Tallamy urges ecofriendly management of natural habitats

December 9, 2013 under CANR News

Dr. Douglas Tallamy speaks about wildlife animals and reptiles to a crowd of retired faculty at the December UDARF meeting.Doug Tallamy believes that if nature, as we know it, is going to be saved, humans will have to do a much better job of managing the ecosystems that support the biodiversity of life on our planet.

Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, discussed the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem protection during a luncheon meeting of the UD Association of Retired Faculty held Tuesday, Dec. 3, in Clayton Hall.

The author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, (Timber Press 2007), Tallamy began his “Network for Life: Your Role in Stitching Together the Natural World” presentation by recalling President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1908 dictum of “leave it as it is” to those who advocated mining the Grand Canyon.

“It is no longer an option to leave most of our country as it once was,” Tallamy said. “Only five percent of the lower 48 states are even close to being in a pristine ecological state.”

The remaining areas, Tallamy said, have been logged, tilled, paved, drained, grazed or otherwise developed, with rivers either straightened, dammed and, in some cases, not even reaching the sea.

This state of environmental degradation can be traced to a failure to abandon the adversarial relationship with the natural world that enabled hunter-gatherer societies to survive, Tallamy said.

“Remember, it was nature that ate us, froze us, drowned us, starved us and destroyed our crops, and the more we beat back nature, tamed it or eliminated it, the better off we were,” Tallamy said. “Our war against nature worked in the past without causing ecosystem collapse because there were so few of us. Understanding this is the key to fixing the problems we have created.”

Fragmented into small, isolated pockets, the natural world has been carved into tiny remnants of its former state, with each area too small to sustain the species that run its ecosystems, Tallamy said.

Tallamy cited a study of the number of Eastern box turtles living on a 35-acre woodlot just east of the athletic facilities on UD’s south campus that has been isolated for the past century.

“When the study began in 1968, researchers found 91 turtles. There were 22 in 2002 and in 2010 there were just 12 turtles found in that woodlot,” Tallamy said. “When you take large populations of species and shrink them down to tiny populations, they are highly vulnerable to local extinction.”

Ecosystems function locally, Tallamy said, and recent research suggests that every species counts.

“We need them all, because biodiversity runs our ecosystems,” Tallamy said. “Biodiversity is essential to ecosystems because it increases stability, improves biogeochemical processes, increases productivity and decreases susceptibility to biotic invasions.”

A viable alternative to fragmentation and local species extinction is the creation and expansion of corridors linking these isolated habitats, Tallamy said.

Convenient opportunities for building such corridors include mountain ridges, riparian corridors, cross-country power lines, roads and rangelands.

“We need to expand our traditional definition of a corridor, because the ones we have are not big enough,” Tallamy said. “Biological corridors must do more than facilitate movement — they must support life.”

For such corridors to become viable connections they need to become functional habitats populated with native plants that support biodiversity and sustain ecosystems, Tallamy said.

“The more plants you have, the more animals you will have saved,” Tallamy said. “Plants provide all of the food and much of the shelter for the animals that run our ecosystems. Plants are literally a matter of life and death.”

With more than 3,300 nonnative plants introduced in the United States, selecting native species that support animal life is key to restoring the balance of nature, Tallamy said.

“Most insects, especially the ones birds eat, develop and reproduce only on the plants with which they share an evolutionary history,” Tallamy said. “We must use the knowledge that most insects are specialists to build corridors that support effective food webs.”

Land management alternatives can also be adopted in residential areas where the norm is having a large lawn and decorative plants that don’t sustain beneficial insects and the birds that feed on them, Tallamy said.

“The typical suburban yard has 90 percent less tree biomass than the natural woodlot habitats, and we have landscaped these areas the way we do because we now see plants only as decorations,” Tallamy said. “Future criteria for choosing plants for our landscapes need to include a sizeable percentage dedicated for food web, watershed, wildlife and soil restoration, accompanied by a more balanced percentage of plants chosen for decorative value.”

Tallamy said that the world is entering a new era, the ecocene, where ecological sustainability will not be just a tired cliché but a globally embraced mandate.

“Our age-old need to destroy the life around us in order to survive will be replaced by the ethical and ecological imperative to sustain it, because we have no other choice,” Tallamy said. “I for one cannot wait for the ecocene, and you won’t either. If we practice conservation in our public spaces, our work places and in our yards, we will enrich our lives.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD students, professors create display for Philadelphia Flower Show

March 5, 2013 under CANR News

“You are brilliant and you can design your own garden.” That is the message that professors and students from the University of Delaware want observers to take away from looking at their display, which is on view and received a “Special Achievement” award at the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show.

