Flanked by Broad Run creek, the Wildlife Meadow is a vibrant native plant ecosystem. Many amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals depend on it for food, shelter and breeding ground. It also cleans and manages storm water runoff from nearby roads and farm operations, and is a wonderful spot to observe our rich native flora and fauna.
It was also designed to showcase some of our native perennials, shrubs and grasses and provide you with ideas for how gardening with native plants can be both beneficial and beautiful.
Breeding Grounds for Frogs and Salamanders
Vernal pools are temporary pools that contain water for a portion of the year and support wildlife and plants adapted for these habitats. Nearby Broad Run keeps our low-lying meadow moist during the fall and winter. Vernal pools typically dry up in the summer.
Despite their small size, they are very important. Many amphibians breed primarily in vernal pools because the pools are temporary and cannot support fish, the major predator to amphibian larvae. Some, such as the wood frog and the spotted salamander, are obligate species, meaning they will only breed in a vernal pool.
When not breeding, vernal pool breeders live in forest surrounding the pool. Getting to their “birth pool” can be dangerous if nearby forest has been cleared to create roads or pasture. The animals are then forced to cross open land, exposing them to cars and predators. Therefore, having forest near the breeding site is important.
Because amphibians can take up toxins through their porous skin, keeping the water free from pollutants and pesticides is critical for their survival. Forests and the meadow’s deep-rooted native perennials and warm season grasses act as riparian buffers.
The Wet Meadow contains three vernal pools. Check our Calendar for spring amphibian walks, and visit the Meadow to see how the vernal pools change through the seasons.
Native plants provide food and shelter for pollinators, birds and other animals, and maintain the health of water and soil.
The Meadow was planted with a variety of colorful perennial plants important for their nectar, seeds, relationships with pollinators, and beautiful blooms. These include well-known natives like Joe-Pye-Weed, Milkweeds, Butterfly Weed, the deep red Cardinal Flower, pink Coneflowers and Bee Balm, Irises, Asters, yellow Goldenrods and Sunflowers, Black-eyed Susan, Columbines, Mountain Mint and more.
Native warm-season grasses and sedges such as Little Bluestem and Broom Sedge provide shelter and seeds for wildlife, and add color and texture to the meadow palette. Their deep root systems break up compacted soil and allow water to infiltrate the earth, helping to filter and absorb storm water runoff and recharge aquifers.
Native shrubs in the Meadow’s northeast corner add winter interest, wildlife food, cover and nesting area, and connect to the adjacent woods. These include Buttonbush, Elderberry, Azaleas, Viburnums, St. John’s Worth, Spicebush and Smooth Alder.
As the meadow landscape shifts with the seasons, "islands" of native plants draw the eye with different textures and colors. Many of these perennials, shrubs and grasses are well suited for the home garden. Watch as they develop throughout the year and maybe you will find a few to plant at home to create your own wildlife-friendly habitat.
The Meadow—its vernal pools, stream, forest edge and mixed plantings—provides food, water, nesting areas and shelter for many species of wildlife. As you wander through, take time to look around and listen. You might spot some of its residents and visitors, including amphibians, butterflies, native bees, a variety of songbirds, dragonflies and small mammals.
Ecological design implies a deep understanding of the dynamic relationships that exist within an ecosystem. Using a wide variety of native plants in the Meadow leads to increased biodiversity not only in the plant species, but in the animal populations that rely on them. This diversity helps the entire meadow community become more resilient and flexible—able to tolerate stress and better absorb the impact of events within and around it. Occasionally, it still needs human intervention to guide it and correct severe impacts of humans and nature.
An understanding of ecological ‘succession’ guides the maintenance of the meadow. This is the process by which a disturbed area progresses naturally from herbaceous plants to shrubs and trees and finally to a mature forest. In establishing a permanent meadow, we are halting this natural development at the herbaceous plant stage, using techniques like mowing and prescribed burning to maintain the meadow. Exotic invasive plants that “escape” from home gardens or are carried in by birds and wind compete with the native plant and, id left unchecked, can ultimately take over the meadow. These plants often provide little or no food to native animals and pollinators who depend on their native diet to survive.
Colorful educational signs have information about the Meadow’s plants and animals, the vernal pools, and how the meadow ecosystem functions. Stepping stones lead to a vernal pool, while mowed paths, large boulders and benches invite you to wander, sit, listen, and enjoy the lively space.
Our annual maintenance includes:
Once established, we hope the Wet Meadow will grow into an ecologically sound and visually dynamic landscape to be enjoyed for years to come.
The Wet Meadow invites you to visit often … to discover an ever-changing cast of plants and animals … to see its beauty. And—perhaps—to think about creating a wildlife habitat at home: with native plants or a rain garden; by leaving a small vernal pool or a brush shelter in the backyard; or by using fewer harmful chemicals on the lawn.