Controlling Phragmites with Salinity

*This research was recently published in the journal Wetland Science and Practice. The full article is available here: PhragmitesGreenhouseWSP

Among invasive, non-native wetland plants in North America, Common reed (Phragmites australis); commonly just called Phragmites is king; forming dense monocultures and crowding out native plants. A variety of this species is native to North America, but the non-native variety has been invading and choking out native vegetation in wetlands all across the country. Nantucket is no exception with large stands of Phragmites seen at Hummock Pond, Long Pond, the Creeks and various smaller wetlands around the island.

Medouie Creek, dominated by the non-native grass Phragmites australis

Medouie Creek, dominated by the non-native grass Phragmites australis

Once Phragmites becomes established, it can be very difficult to eradicate, particularly without more impacts to the wetland. Direct, judicious application of herbicide to cut stems can be effective and reduces the amount of herbicide used and minimizes impacts to other native plants but it is also very time and labor intensive. Plants can be dug up and removed although this causes severe destruction of the wetland soil. Phragmites is typically a freshwater plant and some studies and projects have shown a dramatic impact just by applying salt water to the plants. Phragmites can be very variable in its response to increased salinity with some plants seeming to survive ate moderate salinity levels and some dying back immediately upon exposure.

In 2008, NCF initiated a large-scale salt marsh restoration project at our Medouie Creek property  with the goal to reestablish salt marsh hydrology to a wetland that had been historically diked by a road (Figure 1). Previous blog posts have talked about what this restoration looked like and it’s impacts on native species, including the spotted turtle. One key driver in planning this restoration project was to reduce a large population of Phragmites (~ 3.9 acres) that had invaded the diked, freshwater dominated area of the marsh (Figure 1).

Medouie Overview 2014

Figure 1: Aerial photo overview of the Medouie Creek restoration project showing the location of the Phragmites population before restoration and six years post restoration.

Restoring salt water to Medouie increased salinity in the soil and dramatically decreased the density and health of the Phragmites population over the past seven years. Even though the Phragmites has been diminished, it still covers a large area at Medouie (~2.9 acres) so we decided to conduct an experiment to determine at what level of salinity Phragmites stems specifically growing at Medouie are most impacted. Understanding the response of these local Phragmites plants to different salinity levels in a controlled environment provides us with better understanding of target salinity levels that need to be achieved at Medouie Creek to effectively control and/or drastically impact Phragmites.

Phragmites plants from Medouie were grown in pots at the NCF greenhouse and exposed to one of five different salinity levels (0, 10, 20, 30, or 40 ppt salinity – ocean water is typically between 30-32 ppt). The treatments were continued for two growing season and NCF staff monitored plant height, stem diameter, leaf number and leaf health over that time.

Phragmites at Greenhouse

Phragmites stems at the NCF greenhouse after 2 years of salinity treatments. Differences in height and flowering between the salt treatments are visually dramatic

Increased levels of salinity dramatically impacted both the size and health of Phragmites stems with a significant reduction in stem height and leaf number, particularly at salinity levels of 30 ppt and higher. The impacts of high levels of salinity were even more dramatic the second year of growth indicating that salinity effects on Phragmites growth are cumulative over time. Plants exposed to water with a salinity of 30 ppt or higher were much shorter and less robust than the other plants as can be very obviously seen in the above photo.

In the field, at Medouie Creek, salinity levels have been observed between 15-32 ppt (compared to 0-5 ppt before restoration); comparable to the experimental salinity levels that we saw negatively impacting the Phragmites. Currently these salinity levels are variable across the marsh and not consistent. Seven  years after opening a culvert under the dike road to increase salt water flow, the observed salinity levels are likely at their maximum and the chance of decreasing the Phragmites population even more is slim. Without additional dramatic increases in soil salinity, further impacts to the current Phragmites population are unlikely.

phragpre

Photo taken in Medouie Creek among the Phragmites stems before restoration took place.

phragpost

Photo taken from the exact same spot in Medouie in 2013, five years after restoration. The height and density of the Phragmites stems is dramatic but there is still more work needed to control this invasive.

