Plants = Habitat
All animals rely on the vast green infrastructure provided by plants
Plant communities translate the geophysical variation of the land—its soil, topography, hydrology, and so on—into the living habitats that sustain life. Conserving several intact examples of every habitat is an important strategy for sustaining the natural benefits plants provide and for maintaining the full diversity of other species that depend on them. Our groundbreaking report, Conserving Plant Diversity in New England, provides a detailed roadmap for conserving strategically targeted places with high plant diversity—and thus overall biodiversity—in New England as the climate changes. Read below to see how you can use this resource to guide local conservation actions.
We also work to bank the seeds of rare species for the future and help to restore habitats on public lands. When necessary, we improve degraded environments as we restore plant populations—adding soils, removing invasive plants, or bolstering eroded slopes. For example, our recently concluded six-year experiment in Acadia National Park, in Maine, found that simply adding sufficient soil back to the eroded summit of Cadillac Mountain would support the natural return and reintroduction of many of the original plants. A story about another restoration project appears below.
What You Can Do to Help Conserve Plant Diversity
Using our report as a guide to local action
Our report Conserving Plant Diversity in New England focuses on land conservation as a primary strategy for saving plant diversity as the climate changes. The key is not just conserving more land, but strategically conserving a proportional amount of every habitat type in New England and prioritizing what the report designates as Important Plant Areas. Here are some ways you can help achieve these goals.
1. Get involved with your local land trust.
New England has more than 250 land trusts, and it’s likely that one of them is active in your town or county.
Tell them about our plant diversity report and mapping tool, and encourage them to consider biological value when acquiring or putting easements on properties. That will help them spend limited conservation dollars on properties that will do the most to save plant and thus overall biodiversity.
Encourage them to focus on Important Plant Areas and habitats that urgently need conservation in your state. You can find information about the latter in the executive summary and the state fact sheets in the report.
2. Be an advocate at the local, regional, and state levels of government.
Get involved in your town’s, city’s, or county’s planning process, to advocate for ecologically sensitive development and for preserving land with ecological, rather than recreational, value.
Advocate for funding for land protection, management, and restoration at local and state levels.
Support strengthening laws that protect wetlands and other sensitive habitats from unwise development or use.
Advocate for laws that protect endangered species and eliminate loopholes.
Support legislation to reduce greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions, and to reduce the use of pesticides.
3. Champion native plants.
In your volunteer positions and at home, plant or advocate for species native to the New England ecoregions to assist insects, birds, mammals, and all other wildlife to survive and thrive.
Urge your local garden centers to sell New England native plants grown from seed.
Encourage your schools, environmental centers, and scout troops to teach botany and ecology.
4. Put conservation principles to work at home.
Collecting Seed to Restore a Storm-ravaged Coast
We helped to bring back native plant communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
If you lined up the 868 bags of seeds Conservation staff and interns collected along coastline damaged by Hurricane Sandy in five New England states, the grapefruit-sized sacks would fill a school bus.
The seeds come from plants native to the coastal habitats that were flooded, washed out, or buried by the 2012 superstorm. Over three years, we visited 127 sites and collected seed from more than 215,000 plants. These represent Native Plant Trust's contribution to a $2.3 million initiative, in partnership with North Carolina Botanic Garden and Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank, to ensure that locally sourced, genetically appropriate plants are available for restoration projects from Maine to Virginia.
The partners collected seed from fifty species of native plants in our respective parts of the coastline to restore all types of coastal habitat—from sub-tidal zones, dunes, and salt marshes to freshwater wetlands, forests, rivers, and streams. To date, we have provided seed for fourteen restoration projects in New England, five of which have begun propagation or planting.
One successful project is the restoration of the 11-acre salt marsh at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, RI. The hurricane inundated the salt marsh and made it clear that to save the habitat, it would be necessary to raise its elevation. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge manager decided to lay down a new layer of soil and sand, varying from an inch to a foot thick, and sculpt new upland mounds. Over two years, refuge staff and volunteers planted 38,000 plugs (deep-rooted seedlings) of native grasses and rushes grown from seed we collected. Last spring, the staff experimented with sowing seed directly into the ground. Self-seeded asters (Aster spp.), seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), and other species have filled in around the planted species. Together, the plants literally anchor the marsh, which is critical habitat for migrating birds and the nursery for about a dozen fish species.
The rest of the seed we collected is banked at federal facilities and available for land managers to use to rehabilitate salt marshes, bolster flood resiliency on riverbanks, and establish native species on land exposed after dam removal or clearing invasive species.
Funded by the federal Department of the Interior, the project is also the first large-scale, coordinated seed-banking effort in the eastern United States. Until this initiative, restoration projects in the eastern states have relied primarily on plants and seeds from other parts of the country. This was also the first significant expansion to the east of the western-focused Seeds of Success program, run by the Bureau of Land Management, of which we have been a partner for over a decade.