Why native plants?

Native plants are essential for healthy creeks as well as feeding and sheltering resilient ecosystems. These plants have existed in Michigan for thousands of years and have adapted to Michigan's soils and variable climate. Once they are established, native plants do not require water or fertilizer. Above ground, they offer a breadth of habitat and food for birds and insects. Below ground, their deep roots allow them to survive cold winters, hot summers, and dry seasons. These root systems absorb stormwater and filter nutrients, pollutants, and sediments while also creating avenues for water to seep into the soil. This water slowly reaches the creek through the ground, arriving cooler and cleaner than the warm, polluted storm surges that come from the storm sewers.

Native trees

Like native plants, trees have deep roots that direct, absorb, and filter rainwater. Water absorbed by the roots flows inside the tree up to the leaves, nourishing the tree and eventually rejoining the water cycle as vapor. Roots also break up the soil and serve as avenues by which water flows quickly downward, saturating the soil instead of flowing over the ground and into the nearest stream.

While tree roots alone are a great help for downstream water quality, their leaves provide impressive benefits as well. A tree’s leaves and stems, altogether called the tree’s “canopy,” catch rainwater as it falls on the tree. The rainwater that’s intercepted by the canopy either drips down the tree’s stems and trunk to reach the roots, or it stays on the leaves and evaporates back into the air. In all of these scenarios, the amount of water rushing into nearby streams as polluted runoff is reduced. From their canopies to their roots, trees support a healthier, less-overwhelmed, less-flooded, cooler, cleaner creek. (TreeCanopyBMP.org)

Propagating native plants

Each year Plaster Creek Stewards (PCS) gathers seeds from over 400 species of plants native to Michigan. Michigan seeds are smart and will not germinate until they have sat through a winter season. Some seeds, especially berries, need to be digested to germinate. We mimic the natural processes of dormancy via putting seeds in the fridge, shaking them in a blender, or washing them in acid. Then the seeds are laid out for germination and transplanted into larger pots and flats as they grow. This propagation is all done on Calvin’s campus. Here the plants grow and stay until they are ready to be planted in watershed restoration projects like rain gardens, bioswales, floodplain restoration projects, or other sustainable landscapes. Our greenhouse facility includes an outdoor nursery covered in shade cloth, one heated greenhouse, and two cold frame greenhouses. These greenhouses become the hub of student and volunteer activity throughout the growing season as materials, tools, and plants are staged for restoration work.

Interested in propagating native plants in your classroom? Click here to get started. 

Education and research

The native plants used in PCS restoration projects provide educational and service learning opportunities for students and community members. We work with students in various courses at Calvin, schools in the watershed, and volunteers. We also host educational events, providing an opportunity for people to take action to restore the watershed. Groups have the opportunity to learn about native plants and watersheds, then put their learning into practice by transplanting in the greenhouse, installing a rain garden, or participating in their own restoration project.

Beyond educating others, PCS is also constantly learning. Our propagation techniques and projects are part of ongoing research covering ecological restoration. We are especially interested in which native species survive and thrive best in urban rain gardens. Additionally, we are amassing a dataset of how various native species perform over time and what site conditions are important for determining species' survival.

Native Plant Gallery