Long Roots

My heart sank. I’d have to babysit these seeds for (gulp) how long? Four weeks seemed more than enough time for me to effectively destroy the plants before they even had a chance to start growing.

We were at a habitat restoration project. Picking up trash? Yup, can do. Cutting back a distinctly-colored invasive plant species? Yup, no problem. Nurturing these tiny native seeds so they can one day be replanted in their original habitat? Uh, back up, buddy. This thumb ain’t seen green since lime-flavored, fruit-and-marshmallow-infused gelatin “salads” were all the rage.

My Purple Prairie Clover Incubator

Don’t get me wrong, I adore natural beauty. Fill a vase with flowers and the house becomes a castle. But “admiring” is one thing. “Not murdering the flower garden” is quite another.

The park ranger asked what makes indigenous plants so important to the area.

“Long roots,” someone shouted out almost immediately. (Show off!)

Turns out that was the right answer. Native prairie plants have root systems that are often many times the length of the plant’s height above ground. This makes the plants sturdier for the long-haul (we’re talking 30, 40 even 50 years here). Long roots help the soil become richer, more aerated, and better able to withstand erosion. And in urban areas, these types of plants are particularly important to help absorb water runoff, especially when compared to the fickle and short-rooted grass so often used in yards and public spaces.

Root Systems of Prairie Plants

Kentucky Blue Grass, far left
Purple Prairie Clover, fourth from right
(Conservation Research Institute)

“Be patient,” the ranger instructed. “The plants spend a lot more time developing their roots at first, so you won’t see the green shoots for a while. And don’t take them indoors when it rains or storms. They need to get strong.”

Her remarks made me think of the beautiful promise found in the opening verses of the Book of Psalms:

You will be blessed as you allow yourself to be soaked in God’s Word.
You will be like a tree replanted by the life-giving streams of Eden,
roots furrowed deep, bearing fruit in season,
no longer blown like chaff in the wind.

~Psalm 1.1-4

What an amazing reminder. The Master Gardener wants *me* to be a native plant, flourishing as I am replanted into the garden for which I was designed. I might not see green shoots for a while…the Gardener might not choose to shield me from the rain and wind…but in the end, my roots will grow deep.

Some days I see hints of this Garden-In-Progress. Other days I think that this particular Habitat Restoration Project is far too overwhelming to attempt. Thank goodness for the Master Gardener, whose hands are far more patient and loving than my own.

Long roots. May it be so.

Purple Prairie Clover in Full Bloom
(photo: Rowe Sanctuary)