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OFF THE CUFF: Missouri’s plants have their day

“A weed is a plant that’s out of place.”

So said Amy Hamilton at last Saturday’s annual “Day with the Natives” event at Hamilton Native Outpost (HNO) in the Elk Creek area of Texas County.

As I enjoyed the day-long event that included many forms of teaching, instruction, and informal but informative discussions and dialog related to the characteristics and habits of native Missouri plants, I absorbed more about the subject than I ever dreamed I could in that length of time. But for some reason, that little tidbit of wisdom spoken by Amy hit paydirt in my brain and really stuck with me.

The basic premise that Amy, her daughter Elizabeth Steele and others sharing their expertise during the event often referred to (including, but not limited to, her husband and co-owner Rex and Elizabeth’s husband Loren) is that plants will only grow in soils, climates and conditions that they’re designed to grow in. That being the case, it stands to reason that God didn’t make any plants that aren’t supposed to grow where they grow, and a plant therefore won’t grow anywhere it’s not designed to grow.

That basically means a plant could only be viewed as being in the wrong place when a human being is doing the viewing. To take the concept a step further, prior to the introduction of artificial forms of “disturbance” (a term the Hamilton bunch like to refer to) like farming, landscaping, and even worldwide travel, there was more or less no such thing as a plant out of place.

Here in Missouri, we see one heck of a lot of plants in everyday life. With the exception of years like 2012, this region of North America annually receives a relatively large amount of rainfall, and a bunch of species of flora subsequently take advantage of the readily available supply of water. But most of us pay little or no attention to most of them, and couldn’t identify one from another to save our lives. I think it’s a good thing that there are people like the HNO crew who can actually identify most of them, and make it possible for us to even grow them if we so desire (in case you weren’t aware, HNO specializes in sales of the seeds of native Missouri plants, educating people about growing them, and even helping them do it).

Like animals, plants come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, and have about as many likes and dislikes in terms of favorite – or optimal – living environment. Since they’re equipped to thrive in only a certain type of soil or climate, that’s the only place you’ll find them if left to their own designs.

As Ms. Steele aptly described to a small crowd within listening range last Saturday, you’re not going to find a coneflower that likes shallow soil and a fairly dry environment growing by choice in top-soil laden, moist locales like the edge of a pond. By the same token, you won’t observe a cattail voluntarily growing in a glade where bedrock is only inches below the surface of a thin layer of soil that’s only wet during and right after a rain shower.

As Ms. Steele so astutely stated, if you tried to plant a coneflower in mud, or a cattail in rocks, they would each “keel over” in no time.

There’s no denying it: God didn’t make cactus for swamps or lilies for deserts.

Getting back to “A Day with the Natives,” perhaps the highlight of the event was the 3-hour-plus hayride that about 70 people enjoyed, which covered miles of dirt roads around HNO’s amazing, thousand-acre-plus parcel of prime Ozarks territory. I’ve never before seen such large quantities of beauty, with entire hillsides covered by brightly-colored flowers, and giant pastures blanketed by deeply-textured and equally colorful grasses. All native to Missouri, mind you.

And I know I’m joined by everyone who was sitting on a square bale on one of the big flatbed trailers being towed along by burly diesel pickups when I say I’m amazed at how much botanical knowledge is contained within these HNO peoples’ craniums. I’m also amazed at how un-boring it was to listen to them share that knowledge. I never lost interest in hearing things like what the procedures are in the process of restoring a savannah landscape to a tract that has been allowed to be overtaken by shadowy forest, how to best create a field or meadow where big bluestem is the dominant grass, or why a purple poppy mallow or dwarf larkspur may or may not be a suitable choice for groundcover on a pond dam or driveway embankement.

When presented with enthusiasm and intelligent perspective, and described with knowledge backed by experience of real-life application and execution, this stuff is absolutely fascinating.

On the its web site, www.hamiltonseed.com/, HNO’s mission statement begins with the statement that the company “strives to provide a variety of adapted native plants and the knowledge to establish and maintain them for ecosystem restoration, wildlife habitat, grazing, and beauty in low-maintenance landscapes.” And they’re not just whistling Dixie; the site contains pages and pages of information about landscaping, habitat restoration, wildlife, forage and other related subjects.

I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine anywhere else that an average Missourian could find as much information on native flora – let alone written and arranged in as clear a way.

Anyway, I definitely “got my plant on” last week, and as a result I’m way better informed and far more well-rounded in with regard to Missouri’s plants. A couple of years ago (jeez, has it been that long already?) I did a feature story on HNO with lots of help from Ms. Steele, but my personal day with the natives helped me gain a renewed respect for the passion the folks there have for plants and flowers that are designed to grow in the Show-Me-State.

I also have a new – and I’m sure lasting – perspective about weeds. And on behalf of every plant that has ever been “out of place,” I submit that you can, too.

So if you see a couple of mare’s tails growing in your tomato garden, some Indian grass coming up in your iris bed, or a few stalks of Queen Ann’s lace rising above your day lilies, just remember they’re only there because they can be – and in a way, should be. Look at it this way: You have to expect plants that like rich, mulchy soil to appear when you cover a planting bed with a thick layer of rich, mulchy soil.

