Kansas UCC stresses importance of native plants in drought-stricken state
Written by Emily Schappacher April 17, 2013
Prairie with Echinacea and other drought-tolerant plant life
When the United Church of Christ announced its Mission 4/1 Earth campaign, few groups were as excited as the Green Team at Plymouth Congregational Church UCC in Lawrence, Kan. With countless ideas for generating earth hours in mind, the team was ready to take its already eco-conscious congregation to the next level. But one aspect of the 50-day earth care campaign gave them pause – the part about planting trees. In a state of rolling plains and dusty prairies, trees are unnatural components of the native landscape. So the congregation is encouraging alternatives to better suit their environmental needs.
"We wanted to be ecologically relevant," said Angie Babbit, Green Team member. "Having a great desire to have trees everywhere is part of our culture, but from an ecological perspective, it doesn't make a lot of sense here."
As part of its Mission 4/1 Earth efforts, the congregation is encouraging its members to plant drought-tolerant plant species that are native to the prairie landscape. Plants like spiderwort, gay feathers, wild phlox, milkweed and Echinacea are just some of the examples that Babbit suggests. These types of plants have been proven to withstand the prairie's harsh, dry conditions over time. They also have longer root systems that can access water housed deep within the earth, as opposed to trees that have fairly shallow root systems and rely on rain or manual watering to survive.
"They are well adapted to sucking up water when there is water to be had," Sara Taliaferro, Green Team leader, said of Kansas' native plants.
And in Kansas, there isn't much water to be had. Like much of the Midwest, the state experienced a severe drought last year, and predictions say conditions will persist or intensify in 2013. The Kansas Water Office has declared the situation an emergency, and the governor has asked public water suppliers to take steps to reduce water usage. Farmers are experiencing the most extreme hardships, but some cities are also facing the possibility of water shortages that may impact communities and residents, Taliaferro said.
"This is a crisis," she said. "We saw an urgency to make this decision. We are not telling people not to plant trees, but to look for alternatives."
One problem in finding these alternatives is that many greenhouses don't offer truly native plant species, Babbit said. Some offer cultivars, or modified versions, of native plants, but few come from actual seeds harvested locally. This Earth Day, the Grassland Heritage Foundation, a land trust organization dedicated to preserving Kansas prairies, is hosting a native plant sale, and the Plymouth Congregational Church Green Team is urging members to purchase these plants for their homes and gardens. The congregation is also working to source native plants to sell at its upcoming plant and bake sale, and is encouraging its members to purchase trees through the Arbor Day Foundation and through the Mission 4/1 Earth global partners to be planted where they are needed, here and throughout the world.
"The plants we are talking about have been through really awful conditions that most greenhouse plants would never survive," Taliaferro said. "If everyone in Plymouth planted one or two plants or expanded the prairie plot on their land, it would have a huge impact."
For more information on Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days, visit ucc.org/earth, read these stories, or join the movement on Facebook.