University of Maryland Extension

Part 4: The Past - Biotic Influences on Native Plant Communities


The previous lesson was about ecoregions and the influence of soil and topography on plant communities.  It sounds funny to say, but this lesson will be about the influence of plants on plant communities.  In what ways do plant species influence each other, and how does that affect the overall composition of the community.  We'll also take a quick look at animals and how they influence plant communities. 

We'll remain in the context of pre-contact Maryland, considering conditions as they would have been before the arrival of the European settlers.  In the opening to the video, I (the author/narrator) was trying to set a tone where you, the listener, could close your eyes and envision that world of 1500, what would it have looked like? The pace of this video is nice and slow so that you can better absorb it.  So grab a cup of coffee, and let's get it started in here...

Assignment: Pick Your Park

1. Select a park or similar natural area that is in the same ecoregion and near where you do most of your extension work.  (If mobility is an issue for you, make sure to select a park with trails that are appropriate for you trails.)  The This park will become your ecosystem role model for future native gardening endeavors.  Don't worry, that doesn't mean your native gardens need to turn out exactly like the plant communities in the park.

2. Find out if the park has a "flora", a list of plants that can be found growing their naturally.  You can do this with a search engine, many parks have posted their plant lists online.  If not, you will need to contact the park directly. 

a. If the park has a flora, find out who wrote it, why and when.  Does it tell you which plants are native to the park and which are not?  If not, you'll need to figure that out for yourself.  Get a copy for your own use. 

b. If the park does not have a flora, the easiest thing for you to do is find another park.  If your heart is really set on the park you have chosen, you may be able to hire a botanist to build one.  

3. Even an expert botanist couldn't recognize all the species in a park without some good books.  So don't feel intimidated.  Even if you have only the most basic plant ID skills you can still get started.  If you have some plant ID guides, this would be a good time to get them out.  There are even some great websites for this now (see the resources page of this class).

4. If you have time, go over the plant list and make some notes.  Work at a level that is appropriate for you.  If you're a beginner, consider learning how to tell maples from oaks or sedges from grasses.  If you're advanced, consider learning how to recognize the five most common oaks species in the park, or the two most common grasses, etc. 

5. One of the things I like most about working with native plants is that there is a lifetime of new exciting diversity to explore.  The flip side of that coin is that no one becomes a plant ID expert over night.  So, have fun with it! 


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