By Carol Woodland, Guest Writer
CNM’s Main campus has a commitment to using native, drought tolerant plants in their landscaping, said Anthony Rael head of Maintenance and Operations.
Rael said the landscape was designed to conserve water by using only enough to establish new plants and to water only when and where it is needed as plants grow.
Some of that water used comes from building runoff which flows directly into planters, he said.
Biology professor Deborah Muldavin and avid gardener, said she takes notice of the landscaping at CNM.
“I wanted to point out to you that a lot of these things that we’re calling native plants, if you look carefully at the distributions, you’ll find some that are real generalists that are all over, and then you’ll find that some plants that are used actually would not naturally grow here, but they’re still called native,” Muldavin said.
A lot of the plants we are seeing on campus could be better described as “regional”, and might not be able to survive without the intervention of humans, she said.
Muldavin said that when growing native plants; putting plants together that have the same needs in terms of soil, moisture and sunlight is essential, and that she watches the plants at Main to see how the landscape planning works out.
The right plants grown together will do a better job taking care of themselves better than people could ever do, and that this concept is called ‘preservation,’ she said.
“Preservation is something different than landscaping, we’re not doing any preservation here at all,” Muldavin said.
Rael said that the mission of the Grounds Department is to make sustainability one of the key decision making components for grounds design and management, which includes considering all inputs to grounds relative to their cost and benefits to the earth and local ecosystem.
“Our directive is to increase biodiversity and self-sustaining systems while reducing dependence on fossil fuels and other extracted minerals,” he said.
Muldavin said that some of the diversity can unfortunately be damaging to native plants and ecosystems explaining that non-native plants compete with native ones, especially in “disturbed” locations.
These plants can be disturbed by over grazing animals or digging up the earth to try to plant something else, she said.
“When we landscape our yards and around buildings the initial thing we do is create disturbance,” she said.
One invasive tree grown on Main and all throughout Albuquerque and beyond is the Tamarisk, which was originally planted all over New Mexico to control soil erosion, she said.
In some areas, such as the Bosque del Apache, ecologists have been using efforts for decades to try to remove the Tamarisk; including fire, bulldozers and introducing a new insect to the environment, Muldavin said.
When the Tamarisks are able to grow freely, they take over extensive areas, and almost nothing else can grow there, nor do the trees support very many animals because they are not edible, she said.
“They plant them intentionally because they’re really drought tolerant, but some studies suggest when you’ve got thickets of Tamarisk along the acequias that it literally draws the water down, but that’s controversial– some people say yes, some people say no,” she said.
One interesting tree found on campus is the Chitalpa, which is a hybrid between a desert willow and the Catalpa tree, she said.
“I think it’s lovely, I really like it,” Muldavin said.
Another plant Muldavin likes is a rose variety sometimes called the “near-wild rose,” because though it isn’t wild it retains the look of a wild rose, and is planted in a few different areas on Main around the TC building and in the courtyard of KC and grows well here, she said.
Of the native plants on campus, one called rabbit brush or Chrysothamnus is growing all over and is used as medicinal plant for a lot of people and can be identified by its pungent smell, Muldavin said.
In the planter to the west side of the JS building, a native tree called the New Mexico Olive is thriving, and though the fruits it bears are not edible for humans, they are a favorite of birds, she said.
Muldavin said she thinks it would be wonderful if CNM was able to get someone who was a really good botanist to come in to do a seminar for the grounds people to teach them more about native plants.
She said she likes seeing the effort to bring new plants in, but thinks the way the plants are maintained could be made simpler by allowing the plants to assume a more natural appearance.
“What frustrates me with the way that they are managed; I don’t think that the maintenance people who go out and do this are responsible for these decisions. But it’s odd to see native plants put in and somebody somewhere decides that these plants need to be tidied up and pruned into globe shapes when the natural form allows for more circulation of air. Being an ecologist, I really like the natural form, and I would think that it would be less labor intensive if they would just accommodate that— just leave it,” she said.