THERE IS MORE exciting news for the horticulture world in Mississippi. On March 6 our Governor signed a bill into law designating April as Native Plant Month. I have watched the bill to law process all my life since my mother was a legislator for 24 years. Let me tell you that getting a bill passed is no easy task. Many people and many hours of hard work went into getting a vital movement started in our state. We are all lucky to have such dedicated and committed folks working for us all. There are more and more people with the passion and understanding that the world is a better place when we reintroduce native plants into our daily lives.
Lyn Mcmillin and Holidae Morrison are friends of ours from lots of circles. Our kids went to school together, we see both of them frequently visiting our garden center and we are all plant nerds together, like plant nerds paths do, ours paths have crossed a lot. I was honored when they asked me to give the new law some thought, (they know how to slowly draw me into these things) they know I can’t say no to them, I have such a respect for both of them and The Garden Club Of Jackson. I was walking around my yard one chilly Saturday pondering what part native plants have had in my gardening life. Mimi and I have lived in so many places around Madison county from way out in the country passed Ratliff Ferry where the soil is acidic and favorable to pines, the Flora area in some sandy soil and bluffs, a neighborhood where we created our own soil to Ridgeland with a good range of soils. In all of these geographically different areas we had lots of native plants sometimes without even knowing it.
THROUGHOUT THE years fellow gardeners have given us some wonderful native plants that have become staples for us once we realized how much less trouble they are than non native species. Mimi and I are those people you see digging plants from the fence rows and ditch banks because we spotted something you just can’t find at a nursery. Our friends with woods full of native yuccas let us rip through their woods and get some when we are feeling like getting pricked by the pins on the yuccas. I think that the perception that a lot of people get is that to have native plants is to basically just let your yard go back to its natural state and garner yourself a nasty letter from the homeowners association. Or it might be hard for people to imagine how to use those native plants in their traditional setting. I think it would surprise many how many of the plants available at local garden centers are native to Mississippi and they’ve been using them all along. There is lots of information available from Mississippi State Extension about which plants are native.
One great place to visit virtually or in real life is Camp Creek Nursery in New Albany. Robert Ballard and his family have dedicated their lives to making Mississippi native plants available to us all. The site is beautifully done and is a wealth of knowledge when you want to see how many native plants you recognize from your own experience and for when you are ready to try out something new. Robert played a part in getting the bill signed as his dedication would call him to do. We have 150 gardeners coming to visit our state to recognize what we have done here. These gardeners are coming from The Garden Club Of America to support the program as it takes off and it shows what an important movement this is for our state and our planet. There is another article in todays Northside Sun which does a great job of explaining why adding native plants to your world in any way that you can is important.
It occurred to me that chilly Saturday that I was walking around my yard noticing and taking notes about the long list of natives that my day had started literally inside a plant micro-world microscope. I rushed out the door that morning at 4AM so I could stop by, join my buddy in Flora and race towards the deep woods of Yazoo county for a turkey hunt. We had been out weeks before to choose great spots and build blinds out of bamboo that grows naturally in those hills near the Big Black River. The Bamboo that we use for cover is the Arundinaria species which is native to the southeast. We like to do that so that during the early weeks of Turkey season we can sit undetected while the native habitat fills out as the temperatures gradually warm up. Once the native plants leaf out we will move around more in the woods and shadows following the gobbles for an insanely fun and active hunt. My buddy went to one of the bamboo structures surrounded by wild privet. Looking around our state one would think that privet would be a native to our state.
Privet was introduced to North america in 1852 as a landscape plant and it got away from us which makes it an invasive species. Privet should be treated that way, as an invasive species. It has to be managed and controlled. Although they do have their moment, blooming white, fragrant flowers for about a week, we need to keep Privet at bay or it will take over an area. That morning I chose another spot to sit and wait. Weeks earlier while searching for the next place to set up a blind we found a Mock Orange, The invasive Trifoliate Citrus bush that is wider and taller than a Volkswagon camper. I circled around it and found a way to create a path through it to a very comfortable and well hidden spot in the center of the bush. We set up a low chair and tested it out. I could see out of it and he couldn’t see me, the sun would rise to our backs, that’s the rigorous sniff test that the spot had to pass. We defined the way in so we wouldn’t get snagged on the giant thorns while we scoot in there before the sun rises.
