgrass prairies of Arizona, to dry soil microclimate prairies in the East. Though, in mature succession of midwestern tall grass prairies, it again finds enough resources to cooperate in-between intensively rooted tall grasses. This means, in average midwestern conditions, plant Purple Prairie Clover in well drained soil of any texture, preferably silty or sandy, and watch it thrive without a drop of tap water. They grow to a height of 12"-16", and shouldn't be cut all the way to the ground as they form a semi-woody crown in the fall that will bud out new growth in the spring. The fuzzy seed heads also give an interesting texture/subject to a wintery landscape, and even more so with snow fall. The bloom period depends on the genotype your seed is grown from. Minnesota genotype as show to bloom in Southwest Ohio Early June through June. While more local genotype from Northwest Indiana Tallgrass Prairie Remnants blooms Early July through July. Always select seed sources closes to your local climate, as noted in a previous blog posts, non-local genotype can be the beginning of many complications ecological and aesthetically. 

Personally I've grown them from seed in 7" plugs, which now in their 3rd full season, have turned into the flowers pictured above, and in the video at the end of this blog post. I found that, they do indeed require no water, and are best appreciated up close, in the foreground paralleling a walkway or entrance. This will be one of the many plants Pioneer Landscapes grows at our Fall Native Perennial Plant Sale. Email to be reminded of the event, via email. 

(Purple Prairie Clover in one of it's natural niches, Somme Prairie Grove Chicago, Illinois)


(Purple Prairie Clover cooperating with native bee species and honeybees in an urban setting)

Follow Pioneer Landscapes on Facebook to receive Monthly and sometimes weekly educational video clips, pictures, and profiles on native plants and their habitats including these Nature In Humanity blog posts. 

Also see our main website here

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Monthly Native Plant Profile: #2 Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

(Black Gum, Center-Background, to right of house)

Black Gum - Nyssa sylvatica 

This tree's native range is throughout the South, Midwest, and into North Eastern America. As the leaves mature, they grow a glossy coating, with delicate texture on numerous, thin branches and twigs. Black Bears as well as songbirds utilize the fruit where possible.

Black Gum isn't the strongest grain of wood available amongst our natives, but its growth habit lends itself to be safe next to 2-3 floor homes. Topping out at 50' in most conditions, the tree more so grows wide in a pyramidal tree formation. These means, unlike some of high and heavy branching native trees such as Hickory (Carya sp.), and Oak (Quercus sp.), this one is less likely to severely damage a home if a branch does break in a storm and contact the house. 

In the Cincinnati Metropolitan, Black Gum thrives naturally in sub 6.5 ph soils. In fact, when seen in local forest composition, Pioneer Landscapes uses Black gum as an acidic soil indicator when associated with other acidic soil obligates such as Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) or Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava). This doesn't mean these trees won't grow in landscape conditions in a ph higher than 6.5, it just goes to say that it hasn't been seen to naturally occur locally in forest compositions under those conditions. 

Black gum grows slow in drier, clay heavy soils, but is adapted to them. In fact, Black Gum doesn't care to much about water availability or soil texture ranging from high ridge conditions in sandy soils atop the Appalachian Mountain range, to high water table saturated conditions in clay soils in the glaciated plains of Southwest Ohio. What those two environments have in common are acidity, therefor that seems to be what allows Black gum to thrive without assistance from humans. It is also intermediate in shade tolerance reproducing in the understory of mature Sugar Maple-Beech forest types as a minority species. 

Doug Tallamy, has compiled data on 26 different moths and butterflies that use Black Gum and the Nyssa genus as host plants. If you're looking to brighten your yard, or choose an adapted tree for your sub 6.5ph soil type, consider black gum for its wildlife attributes, and natural beauty. 

(Plant a black gum from a sapling today, and 10-15 years from now.....)

(One of it's most shocking attributes is the burgundy fall color, exhibited in local genotype)

To learn more about the soil relationships with native trees, please email to register for our upcoming (June 20th, 21st, and 27th (9:30-12:30)) "Seeing Forests from the Soils" workshop. See details here.

Follow Pioneer Landscapes on Facebook to receive Monthly and sometimes weekly educational video clips, pictures, and profiles on native plants and their habitats including these Nature In Humanity blog posts. 