Salinity  alone is not likely to be an effective control strategy unless the entire Phragmites population can be consistently exposed to adequate, increased salinity levels. At sites like Medouie Creek where the Phragmites population extends across a natural gradient of soil salinity levels, there will likely always remain a portion of the marsh favorable to Phragmites. Therefore, further management at Medouie Creek to control the Phragmites population could include opening up additional tidal access creeks to increase salinity throughout the marsh as well as targeted herbicide treatments to decrease and eliminate Phragmites located at sites exposed to lower, more tolerable salinity levels.

 

 

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org

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Less Shrubs and Moor Views

WM WRRP Mowing Shawkemo Hills Winter 2015 8

Take a walk in the northwestern portion of our vast Middle Moors property holdings this winter, and you will see that the landscape in this area has been opened up dramatically. This brushcutting management work is being undertaken by Foundation staff and is associated with our Middle Moors Wildland Fire Management Plan. The mutually-compatible goals of this project are to restore and manage rare, ecologically-significant sandplain grassland, heathland and scrub oak barren habitats while also reducing wildfire risk in areas that are adjacent to homes and other public infrastructure. This effort was initiated several years ago by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and staff and is being implemented over multiple years as funding and equipment resources allow.

Fire and Pines

The unique landscapes of Nantucket’s conservation properties are valued and enjoyed for many reasons…..but what is not immediately apparent is that the native grasses, shrubs and trees within these areas are composed of highly flammable vegetation. These plants contains volatile oils and resins that are capable of producing extreme fire behavior when burned. The vast majority of these species not only exhibit fire adaptations, but actually require fire or some other type of disturbance for their continued existence. When vegetation such as this is located in close proximity to homes, roads, and utilities, wildfire professionals call it a “Wildland-Urban Interface Risk.” Nantucket’s risk factor is worsened by our 2 ½ hour ferry travel time, which significantly limits the ability of off-island fire fighters and equipment to arrive in time to assist in the event of a catastrophic wild fire.

WM Fecon Management Work Jan 2012 014

Several island and regional conservation groups, including the Foundation, conduct prescribed burning, brushcutting, and combinations of these activities to control and reduce shrub cover and promote the occurrence of sandplain grasslands and heathlands and their associated rare species (read more about our prescribed burn management activities in a previous blog post from May, 2014). The brushcutting work that the Foundation is undertaking requires a very hefty piece of highly-specialized equipment called a Fecon mulching tractor, which was purchased in 2012. This tractor has since been put to good use on our Head of the Plains property and in several locations within the Middle Moors, systematically widening out existing roadways or cutting strategic firebreaks through dense brush where no roads or trails exist. These breaks are designed to provide sufficiently large gaps in the vegetation that will slow the progress of wildfire and provide our fire department with a safe location from which to do fire suppression work.

Middle Moors E & W Firebreak Map for Blog Feb 2015

In order to avoid disturbing nesting birds and other wildlife, we limit the majority of our brushcutting efforts to the fall, winter and spring months. During these seasons, the lack of leaves on dense shrubs also affords increased visibility to the tractor operator so that large rocks and other natural obstructions can be avoided. This winter, we are focusing our efforts on completing fire break establishment and road widening within the northwestern section of the Middle Moors in the Shawkemo Hills area, just south of Folger’s Marsh and the Nantucket Shipwreck and Life Saving Museum. This management work will benefit the homes located along the southern side of Polpis Road that border our property, especially the North Pasture Lane subdivision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once these breaks are established, they will be regularly maintained by periodic mowing, possibly combined with strategic prescribed fire. Although the initial cut creates a large amount of shredded woody material that gets deposited on the ground as a thick layer of mulch, follow-up treatments will reduce this debris over time. The results of road edge mowing that has been taking place within the Middle Moors area for many years demonstrates that these areas will eventually be colonized by native grass and wildflower species. In fact, some of the largest populations of our state-listed rare plant species, including New England blazing star (Liatris scariosa var. novae-angliae), eastern silvery aster (Symphyotrichum concolor) and sandplain blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium fuscatum) occur along open, sunny road edge habitats in the Middle Moors.

