Restoring Biodiversity with Native Plants
Starting in 2017 and again in 2018, in partnership with the National Park Service, the Friends of Dyke Marsh began to control invasive plants on a .065-acre area on the west side of the Haul Road trail and planted over 4,000 native trees and plants to restore the land to a healthier, more natural state. Over 40 dedicated volunteers and National Park Service staff planted the trees and plants. We received several grants and many generous donations (see below). Our goal is to restore a very degraded habitat. We estimate that around 80 percent of the plants and trees have survived.
Non-native or invasive plants like English ivy (Hedera helix L) and porcelainberry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) are well established and rampant along both sides of the trail. Why is this a problem?
Invasive plants displace native plants. University of Delaware entomologist Douglas Tallamy offers this in his book, Bringing Nature Home: “When a plant is transported to an area of the world that contains plants, animals and diseases with which it has never before interacted, the coevolutionary constraints that kept it in check at home are gone, as are the ecological links that made that plant a contributing member of its ecosystem.” In short, native plants support the native wildlife with which the plants coevolved.
Why Native Plants?
“Plants and animals evolve together to create unique natural communities, weaving a complex web of interrelationships,” according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Native plants that produce nectar, pollen and seeds, serve as food for native birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife. Many insects, like butterflies, depend on specific plants, called “host plants,” with which they co-evolved for their food and shelter. (See our butterfly and host plants checklist on this website.)
Here is one example of the importance of native plants to wildlife. At FODM’s September 2018 meeting, Dr. Desiree Narango, a University of Massachusetts ecologist, explained that native plants support a higher abundance and biomass of caterpillars than non-native plants. She said that a chickadee with four to seven young, needs between 390 to 570 caterpillars every day to feed their young. Therefore, caterpillars are very dependent on certain host plants.
Native plants can improve ecological functionality of landscapes and provide ecological services like stormwater retention, cleaner air and erosion and sediment control. Native plants can improve soil health. Healthy habitats have plants and animals (producers and consumers) in balance. Increasing diversity of plants can help keep pest populations in check.
By trying to control invasive plants and support more native plants, this project is one small way we can restore lost biodiversity, strengthen the resource base for wildlife and for people and create a more robust environment.
Controlling Invasive Plants
Since 2018, volunteer teams have diligently worked to pull up and root out invasive species, such as stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata), porcelainberry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), English ivy and others. This is an ongoing effort.
To learn about common invasive plants in the Washington, see “Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas” at https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/midatlantic.pdf.
For more information on Northern Virginia’s native plants, visit Plant NOVA Natives at www.plantnovanative.org and the Virginia Native Plant Society at www.vnps.org.
Our partners in this project are the National Park Service, Earth Sangha and the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Our efforts are also supported by grants from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, the National Environmental Education Foundation and the I-495/95 Express Lanes and by many generous member donors.
Thank you to Bob Veltkamp, Greg Nemetz, Bernie Krell and Colin Surovell for the sign noting the project. Thank you to Laura Sebastianelli for initiating two Chronolog stations, one at this site, both of which we installed. We encourage visitors to take photographs at the station and send them in. To view submitted photos, visit www.chronolog.io. Put “Dyke Marsh” in the box that says Filter by Project and our two cameras will appear.
Thank you to the dedicated employees of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service, for partnering with us on this project.
All photos by Glenda Booth.