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PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE Bloodroot is a somewhat rare and short-blooming Pennsylvania wildflower that blooms in early spring. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE Bloodroot is a somewhat rare and short-blooming Pennsylvania wildflower that blooms in early spring.

Program fosters Penna. native plants

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Focus

Foster parenting is a well-known program where couples or families take in a child or sometimes siblings for a short period of time with the majority of the children returning to their family of origin.

The children are acclimated to a safe haven where the foster families help the foster children cope with problems such as home difficulties, grief, loss of parent-parents and other personal difficulties.

The Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC) is fostering a program where volunteers will have the opportunity to plant and care for rare or, in some cases, endangered Pennsylvania native plants. The idea stemmed from Sean Bankos, one of the young members of LGNC's Naturalists Club. Bankos had suggested the possibility of personally taking care of rare plants on the LGNC's property.

Sean's idea led to several brainstorming sessions, which ultimately grew into the establishment of a Rare and Forgotten Flora Trail (RAFFT) at LGNC. Since these rare plants have specific needs, including individual soil types, shade-sun and-or wet-dry habitats, the LGNC property could not be used to establish the rare plants that might be available through nurseries, such as Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery, 2415 Rt. 309, Orefield, Lehigh County.

Not only will many rare plants be planted and nurtured on the nature center land, but many volunteers have been invited and have agreed to step forward to plant and care for rare and endangered plants on their properties and the properties of several institutions such as schools and businesses.

As one can imagine, this rare plant program filled very quickly. One difference between the family foster care programs and the rare plant foster parents is that the plants will remain and hopefully flourish in their new environments.

Dan Kunkle, Executive Director at LGNC, discussed the program with foster plant parents meeting at LGNC on April 9 and 13. He explained that the program has two primary purposes:

1. To reintroduce rare and endangered plants; and

2. Increase the use of native plants in the area.

Volunteers will match vouchers worth $250 by purchasing and planting additional rare and-or native plants on their properties. The 10 individual $25 vouchers are good for plants at Edge of the Woods Nursery.

The voucher total can also be matched in part by the volunteers recording the time and effort spent planting and caring for the plants. Volunteers for the program were given lists of rare plants, which included the individual plants' status (vulnerable, imperiled, critically imperiled), botanic name, common name, soil needs (wet, moist, dry), soil specifications, pH preference, sun, full sun, part shade, full shade, general height and width, typical habitat, wildlife value and other plant requirements.

Liz Stauffer, resident LGNC caretaker, and an employee of Edge of the Woods Nursery, addressed the volunteers after Kunkle finished his presentation. Stauffer has been involved in several botanical internships and worked at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Chester County.

After the discussion, volunteers followed Stauffer outside where she demonstrated the proper methods for planting a small shrub. She dug a hole two times wider than the size of the pot or plant ball.

"The surface of the ball or ground surrounding the roots should be even with the surface of the ground surrounding the hole. Do not make a mound around the base of the plant.

"You can mix two to three inches of mulch with the soil. When the plant is positioned to your preference, fill in the open area surrounding the plant with the dirt you removed from the hole. Do not pack down the soil around the plant," Stauffer continued.

"Do not mix compost with native plants. The plants are used to living in a natural environment," Stauffer stressed.

After filling in the hole, carefully water the plant and avoid wetting the leaves. Although most plant leaves are not harmed by water, it is a good idea to keep the leaves dry. Thoroughly water the root system. A newly-planted tree, shrub or plant should be watered until it is established (about one year).

The volunteer foster rare-plant gardeners will survey their plant lists to choose the specific plants that are best suited to their individual properties. Once specific plants are chosen, the volunteers will contact the Edge of the Woods Nursery to begin ordering the plants. Certain plants might take a bit of time to locate while others may already be part of the Edge of the Woods Nursery inventory.

The program is funded by PPL and Growing Greener, an alliance of National Audubon Society and Toyota Motors North America. There are no openings remaining at this time.

We have a shaded property, so we will be ordering, planting and nurturing shade plants such as serviceberry, bearberry, wild bleeding heart, showy goldenrod, spreading globe flower and Meehan's mint. These plants are able to grow in shaded areas. We will also plant additional native plants such as bloodroot, spring beauty, Joe Pye weed, Jacobs ladder and trillium.

Edge of the Woods Nursery holds tours at 10 a.m. Tuesdays. That's a good time for foster care plant volunteers to visit the nursery to see what rare plants and what native plants are available. Edge of the Woods is holding an Open House May 5.

That's the way I see it!

Email comments and questions to: bbbcole@ enter.net. To schedule programs, hikes and birthday parties, call 610-767-4043.

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