Local Garden Focuses on Bringing Back Native Plants

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ATHENS — A local garden that sits right next to East State Street and across from the Athens Community Center is teaching people about the native plants found in Ohio.

The Wistendahl Native Plant Garden, filled with plants like milkweed and prairie grass, is doing more than just making the landscape look good, but also teaching people about the unique plants found in  Ohio.

In the 1700s, 1% of Ohio’s landmass was covered in prairies now it’s about 1% of that 1%, according to Frank Porter, the supervisor at the Wistendahl Garden.

A lot of the land was taken over and changed through agriculture so once they begin plowing the ground, they destroyed the prairies and they didn’t come back,” Porter said. “Road construction, railroads going through actually removed a lot of the prairies.”

He said the mission at the Wistendahl Garden is primarily to educate people in the area on how to restore native habits to help improve human and animal life.

A few weeks ago, volunteers came together to create a second prairie in the garden.

Porter says it allows people to see what prairies look like.

“We want people who live in the area and also visitors who come from anywhere to actually understand how diverse the flora of Ohio really is,” Porter said.

The prairie is planted in a two-foot area and will flower this year. By next year the prairie will fill in and it will look like the garden, except it’ll only be prairie plants, according to Porter.

The garden is divided into different sections for the many species found in the garden.

The sections include, two prairies, a certified milkweed station, plants you’d find on the edge of a forest, and closer to the sidewalk end of the garden, is a wet area for plants that are suited for having wet feet and moisture

“There are about 350 species in this garden,” Porter said. “It is meant to typify about four or five of the major ecosystems of Ohio.”

With so many different species in the garden, Porter likes to teach volunteers the scientific names of the plants. That way when they go on their weekly hiking, volunteers are familiar with what they see.

While the prairie garden next to East State Street is just getting started, one part of Ohio University’s campus has a section filled with native plants that are thriving, according to Samuel Crowl, from the Office of Sustainability.

For monarch butterflies, prairies are important because it provides the milkweed plant species allowing them to reproduce.

He said staff and students apart of the Walter International Education Center took the initiative to create native land for not only monarch butterflies, but other species as well.

“The Walter International Education Center received points in its silver lead certification for its naturalized habitat,” Crowl said. “They eradicate all the invasive species and staff did that as well as summer student workers.”

It won’t happen overnight, but Ohio University and Ohio community members will continue to make a change by bringing back native plants.