Big things have been happening at Quercus! Not only have we been growing in staff number, but we have added a new location! The new shop is located in the unincorporated community of Morrisonville, WI, dubbed “Frogtown U.S.A.”, north of DeForest. This expansion allows our services to reach new sites, as well as better serve sites that may be nearer the new shop. We have been having fun making improvements to the building and making it our own!
By Kailey Yaun
“If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20-million-acre national park, nine times bigger than Yellowstone, or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park.” – Doug Tallamy, Entomologist
What exactly are native plants?
Native plants are defined as plants indigenous to a given area in geologic time. This includes plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction (trees, flowers, grasses, and other plants). What makes native plants so special is that they have the ability to survive and regenerate without human intervention. Plants are considered exotic or nonnative if they evolved in other parts of the world, or were cultivated by humans into forms that don’t occur naturally. Plants are considered invasive when non-indigenous plants spread from introduction, become abundant, and likely cause economic, environmental, or human harm. There are indeed beautiful and fascinating nonnative plants, but they typically cause harm to ecosystems. One example of harm inflicted by non-native species includes the depleting of pollinator food availability due to invasive plants crowding out native plants, resulting in decreased populations of both the native plants, as well as the co-dependent pollinator species. Exotic and invasive plants do not support wildlife as effectively as natives, due to the symbiotic relationships native plants formed with other indigenous species over time. In turn, Exotic and invasive plants have been removed from an ecosystem in which natural predation by co-evolved species would normally maintain a balance within the community. Native plants in their respective area offer the most sustainable environment and are the best constituents in forming an integrally cohesive ecosystem.
What are natives good for?
- Native plants are foundational in ecosystems and provide many services to their community
- They provide shelter, nectar, and food for birds, butterflies, pollinators and many other species of wildlife native to a given area
- Complex co-evolution has occurred over time with natives (e.g. the Monarch caterpillar and milkweed; milkweed is toxic to many creatures, but Monarch caterpillars evolved to eat milkweed for nourishment to transform into butterflies!)
For water – clean water and flooding:
- Turf requires large amounts of chemicals for upkeep, while natives do not
- Deep rooted native plants mitigate flooding, erosion, and stormwater runoff by providing a framework for infiltration and improving soil structure
- Natives filter sediments out of runoff from streets and infrastructure, preventing pollution and algal blooms in local water bodies
- Natives are reliably regenerative and don’t require irrigation once established
- In general they require less watering, less fertilizer, and fewer pesticides
For clean air:
- Natives effectively conduct “carbon capture”/carbon sequestration, which means carbon dioxide is taken out of the air, while roots put it back into the ground (where it belongs!)
- Native ecosystems adapted to local climates and conditions maximize the release oxygen into the air through photosynthesis
- Natives can help decrease pollution because they don’t require mowers and other pollution prone equipment as much as nonnatives do
For food supply:
- Natives provide habitat for pollinators who assist in providing us with sustenance
- Native plants serve important roles in food webs, serving as the foundational trophic level (or lowest level of the food chain) providing food for all other forms of wildlife in the area
For people – mental and physical health:
- Having land with native plants can give people a sense of belonging to the natural world around them. No other place on earth can have native gardens like those in your region, talk about something to experience and bond over within your community!
- Studies show spending time in nature makes us happier and healthier
- Time in nature decompresses us and lowers stress
- Gardening provides physical work to be proud of and to feel a part of your surroundings
- “Vitamin N” (Vitamin Nature) is the “vitamin” as cited that we need for “Nature-Deficit Disorder”; nature promotes creativity, mental acuity, and provides us with memorable personal experiences – phrases coined by author of “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle”, Richard Louv
- With creative design and good management, natives can thrive in built landscapes
- Natives can provide a wild and rugged look, or an orderly, neat aesthetic depending on the application and desired outcome
- Natives are beautiful!!
For the future:
- Children can learn ecology and be inspired by spending time with plants
- Plants can provide opportunities for curiosity, discovery, and expanding creativity
- Children who connect to nature tend to become adults who care a great deal for the natural world
- Long-lasting, healthy ecosystems are supported by native plants for future generations to enjoy
Quercus restores natural systems through many methods, and one includes clearing areas for proper storm water management. We were able to demonstrate that type of work at Old Sauk Trails Park for the City of Madison. Old Sauk Trails Park was created in 1984 by The Gialama’s Company, a local real estate brokerage, property management and land development company. Old Sauk Trails Park was created with city and country in mind. The park is located on 460 acres of Wisconsin countryside, contains over 60 buildings and over 200 companies. The green space within the park has walking and jogging trails which is where our efforts were focused. Green spaces like these are an important component to modern work environments, which have been scientifically proven to improve attitudes and efficiency. We hope that the efforts made this Summer will have a lasting positive effect and inspire those experiencing this space to continue to improve and enjoy this important functional and experiential space.
In 2018, this area was one of the hardest hit by historic storms. Local businesses are still recovering after Dane county experienced state record-breaking rainfall. Flash flooding produced an overwhelming amount of damage to residential and commercial areas. Being about 2 years to the date, we were glad to be a part of clean up and flood limiting efforts for this site. The project involved removing brush and trees to mitigate hindrances to storm water drainage. Felling trees of various sizes and chipping them safely was on the forefront of our goals. Running chainsaws in the middle of summer made for some hot work, but it was rewarding to see the results!
Our big news is that as of January 1, 2020, Quercus Land Stewardship Services has a new owner. I’ve been working on a transition plan with Alex Wenthe for the past couple of years, and we have finally nailed down all the details and sealed the deal.
Alex has a long history with Quercus, and he has the right combination of skills, experience, temperament and entrepeneurial spirit to carry the business forward into the next decades.
Alex has taken over ownership and the associated chief executive responsibilities, but I will continue to be very much involved with Quercus as a Senior Vice President.
Many of our colleagues and customers have likely already noticed that I have been less involved in the day-to-day details of the business as our operation has grown and our management team has gained proficiency. Since 2014 we have nearly doubled the number of landowners we serve, and we have developed a capable staff that does a great job of managing the hands-on work of helping landowners take care of their land.
I will continue to act as project manager for some sites, and will be passing on responsibility for others to our other project managers. I will still be a burn boss for prescribed burns, as well as mentoring our next generation of burn bosses, project managers, crew leaders and restoration crew.
It will be tough in some ways for me to ease out of the leadership role that I’ve held for the past seventeen years, but I’m excited for the new opportunities that are ahead of me. I’m also excited to see Quercus moving on into the future, well-positioned to accomplish more ecological land management on more sites, and to continue serving landowners with the high standard that we have established over the years.