Return of the greenhouse
Dispatches from the Field > Return of the greenhouse
On Christmas Eve 2009, a windstorm toppled the greenhouse at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. According to Cherie Cordell, greenhouse manager, the gusts that topped 95 miles per hour wiped away most of that year's native grass seedlings, too. Normally the seeds that vegetation crews collect in the fall spend their winter in the balmy greenhouse, sprouting and growing tall for a head start to be planted the following spring.
But this year, planting had to wait.
Through the summer and fall of 2010, park contractors and staff were busy building a new, stronger greenhouse.
Contractors built a new steel frame, connected irrigation lines, and fitted a new frame around the ventilation fan, which had survived the gusts. They also salvaged quite a few other materials from the destroyed greenhouse, including grow lights and a main heater.
Park service maintenance staff added new bench heat, electric lines, plumbing, and a handy new in-house fertilizer pump. Finally, contractors stretched the new sturdy plastic sheeting across the frame, turning it once again into a functional park building.
In winter 2010-2011, the new greenhouse opened for the first time, and washed and sorted seeds were all ready for the move into their new, improved nursery.
What comes next? After moving all of the seeds and supplies into the greenhouse, Cherie will tend the sprouts and transfer them to larger multi pots so their roots have room to stretch.
In the spring, crews spend weeks in the rich increase fields at Cades Cove, feeding the tiny plant plugs to a mechanized tobacco planter that inserts them into the ground without churning up the soil. Vegetation crews have planted monocultures of single species in each row so they can easily harvest the native grass and forb seeds with mechanical harvesters come fall.
Year after year, the vegetation crew has followed this cycle: seed collection from fields within the park, careful tending through the winter, replanting in the spring, and further harvest in the fall. This has increased native seed stock available, and so far 20 acres of native grasslands have been replanted using this native park seed. In the future, many more acres will be restored!
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Did You Know?
An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park was begun in 2001. Elk once roamed the Smokies, but were eliminated from the region in the mid 1800s by over-hunting and loss of habitat. Other animals successfully reintroduced to the park include river otters and barn owls. More...