Seeing the glass as half full or half empty when it comes to N.J. native ecosystems

Is the glass half full or half empty? You walk through the woods, admiring the lush vegetation, seduced by the smell of roses — until a conservation biologist points out that the delightful scent comes from the multiflora rose, a major invasive of the native forest.

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

Is the glass half full or half empty?

You walk through the woods, admiring the lush vegetation, seduced by the smell of roses — until a conservation biologist points out that the delightful scent comes from the multiflora rose, a major invasive of the native forest. The biologist cannot enjoy the view, knowing these and other non-natives are taking over.

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Forty percent of native plants are endangered, according to Sophie Glovier, author of Walk the Trails in and Around Princeton. Seeing that half-empty glass has provoked some to work at restoring native ecosystems.

In his just-published book Plant Local: Do-It-yourself Native Plant Gardens (Sign of the Fox LLC, Princeton, $20), Jared Rosenbaum gives practical steps for attracting butterflies, birds and other beneficial creatures to restore habitats one backyard at a time.

Rosenbaum is the plant stewardship index coordinator for Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pa., and was founder of D&R Greenway’s Native Plant Nursery, as well as associate director of stewardship. Working with the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, he helped create a groundbreaking program at St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell, raising native seeds for the New York City Parks Department.

The resident of the Sourland Mountains — he and his family cultivate edible and medicinal plants in a large vegetable garden – compares a lollipop to a peach. Rosenbaum writes “both… appeal to our core senses, but the peach has far more depth, intricacy, and sensual satisfaction. More senses are engaged, and those senses are telling you: this is good, this is healthy, this is pleasurable.” For those “raised on the distilled and juiced-up stimuli of the modern world — sleek curves, bright colors, intense sugars,” a hike in the woods might seem unexciting. But “the real challenges, pleasures, and transformative experiences arise from the infinitely complex natural world, not from the artificial, no matter how seductive.”

With his self-described “manifesto,” Rosenbaum hopes to create a bridge “to the tattered but glorious remains of the primeval still persisting in our midst.”

The chapters of the book describe projects: Turning a lawn into a meadow, making a forest from a shady spot, planting a native ground cover, creating a rain garden. The book is illustrated with color close-ups of flowers, butterflies and caterpillars, nuts, berries, birds and spider webs, mostly photographed by Rosenbaum himself. There are sidebars and charts throughout to show what plants work under what circumstances: moisture, light and soil conditions the plants thrive in; and general tidbits and advice on herbal medicine.

Deer are a special challenge for those raising native plants, Rosenbaum admits. Native plants are indeed their food source. Some natives, such as ferns, grasses and sedges, are naturally deer-resistant, but a fence is de rigeur for anyone growing native plants. “Think of it as an honor and a duty,” encourages Rosenbaum.

And the rewards are there! Take the paw paw. This native plant provides luxurious tropical-like foliage, a lush maroon flower in spring and mango-like fruit in summer. Not only does it provide visual and culinary delight, but it hosts the larva of the zebra swallowtail butterfly and paw paw sphinx moth. It even provides welcome shade in the heat.

“When you plant natives at home, you will recognize them in the wild,” writes Rosenbaum. “The next time you walk in the wilderness, the wild will be more like home — because your home will be more like the wild.”

Plant Local is available in Princeton at Labyrinth Books and at D&R Greenway Land Trust, where the Native Plant Nursery can satisfy any plant cravings the book is sure to create.



The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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