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.