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The Value of Edible Native Plants in Public Spaces

The woodland restoration efforts at Zonolite Park can be summed up in four words - remove invasives, plant natives. Many native edibles grow in woodland areas. The Open Orchard project is about helping people who care about the world where they live plant trees, connect with neighbors, and help the local ecosystem. Thanks to Zonolite’s super volunteer leader Pat Reynolds who enlisted a group of like-minded volunteers including middle school student and photographer Ronan P. as the project co-leader, the Zonolite Park Native Plant Orchard project received $1998.14 from Open Orchard on Change X. With this funding Pat was able to connect the dots between removing invasive and planting native by adding 56 edible native plants to the park. The plants were purchased from North Georgia Native Plant Nursery and Superior Trees. The plants were planted in a back part of the park that was once unused and overrun with invasive plants including Chinese privet and English Ivy.

Buying native plants from local native plant nurseries helps ensure they are the right plant for the right ecoregion.

In addition to Pat and Ronan, the group of members included in this project are passionate about helping nature where they live

  • Leslie Inman of the Facebook group Pollinator Friendly Yards with 177,000 members has also written two children’s books and is a fearless defender of nature.

  • Emily Hauck of Half Wise Acre on Instagram writes about growing edible and native plants on her half acre suburban property and is collaborating with Applied Community Ecology and The Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve to plant a native food forest that will include plants that provide sustenance for humans, and the local ecology, including vital insects.

  • Stephanie Johnson of Whole, Inc. connects movement to the natural world

  • Josh Wayne of Healthy Forager on Instagram is part of a movement of sustainable urban foragers who are reclaiming the idea of public urban greenspaces as a food source. He has been on a foraging journey for the last eleven years and is working to deepen the connection with the plants and animals in the Georgia Piedmont. Josh and Stephanie also independently added native plants to Zonolite Park by spearheading the native plant orchard project that I profiled last fall.

  • David Gregory is a GNPS and native plant rescue facilitator who leads and educates participants in approved native plant rescues.

  • Laura Markson (me!) I’m a lifetime gardener and backyard naturalists hopefully moving the needle just a little bit by amplifying the message to help restore nature in different ways including this nature blog - and by helping others doing the same in any way I can.

I found photos taken before this project of some group members of the Zonolite Orchard Native Plant Project when they were at Zonolite.. Clockwise from top left - Pat Reynolds, Stephanie Johnson & Josh Wayne (when they were adding native edibles to Zonolite), Leslie Inman (who generously picks up trash when she goes for walks at Zonolite!), Laura Markson (Bacon Bonnie Dotson captured this image of me at an Intown GNPS native plant swap I helped organize at the park).

In 2022, the Georgia Chapter of the Native Plant Society certified the woodlands at Zonolite Park as a certified native plant restoration site. This is where the planting area is. The restoration work is ongoing. To prepare the area, a group of dedicated community volunteers from the Friend of Zonolite Park met several times to harvest the invasive Chinese Privet shrubs from the designated planting site. The invasives were picked up by Zoo Atlanta to feed to giraffes, elephants, apes, and goats.

Friends of Zonolite Park welcome community volunteers to cut invasive privet.

The shrub cuttings that Zoo Atlanta did not use were made into brush piles which will provide wildlife with areas for nesting, resting, escape from predators, and protection from harsh weather conditions.

The cut privet Zoo Atlanta doesn't pick up is put in brush piles to enhance wildlife habitat in the park. .

On MLK Day over 30 volunteers worked at Zonolite Park and removed many bags of invasive English Ivy in areas where new edible native plants would be installed.

MLK Day community volunteers helped with Zonolite Park restoration (Photo by Bacon Bonnie Dotson)

In late January local senior and junior honor society students volunteered at Zonolite Park and removed invasive plants so that edible native plants could be planted.

