Friday, March 15, 2019

Greening the greenway

 Trees about to be planted beside Briar Creek Greenway. Photo: Mary Newsom

I was walking a short new segment of greenway beside Briar Creek on a sunny day and, about a mile south of the Mint Museum Randolph, I spotted a mass of young trees in plastic pots.

Of course I had to inspect them. Each plant had a TreesCharlotte tag identifying the species. I had stumbled on a large planting project destined for later in the week for that section of the greenway.

This was a cheerful discovery. The greenway, built by the Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department, runs generally beside a stretch of Briar Creek, from the Mint Museum Randolph and its park downstream to Meadowbrook Road. That creek segment has just been re-engineered in a project by Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services. The project aims to improve water quality and mitigate flooding. But it left the creek banks bare.

Looking upstream along toward the Mint Museum Randolph, with the Eastover neighborhood at left. The Storm Water Services creek project left the Briar Creek banks bare. Photo: Mary Newsom
The planting is a partnership among TreesCharlotte, the Catawba Lands Conservancy,  which protects several dozen acres of wetlands woods through which the greenway runs, and Piedmont Natural Gas, which paid for the trees and which will help with tree stewardship.
TreesCharlotte’s goal is to protect and expand Charlotte’s tree canopy, which is diminishing because of development as well as the aging out of trees planted a century ago.

It was good to note that the more than 200 trees planted were almost all native species. Here’s a partial list, based on labels on the trees I saw:

Witch hazel blossoms in late winter.
Paw paw (Asimina triloba)
Little Gem magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Fringe tree, and spring fleecing fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)
White oak (Quercus alba)
Burgundy hearts redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Oklahoma redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Overcup oak (Quercus lyrata)
Cherokee princess dogwood (Cornus florida)
Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
Arnold promise witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis).

Of that list only the witch hazel (pictured at right) is a non-native. This particular variety is a cross between a Japanese and Chinese witch hazel. Other species to be planted include tulip poplar and black gum.

Why does it matter that they’re native species? Invasive plant species are a huge and growing threat to our environment and its biodiversity. They crowd out native species – think kudzu or wisteria – which alters food sources for wildlife, including insects. Among the major problem plants are privet, English ivy, Japanese stiltgrass and honeysuckle. (Learn more here and here.)

Piedmont Natural Gas’ participation is part of a required mitigation for environmental disruptions elsewhere.

Magnolia trees awaiting planting. Photo: Mary Newsom