When we started our Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter in 1994, I took on the responsibility of my county’s plant rescue chair. Although my husband and I both worked in construction, the wanton destruction of the beautiful native plants because of development caused us both alarm. Prior to the formation of our Chapter, I had done some rescues on my own (always with the owner’s permission). But I was just one person so my salvage was minimal, and, at the time, I only had a small shaded area into which I could transplant the woodland plants. So we created a woodland.
Alternative to Destruction of Native Plants
With the charter of our Chapter and the educational programs provided for our members, I became aware of the alternatives to allowing the destruction of these beautiful plants (False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Solomon Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), Jack-in-the- Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia), Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), a variety of ferns and sedges and Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) — my personal favorite. So my husband and I set about preparing a place into which I could transplant my rescued woodland plants.
We are fortunate to be living on a lot totaling 1.3 acres with many mature trees. Although some of it is taken up by the house, we have the privilege of owning some very wonderful old deciduous trees – Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), White Ash (Fraxinus americana), and Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), and some huge evergreens — White Spruce (Picea glauca).
One of our goals when we acquired this home was to create our own private reserve, so we had already begun to add more trees. Having inventoried the plant species in my yard with the help of Don Vorpahl (early Wisconsin natural landscape designer and frequent speaker at our Wisconsin native landscaping conferences), I realized with a little effort I could develop a nice woodland by adding rescued trees and shrubs and leaf mulch to an already existing clump of mature trees.
My husband and I began by spreading wood chips from the municipal tree dump. We covered the entire area with 5-6 inches of wood chips and continued to keep the site covered with fresh wood chips all summer long. Then in the fall, we dumped all our chopped leaves from our other trees on top of the wood chips. By the next spring’s first plant rescue, we were already seeing a substantial change in the heavy clay soil beneath our woodland area.
Having been taught how to properly rescue native plants by the Wild Ones Green Bay chapter’s plant rescue people, I set about developing my little woodland. The trick, of course, is to take as much soil with the plant as you can carry to make transplanting from one site to another as non-traumatic as possible for the salvaged plant. Ultimately, however, the wonderfully rich transplanted soil served not only to simplify the transition process for the plant, but also to further enhance the process we had started with our mulching. And, not to be forgotten, the surprise volunteer plants and seed that came along with the transplanted soil.
After only a couple of plant rescue seasons, however, it was quite apparent that my woodland would not be big enough. So, we continued to expand the size of the woodland by adding more wood chips and more chopped leaves.
My husband and I have enjoyed developing our woodland, and now watching it grow and being entertained by a variety of woodland wildlife. It has been a wonderfully rewarding experience.
Other Things to Consider
• One benefit of our woodland was an increase in bird species in our yard. Our prairie development, of course, had already began to attract many species, but we were being entertained by more and more woodland species including Black-Capped Chickadee, Brown Thrasher, Downy Woodpecker, Rufus-Sided Towhee, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Wood Thrush and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.
• In place of using woodchips, leaves can be used for the initial preparation phase, although they often blow off until the ground layer is established. Chopped leaves are preferable after the ground layer plants have been introduced because they decompose more readily. Unchopped leaves do not decompose as easily and tend to smother small and emerging plants.
• Sugar Maple, and to a lesser extent American Basswood (Tilia americana), have especially nutrient-rich leaves and are excellent in forming a humus layer. While most trees pull the nutrients back into their twigs prior to leaf-drop, these two tree species in particular retain nutrients out in their leaves which then fall onto the surface of the soil.
• If you do not have woodland species available to you from plant rescues as I have had, you should be able to find these species through local native plant nurseries.
• There are several species of prairie plants which function as transitional plants and work well in both shade and sun. Specifically, I would recommend Large-Leafed Aster (Eurybia macrophylla), Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), Zig-Zag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans), Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana), American Alumroot (Heuchera americana), Solomon Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and even Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) as well as a variety of sedges especially Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pennsylvanica).
• Maintaining the site requires some ongoing effort primarily related to volunteer trees and shrubs. Because all of our introduced trees were not able to shed sufficient leaves to cover to the edges of the site in the beginning, we continued to add chopped leaves to the perimeter to maintain an edge and to provide the nutrients needed by the plants we had growing near the outer edge.
• Volunteer invasive trees and shrubs provided by bird droppings include Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Norway maple (Acer platanoides) and bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp) and are easily pulled in the spring when the soil is first starting to warm and still moist.
• Native suckering trees and shrubs such as the wild cherries (Prunus spp), Canadian Gooseberry (Ribes oxyacanthoides), American Wild Currant (Ribes americanum) and dogwoods (Cornus spp) require a little more care. If the rabbits and deer don’t take care of trimming them, it may be necessary to do some pruning to keep them from becoming too dominant.
• Other maintenance might involve pulling some of the more aggressive perennial plant species to keep them from over-running other plants. In the woodland, Starry False Solomon Seal (Smilacina stellata) for example or Tall Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum) are good examples. Also, keeping vining plants such as wild grape (Vitis spp) from becoming intertwined with other plants; they tend to girdle trees and shade plants.
• And finally watching for native, but potentially harmful plant species such as Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). If you want to leave the poison ivy for the birds, mark the plant so visitors don’t become affected by its toxicity.
Thank you Diane Hilscher, Hilscher Design and Ecology, and former President of Wild Ones St Croix Oak Savanna (Minnesota) chapter for your assistance in developing the other things to consider.