“We’re going to teach people how they can design their own back yard space because we’re all brilliant,” said Jon Cox, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Art. “They just have to figure out what their interests are and how they can design their space for their needs.”

2013 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibitCox is teaching a class — with Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration – that has worked on the UD display.

This year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which runs from March 2-10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, has a British theme titled “Brilliant.”

Led by the professors, an interdisciplinary group of 17 UD students in plant science, leadership and art have been working on the University’s project, designed to tie in to the overall theme and titled “You Are Brilliant.”

The class is aimed at teaching the students about the design process and showing them how to work together to design a garden suited to a client’s needs.

However, the overall project began last summer and has required students to engages and tackle various facets of the project. “The leadership major emphasizes creativity, innovative problem-solving and collaboration,” Middlebrooks said. “This project offers students so many opportunities to build their creativity and develop their leadership.”

“I think the biggest take away for all of us is how collaborative landscape design is,” said Bruck. “Most of the time, landscape designers work in a vacuum — ‘I’m the creative genius and I’m going to sit at my drafting table and it’s going to be my endeavor with input from the client.’ But this is like what happens when you get lots of people from lots of different majors, backgrounds, interests and experiences working together on a design challenge. It just ramps everything up. Everything gets better, more creative and more interesting.”

One of the students who is helping out the class is Emma Brown, a freshman majoring in landscape horticulture and design. Brown said that the process has been incredible, as helping out with a project for the Philadelphia Flower Show has been something that she has wanted to do for a while.

“I’ve been to the flower show before and when I came here, it wasn’t one of the things mentioned right off the bat but somewhere along the line someone mentioned the class and I thought that would be a really, really cool thing to do,” she said.

While she is not officially a member of the class, Brown said she has enjoyed watching the class work and the interaction between the professors and students.

“The professors allowed the students to design elements of the show and I thought that was spectacular,” Brown said. “I know I’m not at that level yet but the higher level students in horticulture and landscape design – and even people who aren’t in our major but are interested in doing this – have been able to utilize these skills, put them to the test and really accomplish something immense and incredibly beautiful. The finished result will be spectacular, I know it.”

The clients

Using three clients, the goal of the project was to build three different gardens based on the clients’ individual personalities. The result was three very different gardens.

students and professors work on the flower show displayThe first one is titled “Connector” and was made for Dan Walsh, who lives in Wilmington and works as a banker. The name comes from the fact that Walsh is politically connected and does a lot for the community, including running a not-for-profit organization called Mustaches for Kidds, in which people grow mustaches during the month of November for the Supporting Kidds center for grieving children and their families.

Cox explained that as a bachelor, Walsh “doesn’t want to do a lot of plant maintenance, so his garden is very low maintenance. But he has an outdoor theatre, and he has an outdoor fireplace, so it still features a lot of things that a bachelor would want in his particular garden.”

The space is also equipped with a doghouse for Walsh’s brown Labrador retriever named Willie.

The second space is titled “Transitional,” as it is designed for 24-year-old Carly Burrus, a UD graduate who is a young artist. The idea behind the garden is that since Burrus is in a transitional part of her life and not really sure where she will be a year from now, everything in the garden is easily transportable.

Bruck said the garden is “very artsy, very much showing off her personality and the youngness of being a 20 something-year-old artist.”

Cox added that the space has a yoga mat made out of corkboard and lots of easily moveable planting containers. “We know a 24-year-old probably isn’t going to be in the same space for a very long time so everything she can just pack up and take with her to the next spot,” he said.

The last space is called “Legacy” and is designed for Josh Taylor, a naturalist and photographer who teaches photography workshops in the Mid-Atlantic region. The idea behind this garden, according to Bruck, is “if this was your last garden and you were going to leave a legacy what would you put in your garden?”

Because of it’s “Legacy” inspiration, this garden has one big tree that will be around for future generations, shrubs, a pond with a waterfall and lots of native plants to allow Taylor to relax and watch birds in his garden.

“Josh’s garden uses a lot of native materials and we’re hoping to show the design process — how the students designed all these gardens and how they picked out the things, and that observers can do this, too. There will be design process pieces, and take-aways that you can take with you so you can understand how to do this on your own,” said Bruck.

