Growing Minds: Millbrook Students Get Outside and Restore Habitat on Campus
Students at Millbrook Environmental Connections Magnet in Raleigh are restoring habitat and on their 17-acre campus – one garlic onion at a time.
Nestled just east of Falls of Neuse, the elementary school focuses on developing environmentally-minded citizens through nature-based learning. Students are immersed in opportunities to connect with the environment and become good stewards of pollinators and wildlife.
During bi-weekly environmental inquiry labs, they work together to find creative solutions for real-life issues. Recently, teacher Danielle Lynch took her class outside for a lesson on birds, a plan that quickly took flight when she pointed out an invasive garlic onion patch (Allium vineale) taking over a hill the class was walking by. Garlic onion is originally from Europe and Asia but has now invaded many lawns and natural areas of North America, crowding out other plant species that balance ecosystems and sustain wildlife.
“The bird lesson was out the window after that because they started pointing out invasive plants everywhere, so I just had to pivot the discussion and teach them about invasives instead!” said Lynch, who recently became a master gardener. The kids jumped on the chance to pull up handfuls of garlic onions while learning about the importance of eliminating problematic weeds and invasive plants.
Enhancing and Expanding Opportunities to Conserve Native Species
Madison Ohmen, North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Coordinator, visited the Millbrook campus earlier this year to provide tips on how to utilize the features of the campus for environmental teaching and to evaluate the campus as a potential Trees4Trash planting site.
“Danielle and I walked the school grounds, and I showed her invasive plants and weeds that she could incorporate into her teaching,” Ohmen said. “She was inspired by our South Wake Conservationists (SWC) chapter’s work and decided to become a member of the chapter.”
NCWF later provided 88 pollinator plants and 26 native trees and shrubs for a Trees4Trash planting at the school where SWC volunteers and school staff joined students and their families for a garden workday. In just a few hours, beds were weeded and mulched, invasives such as nandina and autumn olive were removed, and natives were planted to enhance the beauty of the campus, while providing essential resources for wildlife and endless learning opportunities. Ready to help? There are many ways wildlife lovers in North Carolina can restore habitat and conserve our native species.
Invasive Perennials and Trees to Remove and Replace
Below are some of the invasive plants that threaten North Carolina’s native landscapes. If these plants grow on your property, help wildlife by replacing them with similar native species. Visit ButterflyHighway.org for more on native plants and a list of nurseries where you can buy them.
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is an invasive shrub originally planted as an ornamental. Its bright red berries are attractive to wildlife which result in its spreading. The shade cast by autumn olive is so dense that it blocks sunlight from reaching understory native plants.
Fig Buttercup (Ficaria verna) is a riparian herb that takes over forested floodplains in dense mats that outcompete native vegetation. Fig buttercup must be removed or treated by trained professionals, but tracking its spread takes a village. If you spot this plant on the landscape, document it and call your local county agricultural extension office for help having it removed. Replace this with green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) or woodland poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum).
Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) is an ornamental tree that escaped cultivation and entered natural areas where they spread rapidly and displace native plants. If you have this tree in your yard, consider replacing it with a native tree such as black cherry.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has allelopathic properties, which inhibit other plants from germinating. If this plant is on your property, remove it to protect and conserve native habitat.
Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) has heart-shaped leaves that shade out native vegetation, especially on rocky hillsides where rare plants often occur. They spread aggressively by seed and suckering roots. Redbuds are a native alternative.
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) disperses by runners and forms heavy deciduous woody vines that girdle, strangle and kill trees and shrubs. There is a native variety of wisteria with similar flowers that won’t climb or spread as aggressively. Consider replacing this invasive wisteria with a native vine or training it onto an arbor to control runners easily.
Five Ways You Can Support Healthy Habitats
- Sign up for NCWF’s weekly Butterfly Highway newsletter to receive fact-filled native plant and wildlife features in your inbox!
- Watch NCWF’s educational webinars, starting with Invasive Plants of NC, GoU’s Rooting for You and Spring Blooms: NC Native Plants for Pollinators.
- Purchase seeds for native pollinator plants and sow them while the weather is still mild!
- Certify your yard as a Pollinator Pitstop along the Butterfly Highway.
Explore the Your Backyard section of our website for tips and inspiration.