Plant species that disappeared from Lone Mountain a century ago are making a comeback, thanks to experiments being conducted by USF ecology students. The researchers are testing the abilities of 12 once-abundant plant species to re-establish on Lone Mountain, plants like the sticky monkeyflower and the seaside daisy.
In the past three years, about 170 undergraduates taking Ecology and Human Impacts with Gretchen Coffman, assistant professor of environmental science/management, created four test sites for native plants. Some of the sites were planted with existing soil (the control group) and others with soil augmented with compost, fertilizer, and phosphorous and nitrogen.
“What shocked us was that the control group performed best,” said Justin Bauer ’11, an environmental science graduate. “There was no fertilizer required, and, quite literally, all we needed to do was stick the plants in the ground and they did just fine.”
Ecology students planted tufted hairgrass (left) and red fescue (right) on Lone Mountain, as part of native plant restoration experiments underway. Photo by Gretchen Coffman.
The experiments show that the soil on Lone Mountain can sustain native species, despite decades of development. Native plants have many advantages over non-indigenous species: they’re drought tolerant and easier to care for, and they require no fertilizer, no chemical pesticides, and little water. They also provide natural habitat for threatened insect species like butterflies and bees.
Lone Mountain, known to early Spanish settlers as El Divisadero, or “lookout point,” was once covered with sand dunes and scrub vegetation. By the 1860s, it had been cleared to make way for several cemeteries. Those were relocated when the land was developed as the Lone Mountain College for Women in the 1930s. USF purchased the property in 1978.