Patty Schneider joined the IMA Horticulture staff 2 ½ years ago, fresh out of the University of Wisconsin. This is Patty’s first post for the IMA blog! Patty’s passion for horticulture and the well-being of our environment is hard for her to hide and it’s a pleasure to work alongside her as we labor together in the gardens of the IMA. We look forward to future thoughts from her as the IMA continues to strive for proper environmental stewardship.- Gwyn Rager
In 1972, when the IMA received the piece of land now known as 100 Acres, the area had already been affected by human use and abuse. Original disruption occurred when the site was used for farmland, until at least the 1940s. In the 1960s, the land was a staging area for highway equipment used for the construction of the 38th street bridge, which spans the White River. The lovely, tranquil lake that so inspires viewers and artists alike began as a gravel quarry for highway construction, that later filled with flood water from the river.
Although it did not occur naturally, the lake still provides a unique habitat for our resident blue heron, who remains content in his home despite the past year’s construction activity.The origin of the lake and the transition of the land surrounding it show evidence of the true natural cycle of a disturbed landscape returning to a stabilized equilibrium. This is commonly known as “ecological succession.” When soil and habitat is disturbed, the first stage of succession is dominated by pioneer plants, such as annuals and many plants we tend to call weeds. These plants will colonize quickly and cover the disturbed soil, preventing erosion and restarting the process of returning organic matter and structure to the soil. Over time, natural succession moves from annual weeds to perennials and grasses, then shrubs, softwood trees, and finally hardwood trees in more mature and stabilized communities. Interestingly, you can find each stage of succession in 100 Acres, including sections on the far side of the lake where mature hardwoods can be found. This brief description of the process of natural succession may make it sound like the environment can easily take care of itself; wait a couple hundred years or so, and voilà!, the land will return to its original, pristine, untamed wilderness! Unfortunately, there are other factors that interrupt this cycle, namely invasive plant species. Because they did not evolve with the natural checks and balances that keep native plants in equilibrium with their environment, many non-native (invasive) plants are more aggressive. This aggressive nature leaves no room for native species to become re-established. Asian bush honeysuckle, garlic mustard, and Oriental bittersweet are the ‘Big Three’ in 100 Acres. These are the plants that filled in the bare ground left by the 38th street construction. The dominance of these invasives was so complete that removal of them appeared to be no different than clear cutting an old growth forest, eliminating habitat, sustenance, and the “beautiful, natural green.” These were also the plants that some protested against being destroyed in the development of pathways and art installation. The record must be set straight: what the museum inherited has not been “pristine, untamed wilderness” for well over a century. In truth, what looks like destruction is the removal of 35 acres of invasive honeysuckle over the past decade. Our grounds staff has worked tirelessly in the hopes that we can eradicate these species and allow natural succession to have some breathing room. Over 10,000 trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges planted in in their place are native to the state, some even specific to central Indiana. The intention is that, with room to grow, these planted species will naturally self-seed throughout the property, replenishing the native populations.
Despite its history, there are numerous insects, a thriving assemblage of birds, turtles, raccoons, beaver, opossums, coyote, and deer in the Park. These wildlife populations tend to remain intact because of their common adaptability to urban areas. A survey performed by Butler University, completed in 2006, took inventory of the flora and fauna found on 100 Acres. In the four years since then, we have seen increased diversity in many of the observed plant, wildlife and bird populations. Yet there is room for improvement. Our hope is that we can fulfill the habitat needs for less common species to move into the area, as encouraged by the studies and ongoing research from Butler, Marian University’s EcoLab, US Geological Survey and the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District. Such collaborations are aiding the IMA in evaluating and practicing a logical land management plan.
What comes next, since 100 Acres resides in an urban environment and will have sustained human activity influencing it forever? The IMA has taken the first steps for responsibility to the stewardship of renewal and care for the health of an important green space that allows an urban population a bit of respite from the concrete and asphalt jungle. It is time to understand that all green space is not created equal; the simple existence of green leaves and fallow land does not define the health of a landscape. Therefore, the museum’s horticulture and grounds staff is striving to restore the land to something resembling its former glory; a flood plain rich in species and beauty for the enjoyment and education of all.