By RUTH ANN INGRAHAM, guest columnist
In 1990, my late husband and I bought a small cabin on a few acres northeast of Nashville.
Time after time, we stood beneath the towering trees, grateful for our good fortune and feeling blessed to be intimately connected to the terrain carved thousands of years ago by glacial melt and to the creatures and plants that thrive here.
The Brown County landscape and the life it supports stand in sharp contrast to what I experience at my full-time home nestled in the heart of Broad Ripple in Indianapolis.
The two environments differ dramatically, though separated by a mere 65 miles. In Brown County, the natural world thrives.
For 25 years I’ve written about each visit to the cabin. These journals include stories about creatures small and large, from froglets and snails to deer and yard-long serpentine snakes. About purple toadstools and fungus that glows in the dark. About 120 species of birds. About butterflies, persimmons, maple sugar water, moss, orchids, fireflies, bats and, of course, mice.
These plants and animals and hundreds of others, both observed and hidden, comprise what is called biodiversity, a word coined in the mid-1980s that melded “biology” (referring to life) and “diverse.”
When you are admiring the landscape of Brown County, whether walking in Brown County State Park or tramping over your own land, you are surrounded by thousands of species. As Charles Smith notes, “Biodiversity is nothing less than the myriad relationships of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and, ultimately, people, one to another. It is nature herself, in all her complex glory.”
What you may not see is that the very biodiversity that makes Brown County great is at risk. Invasive species, imported accidentally or on purpose from other countries and climates, have the power to strangle the plants we love.
Attractive plants, like the comely vinca, can monopolize the landscape, driving out native flowers like Dutchman’s britches, May apples, trillium and others.
We need to fight back against these invasives, because, displaced from their original ecological environment, they have no natural enemies here.
This is the fight we invite you to join. As Edward O. Wilson argues, “Biodiversity is the totality of all inherited variation in the life forms of Earth, of which we are one species. We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.”
One way to do this is to learn about non-native invasive species, identify them and eliminate them to the greatest extent possible.
That’s the mission of the Brown County Native Woodlands Project. Sixteen people serve on its board and are the heart of our effort. Others volunteer with Nature Daze. All of you are invited to become active with us.
Current board members are Peg Lindenlaub, Dan Shaver, Bill Freeman, Donna Ormiston, David Boeyink, David Savage, Jane Savage, Betsy More, Jim More, Amanda Rubeck, Dave Richards, Len Logterman, Jim Eagleman, Dan McGuckin, George Turner and myself.
If you have questions about invasives and native plants, ask any of these Brown County neighbors. And once you begin learning about invasives, you can join the fight.
And here’s some good news: Invasives may outcompete native species, but invasives do a poor job of concealing themselves. Many — for example, English ivy, vinca (or periwinkle) and creeping euonymous (purple winter creeper) — are easily detected because they hold onto their green leaves year-round.
Shrubs such as Asian bush honeysuckle and autumn olive leaf out in early spring, long before natives such as spicebush do. Garlic mustard is an early-blooming invasive flower.
Look around on your own property early this spring and see if you can spot any invasives. Then find out how you can control them.
Beyond the damage invasives inflict on native plants, invasives can harm forests, sapping revenue from timber harvests, an important component in sustainable woodland ownership.
To help us better understand the economic ramifications from ignoring invasives, watch for a postcard in your mailbox this month that expands on this important economic issue and leads to extensive information on the Native Woodlands Project website, bcnwp.org.
If you are concerned about the negative impact of invasive species on Brown County’s biodiversity and on the revenue aspect of logging, join us the evening of March 15 for soup and fellowship when Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District and Native Woodlands Project sponsor a combined dinner meeting at the historical society building. Watch for more detailed information in the weeks ahead.
Ruth Ann Ingraham is chair of the Brown County Native Woodlands Project.