WM Road edge Liatris

Winter is a great time to get out into the moors and see some of these treated areas first-hand, right after they have been cut……and then come back this summer to see how beautiful these newly-opened landscapes look once the vegetation has greened up! If you like what you see, please consider making a contribution to our dedicated fund that supports this important work.

WM WRRP Mowing Shawkemo Hills Winter 2015 Panorama

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org

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Meet Our New Sheep Grazing Project Technician!

Connie with Sheep Nov 2014002

We are very pleased to welcome Constance Helstosky to our year-round staff as our new Sheep Grazing Project Technician. Connie joined us in mid-November and has hit the ground running, taking on the many responsibilities associated with the care and maintenance of our current flock of 75 sheep at Squam Farm. Connie took over this position from our previous technician, Jessica Pykosz, who recently moved off-island with her husband to manage a historic working farm in Foster, Rhode Island. Jess did a fantastic job overseeing our sheep grazing and flock management for the past 5 years, and we wish her the very best of luck in her new endeavors.

Connie comes to us with a great deal of previous experience and enthusiasm for this unique and challenging position. She holds a B.S. Degree in Animal Science with a pre-veterinary concentration from the University of Delaware in Newark and has four years of post-college experience working in various farm and livestock-related capacities. Over the coming months, she will be overseeing the breeding of our sheep to produce a new crop of lambs this spring, rotationally grazing the flock on approximately 30 acres of upland pastures scattered around the Squam Farm property during the spring, summer and fall, and taking care of all aspects of the flock’s health, nutritional needs, and overall well-being.

If you see Connie out at Squam Farm, feel free to introduce yourself, welcome her to Nantucket, and ask questions! Below are some thoughts from her about her past experiences and how they relate to her new position with us:

I grew up in a suburb of Boston reading All Creatures Great and Small and dreaming of the day I would become a large animal veterinarian. I attended the University of Delaware and during my first semester I got a job on the dairy feeding calves. From that moment I gravitated toward being the farmer rather than the veterinarian. During my years at University I worked on farms producing everything from broccoli to ice-cream. All the while gaining practical knowledge and a thirst to know and do more. 

Once I returned from a final semester at Lincoln University in New Zealand, I began farming full time as a herdsman for a sheep and cow dairy in CT. From there I headed north to farm on various diversified livestock operations in Vermont. All the while learning, making mistakes, and taking in as much knowledge from older farmers as I could. 

My final job before heading to Nantucket was as a nutritional research technician for a 500 cow dairy located in Northern New York recognized as one of the top producing herds in the nation. From this job I gained more skills and experience thinking about the nutritional requirements of individual animals, and the interplay of efficiency and economics. 

I am very excited to join the team at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. I have been provided with a unique and wonderful opportunity to continue a successful project. I have found farming to be extremely frustrating when troubles arise that there is no chance to prepare for. However, no other occupation on earth provides those beautiful, perfect days in the hay field, or nursing a sick lamb back to health. The triumphs and beauty of an ancient lifestyle make every obstacle worth overcoming. To be a good farmer is to be a great land steward and I believe that through this unique opportunity I will learn to succeed at both. I look forward to the unique challenges farming on Nantucket will bring me, and I am grateful to be given a chance to continue the exceptional standard and quality of the sheep land management program on Squam Farm.

Sheep Squam Nov 2012 001

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org

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Restoring Illegally Created Trails on Foundation Properties

Working for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s Science and Stewardship Department, we spend a large portion of our time maintaining and restoring Foundation properties as favorable habitats for rare plants and animals through prescribed fire, sheep grazing and mowing to name a few techniques. Nantucket is home to very unique sandplain grassland habitats and supports the highest percentage of rare species in Massachusetts.

Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae, Asteraceae) one of the rare plants seen at Tupancy Links

Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae, Asteraceae) one of the rare plants seen at Tupancy Links

A great benefit of Foundation property is that, even though all of our properties are privately owned, we are able to make them available for public use in ways that are in harmony with our mission to protect and restore the unique habitats and plants and animals on this island. Nantucketers have a strong appreciation and respect for the natural beauty that makes Nantucket so special.

Open sandplain grasslands at Tupancy Links

Open sandplain grasslands at Tupancy Links

Occasionally and unfortunately though, we have to care for neglect on our properties caused by visitors.  Usually this is on a small scale: removing trash and landscaping waste piles from the Head of the Plains or cleaning up pallet piles from the Middle Moors before they can be used for bonfires.

And occasionally we find very blatant misuse of NCF properties that requires very time intensive work to restore.

This summer, in early July, a new trail appeared overnight at our Tupancy Links property in an area that never before had a trail.  The new trail was a very consistent width of dead plants (apparently killed overnight) indicating that someone likely illegally used herbicide to create this path.  This new trail, approximately 1/2 a mile long!, was in a previously and very purposefully undisturbed area of the property and, unfortunately, the time intensive restoration of this site is now up to NCF staff.

Danielle raking up illegally herbicided, dead plants before reseeding at Tupancy - the illegally created trail is visible stretching behind Danielle in the distance.  This is only a small portion of the disturbance.

Danielle raking up illegally herbicided, dead plants before reseeding at Tupancy – the illegally created trail is visible stretching behind Danielle in the distance.  This is only a small portion of the disturbance.

Why do we care? Tupancy is already very heavily used by dog walkers and the public, what does one more trail hurt?

There are a few major reasons, the first being that this is private property and alterations, particularly using herbicide, is illegal. Unregulated herbicide use can be harmful, not only to native species like the Northern Harrier but also particularly in areas where dogs and children have open access. The second is that, our Foundation staff puts a lot of careful work into deciding how our properties can best be used so that the public can enjoy them while also protecting natural habitats and plants and animals that we are responsible for. Tupancy is very intensively used in some places so we have purposely not put trails in other areas to avoid disturbing rare plants and maintain areas of continuous open space. Imagine what this island would look like if everyone decided to create trails wherever they wished. NCF staff puts a lot of time into carefully considering the location of trails and property access and blatant disregard for our hard work is pretty upsetting!

Kelly and Danielle fencing a newly restored and seeded trail at Tupancy to keep foot traffic off of it.

Kelly and Danielle fencing a newly restored and seeded trail at Tupancy to keep foot traffic off of it.

How will we restore this impacted area?  Kelly, Danielle, Karen and Jen (Science and Stewardship Staff) spent time this fall collecting seeds from the native grass, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). We then raked up all of the dead plant material in a section of the new trail, disturbed the soil a little bit to promote germination and laid down a thick cover of little bluestem seeds. We fenced off the areas we seeded to prevent anyone from walking on this area while the seed germinates. Little bluestem grass establishes and grows quickly when planted in either the fall or spring.  We also fenced off an area of the herbicided trail and did not seed it which will allow us to see what might happen to this trail on its own without seeding.  Because herbicide was used so extensively here, we are not sure if native plants will be able to easily re-establish.

Reseeded area, fenced for the winter. We will monitor grass growth next year and hope this trail is able to re-establish.

Reseeded area, fenced for the winter. We will monitor grass growth next year and hope this trail is able to re-establish.

We will keep monitoring this trail and working on more restoration and seeding in the spring.  The size of this disturbance means it might take us quite a while to successfully restore this site.

NCF has been able to protect and maintain large areas of Nantucket but we can’t be everywhere at once, so we need your help! Please, if you see activities on any of our properties that seem unusual or not in keeping with our mission to protect Nantucket’s natural spaces, contact the Foundation office (508) 228-2884!!

