Where the wildflowers grew

Along the Kiwanis Trail with Adrian College Professor Janet Salzwedel

Janet Salzwedel on the Kiwanis Trail in Adrian, Michigan in Summer 2016. (Photo by Allie Bretz).
Janet Salzwedel on the Kiwanis Trail in Adrian, Michigan in Summer 2016. (Photo by Allie Bretz).

Janet Salzwedel, a professor of biology Adrian College, used her sabbatical not to travel to distant places, but rather chose to conduct research close to home. She wanted to learn about the vegetation along the Kiwanis Trail. She believed she might use that knowledge to teach the local community about the plants along the Kiwanis Trail and inspire local stewardship of the native diversity.

The workshop sponsored by Grand-Raisin Cluster of the Stewardship Network on Saturday, June 24, 2017, is a manifestation of an unfolding of that vision. There is no cost for the workshop. The workshop will start at the parking lot at the corner of Riverside and Bent Oak streets. 9:30 a.m. is registration and networking. Participants will walk north 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) north to Valley Road and the St. John’s Lutheran Church parking lot (3448 N. Adrian Hwy/M52). Participants can retrace the trail or arrange a ride back. Toilets are available at the end of the walk. Coffee, water and light snacks will be provided.

During the summer and fall of 2016, Dr. Salzwedel inventoried the plants along both sides of the former Detroit-Toledo-Irontown rail line, now popular City of Adrian walk/bike/run trail. Historically, railroad right-of-ways host a rich collection of native prairie plants. The trail crosses springs and creeks that feed the River Raisin. There are a variety of wet and dry habitats that can be experienced along the trail.

When I visited the Kiwanis Trail with Salzwedel in June 2016, she explained that few people know what invasive species are, why they are a threat to native diversity and what could be done about them.

“The trail is very busy but few people slow down to see the natural springs, wetlands and great variety of plants along the way,” she said.

She reached out to the Stewardship Network in June 2016 when her sabbatical proposal was accepted. She had been on the email list for some time, but had yet to be active. She has been teaching Botany and Microbiology at Adrian College since 1993.

On her sabbatical she cataloged the plant species along the trail to make a record of what native plants can be found and assess the extent of invasive plant spread.

This summer, with the help of her students, her research on the trail is going to new lengths. Supervising Adrian College students with a college sponsored research stipend, they are studying the impacts of garlic mustard on soil health. 

Dr. Salzedel said, “The literature shows garlic mustard to have allelopathic effects to out compete other plants.” 

Soil contains much more than minerals. It is a living system itself, full of fungi and bacteria. Through chemicals secreted in their roots and leached when they decay, some plants, such as garlic mustard, alter the soil chemistry making it unsuitable for other flora. This may explain why removing the plant when it first appears in an area can effectively stop its spread. 

“This (research) is an attempt to see why garlic mustard is so competitive,” Salzedel said.

Their research could help people working to protect ecological diversity far beyond Lenawee County.

As for local efforts to care for native ecosystems, many lead volunteer workdays. The Stewardship Network maintains a searchable events calendar.  In addition to these hands-on learning opportunities, starting in early Spring 2017, The Conservation Stewards Program will be offered in the area. Local professors such as Janet Salzwedel will help teach the program intended to build local capacity for caring for native landscapes.  

Janet Salzwedel is was named a USDA National Needs in Biotechnology fellow when she was a doctoral student at Michigan State University. She has applied her knowledge in plant-microbe interactions to teach and advise health professions students.

Michigan State University’s Integrated Pest Management website provides an extensive yet easy to read overview of garlic mustard, management options, frequently asked questions, photos and contacts for more information. 

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