We work to restore native plant communities on the Clifton Institute’s 900 acres, and we advise private land owners and government agencies on how to restore the lands they manage. By eliminating non-native plants and planting native species, we rebuild degraded habitats which allows declining plants and animals to recover and thrive. We use our research on native plant communities and declining birds to guide our restoration work and the advice we give. We continue to refine our methods and advice based on the results we observe at the Clifton Institute and at participating properties around the region.
Our grasslands on the left and our shrublands on the right.
Invasive Plants and Declining Species
Non-native invasive plants are degrading ecosystems across eastern North America. Non-native plants exclude native plants and fungi, and non-natives provide poor habitat for animals. For example, research by Doug Tallamy at the University of Delaware has shown that Autumn Olive leaves are eaten by just 5 species of caterpillars, while more than 400 species can eat oak leaves. This obviously affects butterflies and moths, but it’s also of critical importance to birds, who feed thousands of caterpillars to each of their chicks.
We focus our land management and restoration work on early successional habitats (areas that have been disturbed by mowing, fire, or grazing and are re-growing into forests) and declining species found in these habitats. Grasslands, shrublands, and forest edges are especially vulnerable to invasion. Furthermore, these habitats support a disproportionate number of species that are declining across their geographic range. Grasslands in our area host American Kestrels, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Bobolinks, all of which are in decline. Prairie Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Yellow-breasted Chats are declining birds that inhabit shrublands. We manage our land and advise others to manage their land to help all of these species.
We use several different methods to remove invasive plants and encourage native species on the Clifton Institute property, and we compare their effectiveness with scientific research:
There is no land management silver bullet. Each method has pros and cons:
Native Plant Propagation
We propagate native plants to distribute to landowners and to use in our restoration projects and gardens. Each year we collect seeds of 70+ species of native plants. We store seeds for native meadow plantings and we grow seedlings; each year we sell around 1,500 plants. We focus our propagation efforts on herbaceous perennials and grasses, with an emphasis on species that are not available from commercial seed sellers. We are also working with partner organizations and individuals to plant rows of priority species for seed production.
Thanks to the generous support of the Warrenton Garden Club, we were able to install a native plant garden at the farm house in the fall of 2018. The garden serves as habitat for native animals and it allows us to teach visitors about the value of native plants right off of our front porch. Most programs at Clifton start at the farm house so the garden engages visitors as soon as they arrive. We also have a garden that is made up of 100% local-ecotype plants are native to Fauquier County grasslands.
Our restoration projects are working!
We are always looking for volunteers to help with our restoration work. We rely on generous people to help us with control of non-native plants, propagating plants, and maintaining our gardens. If you’re interested in helping out, you can find upcoming volunteer days on our calendar. Thank you!