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Reynolda Gardens Meadow Project Launches This Spring

May 15, 2013
Laura Fog, USF&W and John Kiger, Reynolda Gardens staff with seeder

Laura Fog, USF&W and John Kiger, Reynolda Gardens staff with seeder

In partnership with CEES and a host of other university affiliates, the Reynolda Gardens Meadow project launched this spring with a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The idea for the project came out of a joint workshop with Reynolda Gardens and CEES two years ago and it is now becoming a reality with the planting of several prairie flowers and grasses this season.

The project establishes 16.1 acres of the Reynolda property for prairie plants and animals to inhabit. Using this small portion of the estate’s 126 acres, the project aims to grow more native forms of plant and animal life that existed in the Piedmont area before being developed and transformed by humans.  The process will ultimately help grow some of the 700 species of plants now considered extremely rare in North Carolina.

Significant research led to the development of the Reynolda Gardens Meadow. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, several factors have led to the decline of biodiversity in the Piedmont’s prairie land. These include fragmentation of the landscape, the alteration of hydrology, the introduction of invasive and exotic species, and the decline of large grazing herbivores such as bison and elk. The most significant factor, however, is the suppression of naturally occurring wildfires. A significant amount of North Carolina’s plant species are dependent upon a natural fire regime. Since converting to predominantly agricultural growing practices, wildfires which helped these species flourish have been kept at bay.

This has led to prodigious growth in invasive species at the expense of native plants and greater biodiversity. One of the projects initiated by the University, the small remote sensing platform DeaconEye Terra, helps to map out the plant and animal diversity in the Gardens area.

In order to overcome these problems, the Reynolda Gardens Meadow Project has set out to plant native plant species back on the meadow. New seeds were shipped and planted this spring for the following plant species: Big Bluestem, Virginia Wildrye, Purple Lovegrass, Poverty Oat Grass, Switchgrass, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Purpletop, Partridge Pea, Lance-leaved Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower, and Black-eyed Susan. The wildflowers will help to attract moths, butterflies, and native bees. The prairie grasses will help restore carbon to the soil that has been depleted over the years by agricultural practices.

The meadow project will also serve as a learning laboratory for the University and its affiliates on the project. The project is partnership of Wake Forest University, the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES), the Department of Biology, Environmental Studies, Reynolda Gardens, the Piedmont Land Conservancy, Audubon Society of Forsyth County, Carolina Butterfly Society, the Garden Club Council, and Nature’s Select Inc. Wake Forest students will be able to participate in research, experimentation, and upkeep in the following courses: Ecological and Evolutionary Biology (BIO113), Ecology (BIO347), Community Ecology and Global Change (BIO377), and other independent studies course. Additionally, the meadow will be a major component in the Reynolda Gardens Education Programs for school children and adults.

The directors of this project, Reynolda Gardens Director Preston Stockton, Laura Fogo of the USFWS and Biology Professor Miles Silman, hope that this kind of experiential research can create a new learning model for ecological education. The work of prairie restoration represents a significant step in itself in repairing and preserving the native habitat around the university. That faculty, students, staff, and community members can use it as a way to learn more about positive ecological practices reveals how this kind of project can create symbiotic learning relationship with exponential benefits for all.

As the prairie grow over the years, the meadow will become a lush field of wildflowers blooming throughout the year, making the project much more than a science experiment. It will add to the overall appeal of the gardens, making them an attractive spot for study, leisure and enjoyment as well.

To learn more about this project and others at Reynolda Gardens visit http://www.reynoldagardens.org.