Cox added, “All of our elements are also highlighting sustainable processes so we’ve got recycled materials, and we have things that you can use over again.” He singled out the yoga mat made of materials from a cork tree as an example of sustainability.

The actual flowers for the show have been grown in University of Delaware greenhouses by Taylor Fehmel, a senior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who has worked with the flowers as an independent study project since fall 2012.

Bruck said that Fehmel has been “forcing” the flowers, or getting them to grow early. It is a complex project and Bruck said of Fehmel, “She’s been cool under fire, because this has been a trial by fire.”

Bruck added, “It’s funny, we spend so much time on the construction of the exhibit but there’s only so many people who can be in there working on the plants. You can’t just sit there watching the things grow, but it’s the most important part, and the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS) is always quick to remind us that it’s a flower show and, as cool as your exhibit might be, you need to have a lot of greenery and a lot of flowers. She’s been working hard on that.”

Bruck was also quick to point out that the show would not have been possible had it not been for the contributions from various donors. PHS donated funds to support the project, as did Shift Design in Philadelphia. The team also received a generous Scholarship of Engagement grant through Lynnette Overby, director of UD’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning, she said.

Once the flower show is over, the exhibit will not be gone. Bruck explained the class will transport the exhibit to a local park in Wilmington where it will be on display and serve to beautify that section of the city.

“We’re then going to take the pieces and the plants and everything and reconfigure it and they’ll get a chance to design and build a little urban park for a community in Wilmington,” said Bruck. “This spring, our students will clear out the park of all the invasive plant matter and debris and use the materials to create a beautiful space for the community in the Brandywine Mid-Town Park.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Jon Cox, Danielle Quigley and Anthony Middlebrooks

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD-created computer game teaches Delaware State Fair goers about ‘green’ plants

August 2, 2012 under CANR News

Native plants rule when it comes to stormwater management – that’s the lesson children and other visitors to the Delaware State Fair learned when they stopped to play computer games at the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) exhibit in Harrington last week.

The games, developed by computer science and art students at the University of Delaware, aimed to help the public understand that some garden and lawn plants are better for the environment than others. Players chose different plants and then watched to learn how the plantings affected water, wildlife and people in the game.

In one example, players who chose plantings considered invasive saw the plants spread across the board and prevent them from planting other beneficial plants. This visual illustration quickly demonstrated what it might take people seasons to witness in their own backyard.

In particular, the games educated the public that selecting the right native species can help manage stormwater runoff – water created during rain or snow that does not soak into the ground but flows into surface waterways and storm sewers.

“People visit the exhibits because they are interested in learning. This is an ideal time to explain the tightly connected parts of the Delaware ecosystem,” explained Terry Harvey, UD assistant professor of computer and information sciences, who along with Troy Richards, associate professor of art, helped and advised the students in developing the games.

In the past, stormwater has been managed with engineering solutions such as large storm water systems built to quickly collect water and move it to another location. According to Susan Barton, a UD associate professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in plant and soil sciences who was involved in the project, properly managed stormwater is best left where it falls.

“As water collects, it becomes more forceful and dangerous,” she remarked. “Pollutants such as pesticides and herbicides picked up along the way become concentrated, posing a potential hazard for rivers and causing erosion problems. Native plants, well-adapted to Delaware’s conditions, can help by intercepting rainwater that filters into the landscape, slowing it down and allowing it to be transpired back into the atmosphere.”

As more and more of the Delaware landscape is paved, there is less surface for proper water infiltration, causing even the smallest rain to puddle on roads and sidewalks. Rain gardens, for example, can help minimize runoff while providing important support for insects and birds. Using plants in unexpected places like rooftops and parking lots may also offer similar benefits, Barton said.

Students of Harvey and Richards initially developed 11 different games as part of a software engineering and art course last spring. Marianne Walch, environmental scientist, and Randy Cole, manager from DelDOT’s stormwater management program, evaluated the games for playability, educational potential and fun, selecting two of the games to debut at the state fair.

“Playing the games has been very effective in helping us deliver the message to both kids and their parents that small changes in the way they plant and maintain their own yard can have a large impact on the health of our waterways and ecosystems,” said Walch. “Professors Harvey and Richards and their students brought a lot of enthusiasm, talent and creativity to this project.”

UD faculty and students involved in the project include:

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Photos by Danielle Quigley and Troy Richards

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Where the wildflowers are

September 22, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Spring blooms may have their legions of fans but Sue Barton unabashedly favors the flowers of fall.