Also see our main website here

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Monthly Native Plant Profile: #1 Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

This is one native shrub, that doesn't disappoint bird watchers, lay-gardeners, or native plant enthusiasts. The glossy dark green foliage stands out when in direct sunlight complemented by a textured ruffled appearance. It is often noted that the straight  growing pattern of the stems were utilized by Native Americans as arrow shafts, from which its name is derived. 

As is the case with most plants from the Viburnum genus, these shrubs respond well to rejuvenating pruning  making them a versatile plant for the formal or naturalistic home landscape. In their maturity they'll easily reach 10' tall, but can be maintained through proper pruning to as short as 4' in a horticultural setting.  They thrive in sub 6.5 ph soil, of which the Cincinnati Metropolitan has plenty of thanks to our glacial imports, upon which they occur naturally especially on the Illinoian till plain, associated with high water tables and the Pin Oak-Green Ash-Red Maple forest type. Riding around parts of Warren County, Eastern Hamilton County, and Clermont County you can see this shrub here and there, amongst seas of bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), though it outcompetes Bush Honeysuckle in the understory/edge of the aforementioned Pin Oak-Green Ash-Red Maple forest type depending on the water table (my hypothesis).

Local genotypes of Arrowwod bloom from Early May through May, then quickly sets berries to be mature by August for migrating birds to utilize. According to Doug Tallamy's studies, the Viburnum genus supports at least 97 species of native Moths/Butterflies as a host plant, who's caterpillars are instrumental in moving energy up the food change as they're the predominant species that can consume the vegetation. 

If you're interested in planting for wildlife attraction/support, and/or beauty, consider this shrub as a possible foundational backbone of your planting.

(Arrowood is adapted to growing on wood edges, partially shaded conditions, and in the open.)

(Leaves can turn a soft pink, while the berries remain a rich blue coveted by native birds in the fall.)

Follow Pioneer Landscapes on Facebook to receive Monthly and sometimes weekly educational video clips, pictures, and profiles on native plants and their habitats including these Nature In Humanity blog posts. 

Also see our main website here

Friday, April 3, 2015

5 Major Forest/Soil Relationships of Southwest Ohio


Residuum is soil formed in place from bedrock breaking down; not transported by wind, water, or glacial ice. Due to the extensive glacial history in southwest Ohio, much of our residuum soil is underneath glacial deposits of soil that originated from Canada and counties north of Hamilton County. Residuum soil locally is mostly preserved on steep valley hillsides created overtime by rivers and streams cutting through our bedrock formations. These hillsides may have been too extreme in slope to hold and retain glacial deposits without the deposits washing away. It is typical, atop the valley hillsides where the hills climax and flatten off, that there are deep glacial deposits preserved mostly on the topography upon which we found most suitable for development.

(Limestone bedrock often breaks the surface of our shallow Eden and Fairmount Soils)

Common names of our residuum soil formations that you will find in soil surveys are Eden, Fairmount, Switzerland, and Pate. They vary in depth, but the bedrock is often near the surface anywhere from 12 inches to 60+ inches from the surface. When shallow residuum soils occur on wide open valley hillsides that face south-east, south, and south-west, we sometimes see the forest unable to fully close. In these stunted stages, they are dominated by our most alkaline drought tolerant species such as Shumard Oak, Chinkapin Oak, White Ash, and Blue Ash. Those partially open/stunted forests would be home to less common herbaceous species if honeysuckle were maintained, as seen in the Gorge of Caesar Creek State Park.

Eden and Fairmount Residuum
In General, our Eden and Fairmount soils promote these alkaline preferring species; Chinkapin Oak, Shumard Oak, Bur Oak, Shellbark Hickory, Ohio Buckeye, Bur Oak, and Blue Ash, as well as these more or less generalist species; Sugar Maple, Black Maple, Red Oak, American Beech, White Ash, White Oak, Bitternut Hickory, Shagbark Hickory, and Sweet Pignut Hickory.  These soils range in the 6.5 ph+ upwards to 7.5 ph.

(Switzerland, acidic upland residuum soil with deep loess deposit overlaying the residuum)

Pate (Colluvium-Residuum) and Switzerland (Loess + Residuum)
Again, in general, our deeper and more complex Pate and Switzerland soils support a mix of acidic soil and alkaline soil preffering species due to their lower ph ranging in the 5-6 range. Not only can you find most of thee above species in these soils, with the alkaline preferring species less dominant and at times absent, you can find an occurrence of species that prefer more acidic soils such as Yellow Buckeye, Scarlet Oak, Black Oak, and Sassafras as seen in Oak Glen Nature Preserve, and the old growth of Ault Park. 