As Amy Hamilton might say, go ahead and yank them out of the ground if you don’t want them there, and maybe even use an herbicide if you feel you must in order to “achieve a goal.” But remember it’s not the plants’ fault.

They’re just doing what comes naturally.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: [email protected]

A truck pulls a trailer load of people through fields of native Missouri flowers on June 8, 2013, during “A Day with the Natives,” an annual outdoor event hosted by Hamilton Native Outpost, a Texas County company that specializes in the production of native seed. Standing and providing information to the group is HNO representative Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele.

Hamilton Native Outpost co-owner Rex Hamilton hands an example of a native Missouri plant to an attendee of “A Day with the Natives,” an annual outdoor event hosted by the Texas County, Mo., company that specializes in the production of native seed.

A trio of Houston youngsters examine a native Missouri plant during “A Day with the Natives,” an annual spring event hosted by Hamilton Native Outpost in Elk Creek, Mo. From left, Tasha, Kimber, and Devon Venn.

Hamilton Native Outpost employee Mike Motzkus helps people off of a hayride trailer during the annual “A Day with the Natives” event June 8 in Elk Creek, Mo.

Native Missouri flowers grow on the bank of a dam at Hamilton Native Outpost in Texas County, Mo.

Co-owner Amy Hamilton of Hamilton Native Outpost in Elk Creek, Mo., describes a native Missouri plant to a group of people enjoying a hayride June 8 as part of this year’s version of the annual “A Day with the Natives” event.

Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele describes aspects of a forest ecosystem to attendees of “A Day with the Natives” June 8 at Hamilton Native Outpost in Elk Creek, Texas County, Mo.

Hamiton Native Outpost co-owner Amy Hamilton describes a native Missouri plant during “A Day with the Natives” 2013.

Posts about Hamilton Seed written by houstonherald

Hamilton Nature Notes: Importance of Seed Saving

By: Ash Lloyd, EcoHouse Green Gardening Volunteer

Introduction

Seed saving is an incredibly useful and important skill, even in modern times. In terms of basic survival skills, I believe it is on the same level as knowing how to start a fire or find clean water. Seed saving was common in many rural communities because it was a normal practice among farmers and backyard food growers. Unfortunately, it has become less common and there is a loss of heritage varieties of fruits and vegetables. But as the environmental crisis becomes an increasingly large fixture in today’s world, seed saving has reappeared with a growing number of public seed libraries and community seed exchanges popping up in cities and towns. With this in mind, let us explore what makes seed saving so important and why you should consider adding it to your personal toolbox of skills.

Adaptation

One big benefit of saving seeds from your garden or community is that plants naturally adapt to the environment they grow in. If you plant multiple specimens of the same plant one year, you can save all the seeds from the plant that produces the most bountiful harvest. This great trait is likely to be passed on through the seeds. This technique is a form of forced selection, which humans have used for thousands of years. It is how we turned a type of grass into corn, and small fruits into big tomatoes and eggplants! By practicing it yourself, you can have better harvests compared to store bought seeds. And best of all, it is FREE after your first year! Specially selecting plants for a long time can even produce your own local variety, sometimes referred to as a “landrace”.

Capacity

The nature of reproduction in plants means that, assuming your plants grow to maturity, you will always have significantly more seeds than you planted. As a result, you will be able to continuously plant your own plants year after year and still have enough leftover to share with your friends. You can also donate extra seeds to a local seed library or bring them to a seed exchange. Learning the various tricks and techniques to seed saving means you will not need to pick up store-bought seeds as often.

Community

Saving your own seeds and sharing them with friends and neighbours is a great way to build a sense of community. Anyone who grows their own plants will likely be delighted by the gift of saved seeds, assuming they have the room to grow them of course. Having community events like seed exchanges can also be a great way to get new people into the practice of gardening and seed saving.

Conservation

With many native species of plants under threat from habitat loss, invasive species, and unpredictable climate change, there are many plants at risk of extirpation or even extinction. These species are usually important building blocks of our local ecosystem and their presence adds immeasurably to the richness of our natural world. Sadly, many of these species remain unknown to the general public and cannot be found at garden centres – often carrying non-native ornamental species because they are in high demand. Aside from putting pressure on garden centres to carry native species, you and your community can also work to build up your own local population of endangered plants. You can usually find seeds from endangered plants in your area online or from local growers, who already have a captive population. You should avoid collecting rare seeds from the wild as you run the risk of doing more harm than good. This preservation work should be left to the experts. That being said, you can always contact your local government specialist in charge of at-risk species or local academic institutions with a botanical or horticultural department, as they may have their own conservation programs you can participate in.

Conclusion

Seed saving is a very useful skill and can be incredibly rewarding practice! I hope this brief introduction to the practice will inspire you to get involved with your local seed saving community. If you live in the Hamilton area, you should check out the yearly Seedy Saturday seed exchange as well as the numerous others that have begun to pop up at local farmers markets and community centres throughout the year. Thanks for reading and happy seed saving!

Hamilton Nature Notes: Importance of Seed Saving By: Ash Lloyd, EcoHouse Green Gardening Volunteer Introduction Seed saving is an incredibly useful and important skill, even in modern