“Fall is, by far, the more interesting time in Delaware’s landscape,” says Barton, noting the juxtaposition of flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit in shades of yellow, red, orange, blue, purple, white and more.  Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, points out that the ever-changing colors make for a new and different landscape every week.

The autumnal equinox is Sept. 23 and the fall wildflower season already is shaping up to be a beauty.

“The fall wildflowers actually start around the end of August, are in abundance now, and continue through Thanksgiving, when the late-blooming asters put on final show of color,” says Barton.

Native wildflowers currently in bloom include goldenrod, tickseed, ironweed, goldentop, ladies’-tresses, some species of coneflower and asters.

One of the best places to see fall wildflowers is Mt. Cuba Center. Along the woodland paths and in the meadow you’ll find white wood aster, purple dome New England aster, golden fleece autumn goldenrod, fireworks wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, blue-stemmed goldenrod and showy goldenrod.

Other fall highlights include black-eyed Susan and two varieties of Joe-Pye weed, (Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’) and (Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’), according to Jeanne Frett, horticultural research manager of Mt. Cuba.

Plus, goldentop is abundant in the center’s meadow and ladies’-tresses dots the woods. One of Frett’s favorite fall wildflowers is Chelone, commonly known as turtlehead because the flowers are shaped a bit like a turtle’s head. The species that Frett prefers sports hot pink flowers and grows throughout Mt. Cuba’s woods.  She also likes Gentiana clausa,aka bottle gentian, which features vivid purple-blue flowers.

Winterthur Museum’s gardens also are a good place to check out colorful native wildflowers. The museum’s Quarry Garden woodlands feature asters and alumroot. Barton says that this woodland is a great place to observe the way that nature creates patterns in the landscape, such as the drifts of blooms often found under trees.

“For those plants that are dependent on distribution by birds, you’ll find a lot more plants directly under the trees or near the trees,” says Barton. “The birds distribute fewer seeds the further you get away from their nests.”

Barton enjoys looking for patterns — both natural and human-made — in the landscape. “There’s often an element of surprise, you wonder why a particular species is abundant in one spot and not another, and then you realize that the conditions are different in terms of moisture or sunlight or some other factor,” notes Barton.

“I like change in the garden and in the landscape,” she adds. “Natural patterns in the landscape provide that element of change, and so, too, do the varying colors of fall’s flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit.”

Mt. Cuba and Winterthur both offer wildflower walks. Events at Mt. Cuba include “Autumnal Wildflower Garden” tours through Oct. 2. For tour days and more information, go to www.mtcubacenter.org or call 302-239-4244.

At Winterthur, “Wednesday Garden Walks” are held each week; wildflowers can be seen on the Oct. 5 walk, titled “The Purple and Red of Sycamore Hill,” and on the Oct. 12 “Harvest-Time Hike.” For more information, go to www.winterthur.org or call 302-888-4600.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy Mt. Cuba

Also online on UDaily 

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Sept. 20: UDBG Friends meeting, lecture

September 14, 2011 under CANR News

On Tuesday, September 20th at 7pm the UD Botanic Gardens will host its Friends’ meeting and a lecture by Gary Smith.  Smith’s lecture is entitled “Unleashing Creativity in the Native Garden.”

Designers solve problems; artists raise questions. Step beyond “solutions” in garden design and find delight in a world where there are more questions than answers. After exploring a visual vocabulary of shapes, patterns, and processes, we’ll look at artists’ techniques for observing and recording it all. You’ll learn how to unleash the artist within yourself, making meaningful gardens that express the relationship between local sense of place and your own creative spirit. Artist, Landscape Architect, and UD Alum Gary Smith celebrates connections between people and plants, combining art and horticulture to explore ecological design and artistic abstraction. Current projects include the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Winterthur. Gary was an Associate Professor of Landscape Design at the University of Delaware from 1989-98.

Location: Townsend Hall Commons
UDBG Friends: FREE; Nonmembers: $10
Registration requested. To register: Email botanicgardens@udel.edu or call 302-831-2531.

Need a gift for that special someone?  Gary’s new book, From Art to Landscape will be available for purchase at $27.95, a 30% discount. Gary will sign copies following the lecture.

We’re sorry, but no credit cards will be accepted for the evening’s event.

Fall’s a Great Time to Plant!  Take advantage of the weather.  We will be open for business in the plant sale area from 5-6:30pm.

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