Our alluviual soils of our 3 watersheds; the Little Miami, Great Miami, and Mill Creek Valleys, are of alkaline nature. Alluvial soils are water stratified, meaning the soils were created by first the erosion of soils, or melting of glacial water, then as the water slows down silt and sand sized particles settle out and stratify based on many different factors while most of the clay sized particles are taken long distances away from floodplains as they take the longest amount of time to settle. Because our floodplain soils are all above 7.0 PH and often approaching the 8 range, it wouldn’t be a far out generalization to say most of our upland silt and sand particles are alkaline, while most of upland clay sized particles are acidic as noted by the acidic clay based glacial till deposits throughout southwest Ohio. More on Glacial Till later in the blog post.

Alluvial soils aren’t always on currently flooded floodplains. There are alluvial terraces at higher elevations than the more actively flooded plains, that were once flooded often by either rivers that were here before the last ice age, or today’s rivers which have created and abandoned floodplains naturally as the rivers move, cut, and deposit soil. Also dams have turned more often flooded floodplains, into less often or rarely flooded flood plains and vice versa. Therefor floodplain forest locally can be characterized into frequently flooded, occasionally flooded, and rarely flooded floodplains as the soil surveys characterized the soil formations, which each have a slightly different forest composition.

These following species occur on all different frequencies of flooding; American Sycamore, Green Ash, Box Elder Maple, and Ohio Buckeye. These next species are more restricted to frequently flooded floodplains, and less dominant or absent in occasionally and rarely flooded floodplains; Cottonwood, Willow sp., and Silver Maple. Lastly this long list of species occurs on rarely and occasionally flooded floodplains; Bur Oak, Shellbark Hickory, Black Maple, Blue Ash, Kentucky Coffe Tree, Honey Locust, Tulip Tree, Black Walnut, American Elm, American Linden, and Hackberry.

Lastly, floodplain forests locally have water created niches for different species to find a feasible hydrology in. For example there are swales/depressions, and rises in elevations on floodplains that promote this species over that species. There are soils heavy in sand, and soils heavy in silt, which may promote this species over that species. There are PH estimates closer to 7.0 and PH estimates closer to 8. These subtleties haven’t been studied by myself yet locally, but are on the to-do-list.

(Glacial Outwash Valley at Fort Ancient)

Glacial Outwash

Like alluvial soils, glacial outwash soils are water stratified. So most clay particles have been carried off by water action leaving a predominantly silt and sand composition. Outwash is formed by melting glacier water, and occurs on uplands and slopes, where as the soils formed by melting glacier water that occur parrarell with rivers and streams are classified as alluvial, though both are similar in nature, just not location-locally. These are our most alkaline upland soils locally, and are rich in small pebble sized to large boulder sized glacial erratics in deep deposits of soil with the bedrock well over 80 inches from the surface according to soil surveys. These upland soils, due to their alkalinity, promote a similar forest as our Eden and Fairmount soils, except due to their depth and moisture availability the canopies are more closed, trees can reach greater size, and in general can grow at faster rates. From my observation, glacial outwash is more dominated by alkaline preferring species such as Chinakpin Oak, Blue Ash, and Shumard Oak than some residuum soils, perhaps because of the higher alkalinity. Though the occasional White Oak, Shagbark Hickory, and Red Oak which dominate in acidic soils, may still occur as minority species.  The valley of Randall Run, in Fort Anchient State Park, and some of the valleys in California Woods are some of the best samples of glacial outwash forests studied to date locally. Casco Loam and Fox Loam are two of the most common Glacial Outwash formations studied so far.

Loess Deposits

Loess is wind deposited silt. Silt, as witnessed in the dust bowl, can become airborne for thousands of miles while sand tends to travel very short distances, and clay tends to clump together and resist being suspended in air the most. What we generally call “Topsoil” are loess deposits overlaying our subsoil which locally is most often acidic clay based glacial till deposits in glaciated soils. Loess is the icing on the cake, of most of glacial till deposits and even some of our residuum soils such as Switzerland. It tends have collected least upon the steep valley hillsides upon which our residuum soils are preserved and un-glaciated, perhaps due to the inability to remain at such a slope without being eroded after the last ice age.  Where we have deep loess deposits, sometimes the soil formations are acidic, sometimes they are closer to neutral, perhaps meaning the origin of our loess deposits varies and is not uniform nature/source. Switzerland for example features a deep loess deposit overlaying our residuum soil, and commonly tests in the 5 range supporting Scarlet Oak and Sassafrass. Where as Hennepin and Miamian soils range from the high 6 to low 7 range featuring a deep loess deposit overlaying glacial till.  In Sharon Woods, where the Miamian-Hennepin formation occurs, alkaline preferring species such as Shumard Oak, Chinkapin Oak, and Blue Ash grow side by side with acidic preferring species such as Black Oak, and Black Gum with an average PH estimated at 6.8. I’m told Butler County features some of our deepest loess deposits, but I haven’t yet studied remnant forests upon those soils yet.

