Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Native Plants

National Wild Ones native plant organization president Janice Hand wrote, “Consider that as a Wild One, you are not only enjoying the good feelings that comes from helping the world’s environment, but you also know that you are doing your part to leave a better world for the next generations. In turn for that satisfaction, I think Wild Ones members get more years of life added.” Consider joining Wild Ones – River City Chapter.

She added information from studies that indicate spending time tending native plantings in gardens lowers blood pressure, heart rate, stress and strengthens the immunity system. These are not new ideas and researchers have been looking for physical evidence to support healthy life styles for decades.

In my case with the on-going challenge of non-curable terminal cancer (multiple myeloma), oncologists have told me no more gardening because my weak immune system does not protect me from soil fungus. Wild Ones tend Ody Brooks garden. Living deliberately is a personal effort and I continue outdoor activities.

New myeloma cancer treatment advances have extended life to an average of 7 to 8 years. I have lost friends to this cancer in years 7, 8, and 10. I am in year 22 since diagnosis. I think extended time outdoors is medicine contributing to my continued survival. I planned to be on the long end of survival since first diagnosis.

Two bone marrow transplants and the most recent five years in a clinical trial has slowed the cancer activity. Treatments are temporary and the clinical trial is no longer effective. A new treatment has begun that will hopefully reduce cancer activity. I am struggling with adjustment to the new chemo and spend too much time sleeping, weak, tiring fast, short of breath and need to greatly limit activity working in the sanctuary.

You and I have another health aid mentioned by Janice. Studies show being outdoors improves physical well-being and adds 2.81 years to life, improves short-term memory adding 1.26 years, and doing things to improve the world for wild things adds 1.75 years to our life. We can and should stay active outdoors.

I continually encourage spending time outdoors enjoying nature niche exploration. My work outside is significantly more limited than last year and I am moving slower. It is frustrating but I keep heading outside. When diagnosed at age 47, the oncologist said there is no way to predict if I will survive less than year or have extended time. I will turn 69 this summer and strive to reach age 75 with reasonable functional health.

Wild Ones promotes native plantings to reduce water use, store carbon in trees and perennials, and to provide habitat for life tiny and large. Wild Ones promotes reducing the United States’ 40-million acres of lawn and its resultant pollution, pesticides, herbicides and wasted water. It is tough because groomed lawns are beautiful.

My efforts and newspaper columns might help others live healthier chemical free lives that support mammals, birds, insects, and plants if readers so choose. I was pleased to see a piece next to my column in one of the papers a few weeks ago about the importance of planting native plants. In the 1980’s and 90’s, I was commissioned to coordinate an extended tree planting over ten years. The funders gave 100,000 ten-foot trees to 5th graders over the ten years in Kent County.

Norway Maples were one of the trees and my objections fell on deaf ears. Norway maples are a non-native species that does not support native insects and birds. I requested native species given. I was told “a tree is a tree.” More recently Doug Tallamy’s popular book “Bringing Nature Home” discusses the number of insects and associated life that are supported when native species are planted in our yards. Change the world locally.

Doug Tallamy has met with me twice and requested I provide him plant lists for Michigan to aid him in the effort to maintain Michigan’s biodiversity. The “Big Idea” is reduce lawn size and plant native species for a healthy future to sustain the good life for wildlife, ourselves and society. Live deliberately with a small lawn.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.