Thursday, January 3, 2019

Native plants, animals thrive at Dawes Arboretum

An ancient tractor overlooks a wintry landscape at Dawes Arboretum/Jim McCormac

December 30, 2018

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Native plants, animals thrive at Dawes Arboretum

The night of April 18, 1775, was pivotal to America’s independence. That evening, three horsemen rode a breakneck mission to alert colonial minutemen of the approach of British troops. William Dawes was one of these riders, along with Samuel Prescott. Their roles were overshadowed historically by the third rider, Paul Revere.

Forewarned, Americans were ready, and open battle erupted the following day. The brutal American Revolutionary War eventually claimed the lives of perhaps 70,000 patriots but ultimately won America its emancipation from Great Britain.
One of Dawes’ great grandsons was Rufus Dawes, who became a Civil War hero and Ohio Congressman. Noble blood spawns great men, and one of Rufus’ sons was Beman Gates Dawes, born in 1870 in Marietta.

Beman went on to become a leading industrialist and two-term Ohio congressman. Eventually putting down roots in Central Ohio, in 1917 Dawes and his wife Bertie purchased a 140-acre farm just south of Newark which they branded “Daweswood.”

The farm served the Dawes’ interest in horticulture, and they began acquiring and growing plants from far and wide. In 1929 they created a foundation to oversee the farm’s transformation into an official arboretum, and Dawes Arboretum was born.

Today, the arboretum has mushroomed to nearly 2,000 acres, and hosts 270,000 visitors annually. They come to see a botanical wonderland filled with some 17,000 specimen plants.

While ornamental gardens and stunning horticultural specimens are part of Dawes’ allure, the conservation of native flora is a major part of the mission. Much of the property is wild woodlands, meadows and wetlands populated with indigenous plants.

The emphasis on conservation of native landscapes has created a de facto wildlife refuge. Well over 500 species of native plants enrich the grounds – nearly one-third of the state’s total flora. Native plants are the building blocks that grow animals, and to date, 203 bird species have been documented – nearly half of all species ever seen in Ohio.

Thirty-seven mammals have been recorded, 15 reptile species and 23 amphibians, 44 kinds of dragonflies, and staggering numbers of butterflies and moths.

I made a visit to Dawes Arboretum last week, and their world class holly garden was my destination. At this season, the hollies are bedecked with showy scarlet drupes, which are irresistible to fruit-eating birds. The eastern bluebird in the accompanying photo and scores of his comrades were plundering these hollies.

Birders have long been drawn to Dawes. Some major rarities have surfaced here, including a black-throated gray warbler found by Scott Albaugh on April 17, 2002. It was one of few Ohio records. More recently, a Harris’s sparrow was found. This species has the distinction of being one of three species that breed only in Canada, and it’s an unusual stray this far to the east.

More important than avian vagrants are local nesters, and Dawes supports dozens of breeding birds. Crow-sized pileated woodpeckers are common, as are barred owls, red-tailed hawks, and numerous songbirds. The restored Dutch Fork wetlands have hosted nesting sora and Virginia rails. Birds are always a conspicuous part of the Dawes landscape.

Dawes Arboretum is one of the most important biological hotspots in Central Ohio, and it’s a beautiful place that’s steeped in history. For more information, visit: https://dawesarb.org/

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

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