For much of Southwest Ohio, Loess deposits aren’t neccesairly a soil formation alone, rather once again “icing on the cake” representing a 3” to 12” deposit of silt ontop of glacial till which is the most expansive soil formation in the glaciated parts of Southwest Ohio.

Web Soil Survey insight to the Glacial Till (Bonnell), Outwash (Casco), and Alluvial (Langier) formations of California woods. Theses are Generalized Ph Estimates of which the forest canopy agrees with. 

Glacial Till

Glacial Till is soil deposited by retreating glaciers, and is unsorted containing whatever the glacier happened to drop while in retreat. Locally they are mostly clay based soils and acidic. What we typically refer to “subsoil” underneath “topsoil” is most often the glacial till deposit underneath the Loess deposit of silt. When glaciers moved through the landscape, they filled in many valleys with rocks, sand, silt and clay. Since the drainage of the land had to start back from square one, upon some glacial till plains there exists seasonally high water tables as the water has no direct path to drain from the land and must seep slowly through bedrock and towards the newly born streams post glaciation.  Upon poorly drainage glacial till deposits with high water tables, the forest becomes dominated by the Pin Oak, Red Maple, Green Ash Forest type also containing Black Gum, Shagbark Hickory, American Elm, Sassafras, Pumpkin Ash, Sweet Gum, and a few other species. The better drained glacial till plains have more of an Oak Hickory dominance with Sugar Maple and Beech succeeded them as the forest reaches its climax in maturity.

(Poorly Drained acidic glacial till at Culberson State Nature Preserve)

Glacial Till represents the majority of our agricultural, residential, and commercially developed areas, as we tend to build and cultivate the flatter land that glaciers helped to create throughout Southern and Central Ohio. The depth of the soil is also more safe to build on than shallow hillside residuum soils, of which can slip if compromised by road cuts like seen annually above the Columbia Parkway in Cincinnati. Glacial Till soils are also the most numerous in soil formations locally, so there’s no way to generalize them in a single blog post. There are Ava Silt Loams from the Kansan glacier that range in the 4 ph range, Cincinnati Silt loams of the Wisconsin glacier in the 5 ph range, and Hennepin Glacial Till in Warren County in the 7 PH range with deep loess influence. Speaking most generally, the glacial tills could be most basically categorized by loess content which effects the PH and moisture availability, and hydrology effecting how well it drains. Then one could generalize different sub-climax and climax forest vegetation for these soils locally, but more studying still needs to be done on the many glacial till soils of Southwest Ohio.

Seeing Forests from the Soils Workshop - Link to full size flyer

Pioneer Landscapes will hold 3, 3 hour lecture-hikes in Cincinnati Metro area-2nd growth, and older growth forests this summer. Our goal is to show how to read the county soil surveys and compare them with the topography, past land use, and current forest vegetation to gain site specific insight for projecting where native trees truly want to be planted. In these 3 forest hikes, we’ll learn the nature of our most common Glacial Till, Glacial Outwash, Alluvial, Residuum, and Loess deposits, and how their characteristics dictate the structure of a high quality forest, and/or a reforestation project. 

You’ll also receive a custom made Youtube video showing you how to use the USDA web soil survey, to survey your own property with, as well as a simple how-to-guide accompanied with spreadsheets that allow you to use the information already compiled by Pioneer Landscapes to choose the right trees for your soil/hydrology/topography. Price is $15 a hike (18 years old or under FREE), or 40$ per person to attend all 3 hike-lectures. Dates are Sat. June 20th, Sun. June 21st, and Sat. June 27th at (9:30 A.M-12:30 P.M.). Locations including maps will be received upon pre-registering through email. Pre-registration is required due to the 50 person cap. Email to register.