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The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org

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Botanizing on Nantucket

By: Katherine Culatta, Seasonal Botany/Ecology Field Assistant

Katherine with a really big cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, Osmundaceae)

Katherine with a really big cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, Osmundaceae)

One of the most exciting things that can happen to a botanist is to stumble across an unfamiliar plant and puzzle over its identity, working though guide books, dichotomous keys, and consultations with fellow plant enthusiasts.  When I’m solving the identity of mystery plants, I feel like a real-life botanical Sherlock Holmes.  It’s the same kind of rush you might get from solving a complex puzzle or reaching the end of a scavenger hunt, and it’s one of the reasons I first became interested in a career in botany.  Of course, mystery plants become fewer and farther between the more time you spend in one place.  It’s nice to walk along a trail and immediately recognize most of the plants you see, but the thrill of the chase is missing.

Luckily for me, this summer I got a chance to move over 700 miles, from mountains to coast, to reach Nantucket and ample opportunity to confront mystery plants as a botany and ecology field technician for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.  In fact, when I first arrived I was overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar plants and a bit clueless about where to start!  Fortunately, our resident plant expert Kelly Omand was there to introduce me to some of the more conspicuous plants familiar to anyone who has spent time observing the flora of Nantucket: Bayberry, Scrub Oak, Sweet Pepperbush, Little Bluestem, Blue-eyed Grass in the spring, Sickle-leaved Golden Aster in the summer, and Northern Blazing Star in the fall.  Once I was familiar with the most common plants, I was ready to start learning the less frequently seen members of Nantucket’s plant community.

Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae, Asteraceae) at Squam Farm

Northern Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae, Asteraceae) at Squam Farm

The most definite and reliable resource that botanists use for plant identification is the dichotomous key.  Though dichotomous keys lack the ease and aesthetic appeal of a guide book with photographs or illustrations, they are superior for tough identifications because they offer detailed comparisons among similar species.  A dichotomous key is composed of many sets of paired questions about an unknown plant’s appearance, growth form, habitat, and other characteristics.  Each question answered narrows down the pool of potential plants that could fit the description of the unknown plant.  If a plant is truly a mystery, the best place to start is the very beginning of key, but with experience the plant family can often be determined without a key.  Recognizing family characteristics saves time in plant identification because it allows you to skip the portion of the dichotomous key designed to determine which family the unknown plant belongs to.  In taxonomic terms, a plant genus is a group of plant species defined by shared characteristics, with the genus name being the first in the Latin binomial (for example, the ‘Homo’ of ‘Homo sapiens’).  A plant family is the next larger classification that includes multiple genera and is based on characteristics shared by all the plants in the family.  For example, members of the grass family (Poaceae) have leaves with parallel veins that are divided into a stem-hugging sheath and a flattened blade, hollow stems, and specialized flowers arranged in spikelets.  Members of the daisy family (Asteraceae) have compound inflorescences made up of many smaller flowers, a specialized fruit type called a cypsela, and are usually non-woody.  Learning to recognize family characteristics is a useful botanical shortcut to get one step closer to figuring out the genus and species.

Grass specimens with a dichotomous key and hand lens (for magnifying small plant parts)

Grass specimens with a dichotomous key and hand lens (for magnifying small plant parts)

If you’d like to try keying out a plant, a full dichotomous key to the plants of New England is available online through the New England Wildflower Society. 

So, we’ve established that plant identification is a thrilling puzzle, but how does it fit into the larger goals of the Science and Stewardship department at NCF?  First and foremost, it is essential for land managers to know what species are present on their land and where they occur.  Plant identification is also crucial in assessing the effects of land management practices over time, or how natural forces such as deer activity might impact plant communities.

