Prince William Campus Rescues Native Plants

Posted: August 22, 2011 at 1:01 am, Last Updated: August 19, 2011 at 9:18 pm

By Lea Lubag

From left, James Cox, Ben Weaver, Nancy Berlin and Jeannie Couch (holding list) reconnoiter before the dig begins. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Most people looking at a field of tall grass would view it as overgrown weeds, but Cathy Ryan sees it as native plants and wildflowers. So when Ryan, the Prince William Campus’ liaison to the Office of Sustainability’s Green Representative program, heard that a new building was going to be constructed behind Discovery Hall, she launched a plan to rescue plants from the site before groundbreaking.

Ryan, an administrative office specialist, is one of 10 faculty and staff members whose mission is to create an atmosphere of sustainability at Mason by increasing environmental awareness and promoting positive environmental behavior. Green Reps are encouraged to devise their own “sustainability endeavors, events and innovative information campaigns.”

Calling in the Experts

Ben Weaver holds the rare Agrimonia parviflora while Andrea Kinder, Nancy Berlin and James Cox watch. Photo by Evan Cantwell

To help her with this project, Ryan recruited Nancy Berlin from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, who served as the natural resource specialist and master gardener coordinator. Berlin coordinated the activities of Jeannie Couch, a plant specialist who spent a little over a week identifying and tagging the plants for rescue, and Andrea Kinder, a master gardener volunteer.

Ryan, Berlin, Couch and Kinder, worked with Prince William Facilities staff members James Cox and Ben Weaver from 8 to 11 a.m. on the morning of the move to dig up the plants and successfully transfer them to a small bed encircled by hickory and oak trees in front of Discovery Hall.

“We’re trying to increase awareness that there is something unique here, worth preserving,” says Ryan. “If we don’t recognize what we have, it can be easily destroyed.”

Ryan realized the importance of her project when Agrimonia parviflora, a native plant in the rose family, was positively identified among the plants.  In 2002, the tall and slender yellow-flowering plant was considered a “plant of special concern” in Connecticut, and in 2004, it was considered endangered in Massachusetts, according to

Including Agrimonia parviflora, 12 different species of native wildflowers and plants were identified and moved to the new location.

“It will be a year before we see how they are doing. We plan to have signage posted labeling the plants and trees,” says Ryan.

“The goal is to showcase native plants so that people can see them in various times of the year and consider using them in their own gardens, rather than disregarding them as weeds,” she adds.

Part of a Larger Plan

Cathy Ryan prepares the ground for the transplant. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Projects like native plant rescue are part of an overarching plan, according to Ryan.

“We’re working to have the Prince William Campus identified as an official sustainability site,” says Ryan.

An official sustainable site, as outlined by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, is a built landscape that uses less water, energy and natural resources and generates less waste and reduces negative impact on the environment. The Sustainable Sites Initiative is a partnership of several established organizations working to “transform land development and management practices with the first national rating system for sustainable landscapes,” according to

To be certified, a site must complete a two-year program demonstrating the application of the Sustainable Sites Initiative’s Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009, which is the fruit of more than four years of research by leading sustainability experts, design professionals and scientists.

While some may feel that their personal efforts are small in the grand scheme of things, Ryan assuredly says that “what we do at Prince William Campus, and each of us wherever we are at Mason, contributes to the overall sustainability effort of the entire university.”



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