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Undergraduate Researchers Return Native Plants to Lone Mountain

10-02-2012
NativePlants2Web

USF ecology students water native plants at one of several plots on Lone Mountain where they are documenting the plants' ability to re-establish.

Pockets of native plantings are turning back the calendar more than 100 years on the University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain campus, thanks to experiments being conducted by dozens of USF undergraduate ecology students. 

The students are researching the abilities of 12 plant species to re-establish on Lone Mountain after being absent for decades. The plants, among them the sticky monkeyflower and the seaside daisy, are all native to California and were once abundant on Lone Mountain prior to its development. 

Working in teams over three years, about 170 students in Gretchen Coffman’s Ecology and Human Impacts course have restored four test plots of native plants. The students continue to regularly measure the plants’ survivorship, growth, and health based on whether they were planted in the existing soil (the control group), or soil containing one of several mixtures—such as organic compost, organic commercial fertilizer, organic phosphorous, or organic 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.”

The experiments’ results demonstrate that, despite decades of alteration, Lone Mountain’s soil is still conducive to sustaining the species it once did, Coffman, assistant professor of environmental science/management, said. Up until the early 19th Century, Lone Mountain was a large swath of natural sand dunes and dune scrub vegetation. At that time, the top was bulldozed and Lone Mountain was radically altered to make way for several cemeteries and, later, the San Francisco College for Women.

The students’ research could have important implications for Lone Mountain and nearby properties. Not only are native plants easier to care for but they also require no fertilizer and no chemical pesticides. On top of that, native plants save water because they are more drought tolerant, and, at the same time, provide native habitats for threatened local butterflies, bees, and other insects.

“The research demonstrated to me the principles behind the course in a hands-on manner,” said Mary Kallock ’13, an environmental science major.

On top of being drawn to the course’s research approach, Kallock enjoyed the class because it contributed to USF in a bigger way. “It helped to raise awareness about sustainability among students and others on campus,” she said.

Written by Andrea Powell »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews