Season 1: Survival of the fittest - work together or go broke

In September 2013, Johnson’s Nursery and SEWISC (Southeast Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium) hosted a meeting called Where Ecology meets Economy—A Forum for Green Industry and Land Management Professionals. It was quite a successful event. Everyone fit comfortably into our warehouse building along with an impressive array of sponsors and some tasty food. We had 149 people attend from a wide range of professions. There were landscape architects and designers, land managers of natural areas, land managers of commercial properties, municipal foresters, commercial arborists, nature center educators, nursery people, landscape contractors, plant breeders, horticulturists, naturalists, biologists, restoration ecologists, DNR invasive plants specialists, research scientists and gardeners. It was really quite a mix of people—unusual to say the least.

Many of the people were well versed in the affairs of invasive plants in Wisconsin while others were hearing some of the discussions for the first time. I suspect most everyone in attendance learned something on that perfect, sunny, fall day. I know I learned a lot. Many people liked the panel discussion in the afternoon. Diverse opinions were expressed in that session. Following is a poem I wrote that I read at the meeting:

My take home message from the meeting was that the Green Industry and Land Managers can work together in a thoughtful and respectful manner. We may not always agree with each other but we can listen to each other, learn, and build on commonalities that help us all. I learned from Steve McCarthy that we need to have more sensitivity to the history of place in landscape design of our public spaces and that native plant materials are often times a better alternative in places where we need to define our locality. I learned from Brent McCown that the development of sterile polyploid cultivars is an achievable goal as far as reducing invasive characteristics in plants. He also stated that sterility is never 100% and that things change over time so monitoring of the changes is critical in the management of plant invasions in the future. I thought that was very wise advice. Brian Russart taught me that an organized realistic plan in conjunction with collaborative efforts with whoever is willing to help can be an effective way to battle invasives in an urban environment. His efforts can be a model for others to follow. That was really good stuff!

There were things said at the meeting that I didn’t agree with as I’m sure others felt as well, but overall there was a tremendous amount of factual information and inspirational ideas that were exchanged. I hope this was the start of an improvement in relations between the Green Industry and Land Managers for years to come.

Following are some suggestions I presented at the meeting of how to get a handle on the invasive plants situation in Wisconsin:

1. Do not continue to grow and market invasive plants.

Since the passage of NR40, the Invasive Species legislation in Wisconsin, numerous plants have been taken out of circulation due to their invasive characteristics. We all need to abide by these regulations and be active in the rule making process of the law to make sure that the natural areas managers are helped and the green industry is protected from any over reach regulation.

2. Stay abreast of new developments with invasives.

Green industry people such as landscape architects, nurserymen, arborists, landscape contractors and garden center managers, must stay abreast of new developments concerning invasive plants in Wisconsin. We need to show land managers and restorationists that we are good people trying to help with the cause of preserving our environment just as they are. We need to develop working relationships with the natural areas community to show them how we can help them. Following are some ideas that could be of assistance:

  • Share nursery growing techniques with restorationists that may help them have more successful restoration projects.
  • Identify and develop antagonistic plants that can help restorationists fight invasives with non-invasive or native aggressors and cut down on restoration costs (see picture of Rhamnus alnifolia)
  • Make non-invasive alternatives available in the marketplace to prevent the next Buckthorn or Garlic mustard from happening again.
  • Grow a wider selection of local ecotype native plants and make them available on a contract grow basis to ensure availability and sales of the material.
  • Select cultivars of local ecotype material to give landscape architects predictability within the native flora. It can also add some WOW to native species that have not been improved upon by horticultural selection.(see picture below of Carpinus car. "J.N. Upright", Firespire® Musclewood)
  • Select non-invasive (sterile) cultivars of problematic species to allow for a smooth transition from destructive invasives to non-destructive alternatives.

I read this poem as part of my presentation poems. It was meant to unify those in attendance to help them realize that we all have something in common. We are…..

Johnson’s Nursery was very pleased with this year’s forum and would like to host another next year. We will keep you informed of when the event will take place. Feel free to send me suggestions for topics and speakers.