Helping Native Plants Thrive

Native plants now grace the 30th Street bridge embankment along Fall Creek. KIB photo.

by Thomas P. Healy

Adam Schmutte, urban naturalist manager at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, leads a team that completed a major habitat restoration project along Fall Creek’s 30th Street bridge embankment. Once overrun by honeysuckle and other invasive species, the landscape has now been transformed with the installation of native perennials. “Initially, all of the work on the front end to prepare for planting took a year to get under control to where we felt comfortable planting this spring,” he said.

After honeysuckle removal in 2018, Schmutte says his team used a combination of mechanical and chemical treatments on the site. “We keep an eye on the plot over the course of the year, removing all of the dead thatch-y material, and finishing up the season by mulching all of it over the winter to suppress invasive growth of annual species,” he said.

Schmutte agrees with Butler University’s Rebecca Dolan that honeysuckle’s vigorous growth habit has negative effects on other plants. “It has no pests, so it will outcompete other plants, shading them out. The leaves and roots put chemicals into the soil that prevent native plants from thriving.” He said that the chemicals involved in that process, known as allelopathy, stop seeds of native plants from germinating. “As long as honeysuckle is putting chemicals into the soil, other seeds will fail to germinate.”

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To improve the chances of success, Schmutte uses established nursery plants rather than sowing seed. “When we did plant this spring, my crews watered and weeded once a week to give our native plants a head start and help them thrive,” he said. While KIB volunteers helped with installation, Schmutte and his assistant handled maintenance, aided by eight young urban naturalists who participated in a hands-on professional development program for college students interested in environmental careers.

The students are back to school but Schmutte said KIB has made a long-term commitment. “We will revisit the site and continue to suppress invasives and promote growth of the natives we installed,” he said. KIB extended its work at the intersection on on Black Friday by picking up litter and planting 50 more trees along the Fall Creek corridor from the 30th Street bridge to the Monon Trail bridge.

A version of this article appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of the magazine.


Prior to KIB’s intervention, invasive plants covered the 30th Street bridge embankment at Fall Creek. KIB photo.