Community volunteer groups including local senior and junior honor society students cleared invasives and added native edibles to Zonolite Park

The diversity of edibles planted in the park include Water Hickory (Carya aquatica), Chiquapin (Castanea pumila), Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Eastern Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) , Basswood (Tilia americana), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), Washington hawthorne (Craetagus phaenoprum), Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), Possumhaw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum), and Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

It's hard to capture just how many native edible plants were added to Zonolite Park. This shows just one carload of plants. It's also hard to capture the habitat value the plants will have in this woodland area when they are newly planted.

Zonolite Park already offers visitors a walk in a beautiful natural setting that’s relaxing and can foster an appreciation of our natural heritage. The community will benefit from the additional edible plants in many ways.

  • The newly cleared area made it possible to create fresh paths in this area for park visitors to use daily.

  • An added benefit is visitors have said they feel safer now that there is a clearer sight line through the remaining trees because the tall invasive shrubs have been removed.

  • The many species of edible plants will provide fruit, berries and nuts that park visitors will be able to forage. For example, in just a few years visitors will be able to pick Pawpaw fruit which tastes like banana!

  • Eating locally takes on a new meaning when foraging for wild, local native fruits and nuts! It’s a great way to learn more about local native plants, save on grocery bills, not worry about pesticides, and discover new foods.

  • Each plant will be labeled so park visitors can research more information to identify which plants are edible by accessing the park's dedicated iNaturalist site. The QRC code for the park's dedicated iNaturalist site is posted on signs throughout the park to make this citizen science project more accessible.

Signs at Zonolite help visitors participate in a citizen scientist project and learn more about the native plants at Zonolite Park

The new native edible plants will contribute to the ecosystem of the park and support park wildlife in a multitude of ways as part of an urban food web

  • Edible plants support birds who visit and live in the park. Just some of the birds are Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Flickers, Gray Catbirds, American Robins, Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Cedar Waxwings, Carolina Wrens, Goldfinch, Titmice, Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Northern Cardinals, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Thrashers, Eastern phoebes, Hummingbirds, Brown-headed Nuthatches, and Carolina Chickadees.

  • There’s evidence that fruits of native shrubs are of greater nutritional value to migrating songbirds than the fruits of invasive shrubs.

  • Native edible plants offer host plants for butterflies and moths including Spring Azure Butterfly, Coral Hairstreak, Large Lace Border Moth, Zebra Swallowtail, Pawpaw Sphinx, Orange-Tipped Oakworm Moth, Spicebush Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Promethea Silk Moth, Brown Elfin Butterfly, Saddleback Caterpillar Moth, and Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

  • Native edible plants offer a nectar source for pollinators

  • Native edible trees reduce stormwater and sequester carbon

Cedar waxwings spend their winter in Georgia and only eat berries. Intentional planting of native fruiting trees and shrubs will help them get through the winter.

Zonolite Park will promote the newly installed edible plants on their Facebook page and quarterly newsletter. In March, the Intown Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society is hosting an "Edible Native Plant Workshop” to educate the general public about edible native plants.

Zonolite Park's Facebook page frequently updates what is happening in the park

The future of the project will include monitoring and removing invasive plant regrowth in the area, adding additional edible plants (like Persimmons and Red Mulberries), and maintaining the paths through the woodlands planting areas. Thanks to Pat and all the people who made this wonderful gift to the park happen, there are now more edible plants at Zonolite Park for people, birds, pollinators and small mammals.

In the future, the value of edible native plants at Zonolite park will be apparent to anyone who visits. Natural connections like a native bee on a chokeberry flower, a winter flock of robins seeking the last of the sugarberries, a hungry chipmunk nibbling a viburnum berry, or a child in awe of the size of an elderberry. are inevitable.

Notes -

  • I was able to write this post to document this valuable community project using Pat's updates to the Park Native Plant Orchard project at Zonolite Park on the Change X Open Orchard site,

  • There are no affiliate links in this blog. Please click the highlighted text throughout the posts for links to details, explanations, references, worthy organizations or businesses, or examples that might be helpful.

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