Daily Court Reporter - News Lawmaker seeks designation to celebrate state's flora
Lawmaker seeks designation to celebrate state's flora
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
A former Ohio first lady's efforts to grow awareness of the state's rich plant diversity may bear fruit, as a lawmaker champions a bill designating the month of April as Ohio Native Plant Month.
Former first lady Hope Taft pitched the legislation, filed as Senate Bill 45, to Republican Sen. Robert Hackett of London, the lawmaker told his peers on the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
"The purpose of this legislation is to increase public awareness of Ohio's native plants and the many benefits they provide to pollinators, our economy and the health of Ohio's environment," Hackett said. "It is my hope that this legislation will encourage individuals to plant native species, remove non-native invasive plants, tend native gardens and participate in other related educational opportunities.
"Along with encouraging individuals to plant native species, it is hoped that the horticultural industry will observe this month by cultivating, propagating and offering native plants for sale along with promoting public appreciation for Ohio's native flora."
The effort to have legislators endorse a native plant month is an outgrowth of the Heritage Garden at the Ohio Governor's Residence, Taft said. The garden features a large variety of the state's native plants - nearly 600 - about 60 of which are on the state or federal lists as being threatened or endangered.
Per state law, the Heritage Garden grounds are representative of the state's natural ecosystems and the garden is intended to preserve, sustain and encourage the use of native flora throughout the state; to replicate the state's physiographic regions, plant communities and natural landscapes; to serve as an educational garden that demonstrating the artistic, industrial, political, horticultural and geologic history of the state through the use of plants; and to serve as a reservoir of rare species of plants from the physiographic regions of the state.
The proposed legislation is "a realization that more needs to be done to protect what is unique in Ohio's botanical history and landscape so in years to come we can be distinguished from every other state in the nation," Taft said. "As non-native, invasive plants take over our natural areas, this could happen sooner than we expect."
Nathan Johnson, director of Public Lands for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, noted in testimony before senators that out of all the state's native plants one stands far above the rest - the American white oak (Quercus alba).
"This is a tree that can live for more than 600 years," Johnson said. "At one time, it dominated the forests of southeast Ohio and much of the Midwest.
"This tree stands tall in our heritage as Ohioans and Americans. Its strong, liquid-tight wood built the naval fleet that helped secure our nation's independence. And, it built the ships that defeated the British at the battle of Put-in-Bay - right here in Ohio."
Aside from the tree's designation as the "tree of life," feeding many wildlife species and hosting more caterpillars than any other tree in America, the wood of the tree is the most important ingredient in bourbon, providing about 60 percent of the spirit's flavor and 100 percent of its color from aging in charred American white oak barrels.
"But, white oak is in serious decline in Ohio," Johnson said. " We have taken it for granted, and now it needs our attention and our stewardship.
"This is a tree that should be better known. And, like so many other native plants, it should more widely enjoy our favor."
He said designating April as Ohio Native Plant Month aids in that effort.
"It is also important that we encourage the use of native plants so the food chain we all depend on for our energy will remain strong and robust," Taft continued. "At its beginning, it depends on native plants that host native wildlife to start the chain reactions that lead to the food on our tables.
She noted the state departments of natural resources and transportation are starting programs to encourage use of native plants because they too realize the need to support our natural species.
"A broad range of state and local organizations have endorsed this proposal," she said. "We don't want the Heritage Garden to be the only place in the future that some of Ohio's natural heritage can be seen."
A dozen fellow lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of SB 45, which awaits a third hearing before committee members.
Date Published: April 12, 2019