I think If Mimi and my buds wife could see us they would say we are just playing Army, maybe a little bit. While hunting that bush the morning the season opened I realized that I was witnessing the importance of the native species from the inside out. Although the thorny citrus is an introduced species in the 1850’s as privacy screens and impassable fence rows I have seen it in the woods and squeezed the lemons for the juice just as they did in the civil war days for its vitamin “C”. Another plant that should be managed or it can get nasty. As I sat inside the bush watching the sun come up I realized that this was the home of so many species of tiny birds of all types. They were flitting around chirping happily and sometimes arguing over a spot or an insect, occasionally some cardinals would show up and the whole bush community would get upset! I fit into the scene so well with my camo that they never knew I was there. One little, chirpy bird landed on the barrel of my shotgun and made me feel kind of bad. I was so well covered that 3 Turkey hens fed themselves right over to the bush I was sitting in and hung out, feeding on insects and vegetation.
THEY WERE SO close that I could see what they were feeding on, you talk about a heart pounding moment. It’s pretty invigorating to get so close to something so elusive. The turkey population is huge in our state. The reason the population is so healthy is that most of the state is rural enough to support a healthy native species environment. The native plants support the native insects that make the world go round. The insects feed the birds and the smaller varmints which in turn feed the predators. These plants and animals that rely upon each others existence also improve the forest floor and aid in securing the soils nutrition and keeping it from sluffing off every time we get one of our monsoon sized rains. What has surprised me in the last 10 years or so is how developed our conservation practices in the hunting and land management world has become.
Most of the hunting and fishing in our state includes our children. I have heard some mighty wise words come out of the mouths of our youths who are usually around for work weekends and are privy to the chit chat about the land around us. They pick up on these practices really quickly. I think it could be just as easy to get them started thinking that way in their lives at home. It brought back a memory of the time Mimi and I were hosting a big party at our house . I got hung up with not wanting the biting pests to show up at the party uninvited like they are known to do. I sprayed a chemical on all of our foliage around the yard. It worked, No biting insects for a couple weeks, but I remember the day during those 2 weeks that Mimi and I were standing in our yard in May realizing that something seemed weird. Not only were there no insects in our yard there were no birds, no life. I had completely changed the tune of our yard by eradicating the insects.
AS QUICKLY AS we could we began adding plant life to the pond such as native iris and cannas. We stopped using anything but organic gardening principles in our yard. It didn’t take long for the Dragonfly’s and butterfly’s to return which told us that nature can be forgiving which to me says that in the bigger picture we can all do a little something one yard at a time. In a nutshell that cycle is what we have all come to realize is of vital importance to the health of our earth. We watch the news and are sold on climate changing before our eyes every day. Sometimes we feel like it’s hopeless or too far gone to even try to do anything about it now. We wonder what little-ole-us could possibly do about such a large and quickly changing beast plowing towards us in the form of more high caliber storms, rising temps in the oceans, out of control fires reaching human inhabited areas and earthquakes hitting in highly populated places.
We would ask ourselves if the weather has become much less hospitable or is the world just more populated and we are just in the path more. I believe that it is a combination of all of those things. It can make a person feel like there is nothing that can be done to reverse what is happening. This Native Plant Month is one of those things that will bring awareness to our state that there is something we all can do to help slow down the symptoms of an unhealthy biosphere. The program will come along with lots of educational material, plant education through more vigorous planting and labeling of plants throughout our state and school programs in order for us to get the attention of our younger generation who is going to have live in this world after we are gone. We can only hope that this awareness can go as well as The Crying Indian add campaign in the 70’s. It went from real normal to see someone throwing a McDonalds bag out of their car window to that being a very rare sight to see, (although I am thinking maybe that add didn’t play much on hwy 220).
I believe that campaign worked so well because they appealed to the younger generation so they could wag their finger at their old school parents when they threw their can out the window. Then Give A Hoot Don’t Pollute showed up and (most) people got it. It will be up to us to normalize this concept, to make native plants become part of your plan as we move into the heavy plant purchasing and planting season. When you enter your favorite local garden center ask them to show you some Mississippi native plants, you might be surprised at how well they will fit into your yard. Normalize the concept to your kids and friends and anyone who will listen by explaining to them the simple concept of adding some natives very time you plant shop. Hopefully the concept will catch on and in a few years Mississippi will have another thing other than the greatest music on earth and the best cooking anywhere that we can be proud of. We have been noticed by the gardening community of the United States, lets blow their socks off!