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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sea Buckthorn to Battle Climate Change in Reforestation Efforts

There are currently numerous efforts in Europe, Asia, and Australia to utilize sea buckthorn as a pioneer plant in degraded previously forested areas.  The plants ability to grow in harsh environments, establish extensive root systems, and fix nitrogen into the soil has fast tracked the planting of millions of hectares.  While in the Himalayas and other areas where desertification has occurred, this plant has proven its survivability paving the way for reduced soil erosion, soil building, shading of previously bare ground (facilitating increased water retention and cooling of surface temperatures), there is another benefit which may prove extraordinarily valuable to reforestation in the Western Hemisphere.
This trait which has gone largely overlooked is Hippohae ramnoides does not survive under conditions of limited light availability.  It cannot compete with taller deciduous and conifer species and steps aside in the forest maturation cycle.
It cannot be understated the benefit of wildlife habitat, soil enrichment/conservation, and water management this plant can have on degraded forest areas.  Native species will establish themselves more efficiently, restoring the ecosystems to health.  An example is the specific use of Sea Buckthorn to reforest large tracts in the Himalayas.  This is expected to aid the integration of carbon black soot from vehicular traffic into soils and off of the landscape where the black color absorbs solar radiation so well the glaciers are currently suffering from this cause and effect.
In northern New England generations of over logging has left a barren of immature native plants. The huge biomass removal, without attempts at restoration, slowly has degraded the soils.  Could a program of Sea Buckthorn planting as a pioneer species be successful?  I think it could.  Northern forests are naturally resilient and that quality paired with a bio-active pioneer species ecosystem could increased the health of these forests immensely. Would the buckthorn plants shade out the native species?  Testing would answer that question conclusively, but I think that would be unlikely.  The native species natural seedlings are adapted to low light conditions in the immature state.  This gives them the ability to reach sunlight in a competitive environment.  They would be able to over-top the genetic height limits of the Sea Buckthorn, branching and ultimately shading out the introduced buckthorns. 

My own Sea Buckthorn/Seaberry experiment has ended the growing season without much change from the last post.  The purchased plants have become dormant and the few seedlings seem to be transitioning to dormancy naturally.  I will be impatiently awaiting spring to see the new growth.   Assuming they break dormancy, my experiences this past year should help me circumvent some of the difficulties the plants experienced during their first growing season.  I have obtained more seeds and have direct seeded them into the cold December soil.  Should they sprout naturally in the spring, seedling transplant issues will be eliminated.

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