Sister Mary Baird, founder of MoonTree Studios, said, "The term "native" is often used indiscriminately and inappropriately which can be confusing. The term Adam Thada (Ecological Director at The Center at Donaldson) and I use to define native vegetation is 'a species of plant that thrived in Indiana prior to European settlement.' Botanists and biologists have identified 'pre-settlement' vegetation for our state. Native is different from naturalized. Naturalized refers to non-native species that survive and reproduce on their own. The MoonTree prairie is comprised of only native plants, and volunteers join Adam and I to monitor the 8 acres of prairie, removing any non-native species and sowing seeds of native vegetation."
At the time of European settlement, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem extended into northwest Indiana, a "prairie peninsula" covering one million acres within the state. Today, only about 1,000 unplowed prairie acres remain, a loss of 99.9%! Still, perennial plants hanging on in ditches and alongside railroads provided the genetic source for the prairie restoration movement.
Why is it important to create and maintain a native prairie? Thada stated, "Plants and animals live together in communities where they are dependent on natural resources and each other to survive. Eventually, the loss of enough native species can disrupt an entire ecosystem. Maintaining biodiverse native ecosystems such as prairies across Indiana is vital to maintaining the ecological functions on which we depend. Maintaining native ecosystems such as prairies across Indiana is vital to maintaining balance and harmony in our environment."
"Prairies build soil, capture carbon, trap sediment, grow livestock, and support pollinators," noted Sr. Mary. "Prairies also provide us with flowers to enjoy, birds and butterflies and animals to watch." A former naturalist and educator with the Department of Natural Resources, Sr. Mary is a life-long environmentalist and has dedicated much of her time and energy to creating the native prairie which is home to MoonTree Studios.
The loss of native plants is thought to be part of the reason so many pollinators have died off. Pollinators are crucial to the survival of crops such as potatoes, onions, celery, kiwi and strawberries. Other vegetables that require pollination by insects include broccoli, collards, cauliflower, cucumber, cantaloupe, pumpkins and watermelon, okra, peppers and squash. One important crop that many people don't realize depend upon pollinators such as bees for survival is coffee.
Thada stated, "Maintaining the prairie’s biodiversity is an important part of our environmental plan. Prairie plants can survive fires since they have deep roots and grow from a point underground. A prescribed burn is a crucial component in prairie restoration. We did a prescribed burn early in the prairie restoration project to prepare the land for planting. The MoonTree Prairie is burned at regular intervals to help keep it healthy and to ensure biodiversity."
Come out to MoonTree and learn about the prairie restoration movement’s Midwestern history and get a close-up view of MoonTree’s 2011 prairie planting.Sunset photo courtesy of Steve Gadomski