Part of my job this summer was to complete plant community sampling in the Middle Moors, Ram Pasture, Sanford Farm, and Squam Farm.  This entailed identifying and recording the abundance of plant species present in small plots or along transects designed to be representative of the larger landscape.  In the Middle Moors, community sampling focused around a population of Broom Crowberry (Corema conradii), a rare shrub most often found in open, disturbed coastal habitat.  Sections of habitat had been burned or mowed to assess how disturbance could promote or sustain Crowberry growth.  Community sampling at Ram Pasture and Squam Farm also took place in areas managed to promote open habitat- through fire at Ram Pasture, and sheep grazing at Squam Farm.  At Sanford Farm, monitoring was completed both inside and outside the large fenced-in area designed to prevent deer from eating vegetation.  Though deer clearly and visibly impact vegetation in areas where they feed, their exact impact on plant communities is uncertain.  Monitoring species composition in areas open and closed to deer will give us a better idea of how the deer population influences plant communities on Nantucket.

Data sheet used for vegetation monitoring. Abbreviated Latin names at left, with ‘X’ indicating species presence at each point along a line.

Data sheet used for vegetation monitoring. Abbreviated Latin names at left, with ‘X’ indicating species presence at each point along a line.

The data we collected this summer are interesting as a snapshot of the plant communities currently present in each location, but they become truly useful once they are put into the context of time.  This is achieved by compiling data sets from monitoring efforts over multiple years to assess how the plant community has (or hasn’t) changed over time and in response to management practices.   This information informs future decisions about land management on NCF properties.

Coastal sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia, Clethraceae) at Squam Forest

Coastal sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia, Clethraceae) at Squam Forest

I feel lucky to have found a place this summer where I could contribute to interesting long-term research.  I had a great time exercising my botany skills, learning a lot about coastal habitats, and working alongside some amazing biologists.  Farewell to Nantucket, and I hope we meet again!

 

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org

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A Field Season on Nantucket

by Andee Brendalen, Seasonal Botany Field Assistant

Andee with Black Cherry

This summer I served as a botany/ecology field assistant for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. My duties included conducting plant surveys, vegetation community surveys, tracking spotted turtles, monitoring horseshoe crab populations during spawning, and completing forest composition surveys in the Squam area. I really enjoyed all of these activities because I was able to utilize my plant identification skills, but I was also able to learn new sampling techniques and new skills like radio telemetry and navigation with a GPS.

Monarch Butterfly on Slender-leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminofolia)

Monarch Butterfly on grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminofolia)

One of the most interesting jobs I had here at the NCF was monitoring rare plant species using the Element Occurrence data standard. The Element Occurrence (EO) data standard is a tool used by botanists, zoologists, and ecologists to collect information on plants and animals in a consistent way so that the data can be understood and used by all others in the field and analyzed and compared overtime. The elements I was searching for and collecting data on were rare plants found in various habitats on Nantucket.

The State of Massachusetts compiles a list of species that are ranked as Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern depending their rarity and risk of extirpation from the state. The Nantucket Conservation Foundation and other conservation organizations and land owners in Massachusetts are required to monitor these rare plants if they are found on their land. Nantucket has quite a few of the plant species on this list including New England Blazing Star, Creeping St. John’s Wort, and Eastern Silvery Aster. Many of these species are ranked as endangered and one, St. Andrew’s Cross, is found in Massachusetts only on Nantucket!

Eastern Silvery Aster (Symphiotrichum concolor)

Eastern Silvery Aster (Symphiotrichum concolor)

Typically, I would receive a map of the location of the rare plant population from years ago when it was last surveyed. If and when I relocated the population, I would record the number of plants I observed, noted any obvious threats to the population, whether the population has increased or decreased and provided possible reasons for changes. Many of the plant populations are quite challenging to find as they are often in places not frequented by people and trails may not exist in the area. Often I found myself using a map and compass to orient through scrub oak thickets and coastal shrublands to find ponds or marshes containing the plant population. I found it extremely fun and exciting to navigate through a wild area and find often small plants and count the individuals and mark the extent of the population on a GPS unit. Once back in the office, I would complete a report to file with the Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program which is a division of the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife.

