Grow Native, Live Native

By Renee Cohen ’16, biology and society major, CCE Nassau County 

Blog entry: July 20, 2015

Renee Cohen adds soil to planter with assistance from a master gardener volunteer
Renee Cohen ’16 adds soil to planter with assistance from a master gardener volunteer.

Today was finally planting day for the prairie grass garden at the Hempstead Plains! The Hempstead Plains are such a fascinating place on Long Island. To give you a little history, they are the last remaining authentic tall grass prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains and are part of a vast prairie that once occupied about 40,000 acres in Nassau County.  Imagine that–acres and acres of prairie where our homes and schools now stand.  The Hempstead Plains are classified by New York State’s Natural Heritage Trust as “critically imperiled” and are among the most rapidly vanishing ecosystems on the planet.  My contribution to this special site will be to educate the public on what native plants they can expect to see in the remaining prairie land with several display planting boxes at the entrance.  

With the help of some master gardener volunteers, I was able to plant all six wooden planter boxes at the plains.  First we filled the boxes with woodchips, then a mix of topsoil and soil found on-site, and finally the native plants.  We planted a variety of grasses and forbs, including switchgrass, little bluestem, purple top, butterfly weed, goldenrod, and bushclover.  I’m happy with how the boxes turned out and excited for them to continue to grow and be part of the landscape.

planter boxes at the Hempstead Plains
The planter boxes at the Hempstead Plains.

This summer, I’ve realized how plants are connectors--of people, animals and other plants. They bring people together with common interests and foster collaboration between fields. The project, which aims to show visitors what plants they can see on the Hempstead Plains, connects people with the environment.  This is where the educational component becomes crucial. With labels and various presentation materials, people will learn about the importance of the Hempstead Plains and, more generally, native plants.  Native plants themselves are connectors.  As more and more homeowners incorporate native plants into their gardens and landscapes, habitats that have become fragmented from development can reconnect and provide space for animals to live and migrate.  The connected landscape that native gardens create, called corridors, will help improve the biodiversity of insects, birds, and butterflies across the region.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program has helped Cornell fulfill its land-grant mission by engaging students in outreach since 2007. Faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology along with extension educators from local Cornell Cooperative Extension offices involve students in the college’s work to benefit New York state communities. From research to education and program development, interns are involved in a wide spectrum of activities which they document by blogging.