Volunteers decorate hill with native plants

The mid-Missouri chapter of Wild Ones creates a garden.
Sunday, April 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Eleven-year-old Liam Hancock didn’t need the rain on Saturday — he was busy making a rainbow without it. He planted the yellow section, while others contributed purple and green.

The rainbow isn’t visible yet, but by June, Liam’s yellow coreopsis will bloom, along with the green, purple, and orange flowers others planted. When that happens, Liam’s rainbow will finally be complete.

This horticultural palette of colors will accent the corner of Stadium Boulevard and Monk Drive.

On Saturday morning, 30 volunteers from the mid-Missouri chapter of Wild Ones, a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and beautifying the community with native plants, planted more than 2,000 plants and grasses on the hill.

As member Scott Hamilton helped plant coreopsis, he said he discovered Wild Ones at an Earth Day booth three or four years ago. He had already spent time converting his garden into a prairie and said it was nice to find others who were interested in doing the same.

Making rainbows out of native plants is normal for Wild Ones, whose Columbia chapter will turn 4 years old as the national organization of Wild Ones celebrates 25 years. The mid-Missouri group of about 30 households has already established native landscaping demonstrations at various sites around Columbia, including the Forum Nature Area and the MKT trail system.

When it blooms, the steep slope southeast of the Hearnes Center will be added to the list of Columbia’s native gardens.

Lesa Beamer, president of the local chapter, said these grasses and prairie flowers have grown in Missouri since pre-settlement times.

“These plants have evolved and adapted over thousands of years to live in this state,” she said.

Beamer said native plants offer advantages such as lower maintenance because they do not need to be watered, fertilized or sprayed with pesticides after planting. Most importantly, however, they are a foundation for wildlife.

Unlike the exotic plants sprouting in most gardens around Columbia, Beamer said these plants foster a healthy home for butterflies, birds and insects.

By summer, the area will offer little bluestems, coreopsis, rose verbenas and purple cone flowers — just to name a few.

Beamer said some of the species will be unfamiliar to residents.

The effort was a three-way collaboration between Wild Ones, the MU Campus Facilities Landscape Services Department and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Hawthorn Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society donated additional funds, which helped Wild Ones purchase plants from the Missouri Wildflowers Nursery.

Dick Munson, landscape services director for MU, said Saturday’s planting eliminates the dangerous situation created by mowing the steep hill.

Munson previously worked with Wild Ones on the MU campus, which was designated a botanic garden in 1999, and said he is in favor of using native plants wherever appropriate. He said in this case, in addition to safety, this project was worth the small monetary investment to demonstrate the benefits of native plants.

“It’s an ideal location to display native, roadside planting,” he said.

Beamer said this represents an investment for the future.

“If we don’t want people to go their whole lives without seeing them (native plants), we need to start using them in gardens and landscaping,” she said, “so that people can learn to appreciate them.”

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