Monday, March 30, 2015

Is this nursery plant invasive?

By Maria DeLaundreau, Floodplain Restoration Project Coordinator, Mississippi River Fund

From the description, can you guess what this plant is?

“Ideal ground cover to beautify and control erosion on problem slopes. This hardy perennial ground cover grows 12-24” tall, spreads vigorously to choke weeds, thrives in all soils and all climates…A favorite of state highway crews because of its rapid spreading ability. Blooms June to frost. Drought resistant.”
This plant is being sold even though it is invasive.
If you have volunteered with the Mississippi River Fund and National Park Service pulling invasive species, this description might ring a bell because it is crown vetch. A plant well-known as an invasive that the Department of Transportation and our park have been battling for years. They learned their lesson and stopped planting crown vetch, but it is still sold in the spring 2015 garden catalog I have been scanning. 

Don't plant this invasive tree.
Let’s try another one:

“If you have a large area you’d like screened in a hurry, plant [this tree]…Will grow to a height of 45’ or more, but can be trimmed to form a tall-growing screen. Grows rapidly even in shade and in dry, poor soil, as well as good soils. Does well in drought conditions!”

This plant is Siberian elm, a tree the National Park Service has been striving to eradicate from Coldwater Spring. Pollen and seeds from this tree travel far, allowing it to hybridize with and contaminate the genetics of the native slippery elm even if it is far away. Its ability to grow rapidly even in poor conditions allows it to crowd out native species. 

I was surprised to find these plants in nursery catalogs, but maybe I should have been less surprised. After all, many of the qualities that make a plant invasive are the same qualities that might make it great in a garden and easy for nurseries to market. Don’t you wish every plant you grew was immune to most local diseases, did not have any predators eating it, spread out so you don’t have to buy as many, and grew quickly and lushly even if you forgot to water it or put it in an imperfect location? 

Many of our invasive species did not come to Minnesota by accident; they were brought here on purpose and often because of the qualities that make them invasive. Buckthorn was touted as a fast-growing and dense shrub that quickly screens your yard from neighbors, similarly to how Siberian elm is now being promoted. What was not advertised (and at the time not known) was how buckthorn prevents native flowers from germinating and frog eggs from hatching. At the time, these effects were not known or studied because horticulturalists never expected them to escape yards and gardens, but they did. Once buckthorn escaped it quickly damaged natural areas and has been a challenge for natural resources professionals and volunteers ever since. 
Buckthorn hedges have been planted in the US for over 200 years.
Today you can still find this invasive shrub in yards.
Now you know, if you see a plant that looks too good to be true, it probably is. Check plant descriptions to see if it has characteristics that might make it invasive. You can also check the state noxious and invasive species list  and, supported by the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the U.S. Forest Service. Different states and agencies have different plants on their list, so check a couple of references before buying. Still be cautious because not all plants that are invasive have been recognized as such, or may not be invasive in one area and invasive in another. It is safest to stick to natives or plants that have been used in your area and have been tested by time.

There are other ways to keep the park in mind while you are gardening this spring. Support plant suppliers that grow and sell native plants. You can do this by buying and planting native species that provide insect and bird habitat and forage. If you notice plant suppliers selling invasive plants let them know that you do not approve. Conserve water by planting flowers and shrubs that are adapted to Minnesota’s climate, plant a rain garden, or make a rain barrel with Friends of the Mississippi River so when you do water you are still conserving.

Whatever you plant this spring, you will feel better knowing it is helping our park and not harming it. In the comments tell us how you like to be nature-friendly in your garden or warn us of other invasive plants in catalogs and nurseries. As comments come in informing us of other invasive plants on the market, I’ll update the list below.

Invasive plants in catalogs and nurseries:
Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
Crown vetch (Coronilla varia or Securigera varia)
Fire spinner ice plant (Delosperma)
Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)
Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
Baby's breath (Gypsophila paniculata)
Butterfly bush (Buddleja)
Amur maple (Acer ginnala)
Amur silver grass (miscanthus sacchariflorus)
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
Oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
Invasive strains of Phragmites

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

River Citizens Unite!

The beautiful Mississippi plays many roles in our lives.
By Annette Anderson, 
1 Mississippi Campaign Manager,
Mississippi River Network

Did you know the Mississippi River is a crucial source of drinking water for over 18 million people?  From Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River is not only a critical source of drinking water, but also an important part of our heritage, the backbone of our economy and a diverse habitat for wildlife. 

Our country’s mightiest river has a powerful impact on our lives and we collectively have an impact on it as well. In fact, actions we take between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians (that’s 40% of the country!) affect the River’s water quality, wildlife and people downstream.  

Unfortunately, the once mighty Mississippi is in trouble. Pollution has caused our great River to decline, and loss of the River’s wetlands has River communities more vulnerable to severe weather. That’s why for the last five years the only national campaign for the River, 1 Mississippi, has been growing a movement of people who share the responsibility to act as caretakers of the big River. This group of “River Citizens” is making River-friendly choices every day, like selecting native plants for their yards, attending River cleanups or demanding more thoughtful policy from local and national officials. River Citizens are challenging and changing the way their communities view the River and their ability to influence its future. 

Network members and River Citizens
work together to protect the river.
To support River Citizens all along the River, 1 Mississippi shares the best science available on issues like pollution, flooding and invasive species, and helps people understand how they can make an impact on these issues in their daily lives. The campaign is supported by the Mississippi River Network, a group of nearly 50 organizations all working on River issues. Network members implement the national campaign locally by making River Events easier to find, speaking about the issues facing the River and sharing ways people can take action in their own lives. So far, over 13,000 River Citizens have pledged to act as caretakers of the River.