Three-angles spikerush (Eleocharis tricostata)

Three-angles spikerush (Eleocharis tricostata)

Conserving as many plant and animal species as possible is important for the maintenance of biodiversity in our ecosystems. Biodiversity allows for ecosystems to adjust to changes in climate and survive after extreme events such as droughts or floods. Genetic diversity helps species adjust to changes in their environment and prevent disease. One of the most important benefits to humans that biodiversity gives us is that of ecosystem services like cleaning our water, making oxygen for us to breathe, and absorbing chemicals.

Though all of these are great reasons to conserve biodiversity and monitor rare species, my favorite is the wonder and beauty of it all. It is hard to drive past a field of wildflowers or walk past a pond complete with water lilies, grasses, and wetland plants and not be struck by the beauty and serenity of it all. I think intact ecosystems with a high abundance of plants and animals is one the most inspiring things in the world. There are hundreds of species on the Nantucket Conservation Foundation properties interacting and working with one another to create a resilient and breathtaking community. I look back fondly at my time here monitoring and managing land on Nantucket, feeling that I did my part to conserve some of the best places on Earth for anyone that wants to experience them.

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Science and Stewardship at the Cranfest this Saturday

New at this year's Cranfest--a calendar prepared by NCF's Science and Stewardship Department. And back by popular request: locally collected native plant seeds.

New at this year’s CranFest–a 2015 calendar prepared by NCF’s Science and Stewardship Department. And back by popular request: locally collected native plant seeds!

When you visit this year’s Cranfest at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s Milestone Bog this Saturday, October 11th, please stop in at the Science & Stewardship table. We love to talk about what we do, and share our explorations of the Nantucket natural world!

To share a taste of the scientific research and natural beauty we enjoy daily, this year we’ll be selling a brand new calendar packed with photos of our conservation properties and many of the plants and animals we study and work hard to protect. From New England Cottontails to spotted turtles and horseshoe crabs, colorful wildflowers and winter scenes–it’s all in there! An unusual souvenir or a great gift for a nature lover.

June 2015 NCF Calendar page, starring the spotted turtle (Clemys guttata).

June 2015 NCF Science and Stewardship Calendar page, starring the spotted turtle (Clemys guttata) with photos of its natural habitat (forest floor and vernal pool).

Locally collected native plant seeds will also be available again this year to help you boost the wildlife potential and beauty of your island garden. New this year: peppermint-scented mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), which we have found to be hardy and deer-resistant in our restoration plantings, and hyssop-leaved boneset (Eupatorium hyssopifolium), a low maintenance plant topped with lacy white flower heads. Both are attractive to butterflies and bees, great for your pollinator garden! Seeds are collected from properties where the plants are abundant, and are a great replacement for non-native plants because they offer food for insects and on up the food chain.

All species of seeds that we offer have been grown out in our research greenhouse, and have been used in restoration plantings, where they have proven to be easy to grow and low maintenance. Seed packets are $5 each. Grasses are also available in a larger size for $10 per packet.

Returning favorites: common milkweed, coastal Joe-Pye weed, sweet goldenrod, Canada (blue) toadflax, golden sickle-leaf aster, pearly everlasting, white-topped toothed aster, goat’s rue, yellow wild indigo, little bluestem, rose mallow, blue flag iris, and switchgrass. Packets of mixed wildflowers: Monarch Meadow Mix, Moist Meadow Mix, and Sandplain Grassland Mix.

Don’t forget–next door to the Science and Stewardship table will be wool from our Squam Farm sheep flock. Pick some up for a project or a gift, and help support our sheep grazing land management program. Like the NCF cranberry bogs, the sheep management program helps the island maintain its agricultural history.

wool

For sale at the Cranberry Festival – Wool spun from NCF’s sheep!

"Lamb Mountain" at Squam Farm, where the NCF sheep roam.

“Lamb Mountain” at Squam Farm, where the NCF flock roams.

See you Saturday at the Cranberry Festival!

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