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Plant Stewardship Index

Just this week I had a great chat with Janine Vannais at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve about their Plant Stewardship Index for residents of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. The PSI, is explained on their web site, . An automated calculator assigns a numerical value to the various plants on your property (Garlic mustard = 0; Witch-hazel = 7) and computes indices that denote the overall health of your property in terms of the native plants it supports.

Be prepared to spend some time entering your data. I chose to do it all at once, so it was somewhat laborious to enter my 54 species, but you can actually work over several sessions and revise the database as you go. The 3,500 listed plants can be found by common or scientific name, and there are photos that assist in identification. The program also notifies you if you have any rare or endangered plant species and provides a link to the appropriate state agency.

Frankly, I am surprised that our forest is as healthy as it is, given the deer depredation. I expressed to Janine my amazement at how quickly native plants restored themselves inside our deer exclosure, which led to a discussion on the subject of how little is known about the underground life of plants. Because the deer are browsing all new growth, when the current forest succumbs to old age, there will be nothing to replace it. But Bowman’s, and others’, work with deer exclosures is revealing that plant seeds, roots, and rhizomes can survive underground for at least three to five years. That’s pretty exciting news and an incentive to enlarge the exclosure.

Janine pointed out one use of this database that offers a powerful tool for those of us who are interested in increasing the use of native plants in the garden. By selecting someone else’s natural or planted property with a higher PSI than our own, we can essentially print out a planting list that will help us create an even healthier space.

Those in the Midwest can get more information at . A search on “floristic quality index” will bring up many other sources around the country.

GUEST BLOG: On January 31st I will interview my writing coach, author Eric Maisel, about his book Van Gogh Blues, which was recently released in paperback. Gardening creatives whose projects are stuck in neutral will want to check out his advice on how they can protect the meaning gardening holds for them, regardless of what else is going on in their lives.


bewing said...

plant seeds, roots, and rhizomes can survive underground for at least three to five years.

This is very encouraging, in town ehre the deer are not a problem but you do not have to travel far before they become unwelcome

Jim/ArtofGardening said...

I'm bummed that this only covers NJ & PA. My garden is not purposely native by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd love to know where I fall on a "scale."

As much as planting native is the "thing" right now, native is different for everyone, and there's not always readily available info on what is native for any particular area, I've found. I'm sure the garden centers will be jumping on this trend and pushing natives this spring.

Just to have a comprehensive database of plants would be great! Computer and plant nerdliness go hand-in-hand apparently.

I look forward to the Eric Maisel post. I'm an art director/creative director/graphic designer and find that the garden is my personal creative challenge, as oppose to the creative work I do for a living.

And, having gotten involved with our local Garden Walk has gotten me out of a creative "rut." So I'm anxious to read what you both have to say.

Janet Grace Riehl said...

My mother's gardens were as vast of Van Gogh's body of work and her palette as rich as any of his paintings. Even in her later years, she'd sit in a lawn chair, directing where a plant should be moved, to achieve maximum effect.

I look forward to your Eric Maisel post. Your readers can find my interview with Eric focusing on connection at

I also think you'd enjoy connecting with Susan Tweit, her site is on the side links at Riehlife.

Janet Riehl