The Mississippi River Fund is active in the Mississippi River Network, as are a number of other Minnesotan organizations like Friends of the Mississippi River, the River Life Partnership at the University of Minnesota and the only national park on the River, the National Mississippi River & Recreation Area

If you are interested in connecting to a variety of local River events and becoming a caretaker of the Mighty Mississippi, join in the fun and become a River Citizen at an event or online at There are already nearly 2,000 River Citizens in Minnesota; can the River count on you too?

Can the River count on you?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In the Business of Forever

By Lark Weller, National Park Service, Water Quality Coordinator
Photos by Roger Luteyn

What are the things that matter most to you? What gives your life meaning?

My guess is your answers have to do with those things, people, and events that pull your attention away from the superficial “to do” list of your day-to-day obligations and help you focus your thoughts and energy on things other than you: a powerful social moment or cause, the children in your community and life.

In the National Park Service, we say we’re in “the Forever Business.” This is catchy and sounds inspiring, right? But what does it really mean? The Forever Business, by definition, focuses on what is beyond me, you, us. We won’t be here forever. But, if we are careful stewards of our beloved and essential resources, we hope they will be.

Thinking beyond our own lives, then actually taking action in service of protecting something forever, in the midst of the bustle and noise of our culture, can be a bit disconcerting. Protecting a precious resource for “forever” is so at odds with the ephemeral nature of this culture that it can make one feel nearly schizophrenic.

Perhaps that is why the national parks are called “America’s Best Idea.” After all, any idea that helps us focus on something other than the insatiable appetite of our “now, now, now; more, more, more” culture seems fairly radical, refreshing, and downright genius.

When the franticness of daily life has worn me thin, I am grateful for those places, people, movements, and moments that call on me to remember something bigger, something that will live far beyond me, and something to which I really don’t matter. In my own life, I am thankful for—and need—reminders that my day-to-day stresses are usually that: day-to-day. I’ll have them every day, and new ones will appear tomorrow. In the grand scheme—the forever business—of life and rivers, they truly do not matter.

The National Park Service works to protect the Mississippi River so it can continue to serve a refreshing, curative, grounding role in your life and in the life of our environment, community, and world.

So, now, I wonder: how could our lives be reframed so we appreciate daily the salutary gifts of the beautiful Mississippi River? How could our lives more intentionally contribute to the “forever business” of preserving the Mississippi River’s restorative powers?

It is a privilege to work to protect the Mississippi River, which gives us so much. The river provides our drinking water and carries away our waste. It provides habitat to diverse wildlife and gives people recreational respite from the bustling cities that thrive on its banks. We need the river, and it needs our stewardship in exchange.

To protect the Mississippi “forever,” we’ll need your help. Won’t you take a step back from your busy to-do list and join us in the Forever Business?  A remarkable river awaits you!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mapping Coldwater

by Kate Havelin, Community Outreach, Mississippi River Fund

1837 E.K. Smith map showing Camp Coldwater
“Maps are made of useful information and sometimes, wishful thinking.”

Maps are portraits that show one view of a place. But just as people have varied pictures-- candid snapshots to formal posed portraits-- Coldwater has many maps that chart the park as it was, is, and perhaps, could be.

The oldest Coldwater map I’ve seen dates back to 1837. E.K. Smith’s map includes Camp Coldwater, where some 150 people lived. Not long after that map was made, Fort Snelling’s commander ordered all civilians to move out of Coldwater.

A circa 1857 Fort Snelling map lists Coldwater’s hotel, which had been the Baker trading post. Another Fort Snelling map made in the late 1800s, lists “water works” and “water tank” but didn’t mention Coldwater.

After Fort Snelling stopped getting water from Coldwater and had begun contracting with St. Paul for water, the fort’s 1927 map refers to "Coldwater Park.”
For a few decades after then, Coldwater seems to fall off the map, as it were. The Minnesota Historical Society has a wealth of maps and online resources, but a scan of numerous early 20th century maps didn’t yield much about Coldwater. A 1952 Minneapolis Planning Commission map of historic sites did note that Camp Coldwater supplied water to the fort.
Bureau of  Mines map, circa 1960
Bureau of Mines map, early 1950s

By the 1950s, Coldwater was home to the Bureau of Mines' Twin Cities Research Center. The place was back on the map, although not always with Coldwater's name. Bureau of Mines staffers referred to the place as Fort Snelling.

Jump forward to 2012, when the National Park Service began restoring Coldwater Spring to an oak savanna prairie, our park now has maps of its own.

Then, there’s the bigger view map, almost like a family portrait, showing Coldwater and its closest neighbors. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Veterans Administration, Minnesota State Historical Society, and Fort Snelling State Park all manage parcels of land surrounding Coldwater.                                                
The National Park Service is responsible for Coldwater Spring’s 29 acres; Coldwater and its neighboring land partners comprise about 100 acres of continuous public park land.

Some maps capture moments in time—they’re like growth charts showing the park’s progress. This 2013 map (at right) records when and where trees were planted at the park over two years. Since that map was made, volunteers have continued planting. Coldwater has had some 600 young trees planted since the park opened in 2012. National Park Service Ranger Rory Stierler made the rules map, posted in the parking lot, as well as the maps showing the park's land partners, trees, wetlands, and social trails to the river.

Not all maps show things as they are. Longtime Coldwater supporters Diane Steen-Hinderlie and Ann Mohler made a map in the late 1990s that they named Falls to Fort Fantasyland: Minnesota, Minnehaha, Hiawatha Hurrah!  They brought the map to legislators so officials could see the value of Coldwater and the surrounding area as the birthplace of Minnesota.

Check out this map's many details below, including an interpretative center, live archeological dig, and sculpture and botanical gardens. To me, this map is a love letter to Coldwater. It shows people's dreams and hopes for a place that’s more than just a name on a map.
Map courtesy of Diane Steen-Hinderlie