Riverwoods Is Special
Riverwoods Preservation Council, Reprinted from Village Voice issue January-February 2006
What we have – Riverwoods is special. Our woodlands are a complex ecosystem of native, interdependent plant species which foster the active growth of oaks and other forest trees, as well as a variety of wildlife. This ecosystem consists of the canopy, the understory, and the plants of the forest floor. Each element has characteristic species. For example, ground plants include trillium, wild geranium, grasses, sedges and native vines such as Virginia creeper, while the understory includes ironwood, blue beech, hawthorn, eastern redbud and smaller trees and shrubs. The canopy is dominated by American basswood, ash, sugar maple, silver maple, black cherry, hickory, elm, hackberry, eastern cottonwood and oak species, but also includes black locust, northern catalpa, white pine, walnut, and willow trees.
In addition to its unique natural environment, Riverwoods is known for its ambience, the “feel” of the community that arises in large measure from the special connection the residents feel to the natural surroundings and to the community as a whole. Unfortunately, the Riverwoods environment is being degraded and fragmented, creating barriers to wildlife and reducing the ability of the woodlands to regenerate more desirable species. The causes include the proliferation of non-native, invasive plant species, over-browsing by an increased deer population, insect threats such as the gypsy moth, Asian Long-Horned Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer, and stress caused by changes in the water table. We residents are perhaps the single greatest cause of woodland deterioration, as we replace natural growth and beneficial leaf and tree litter with buildings, pavement and large, cultivated areas such as turf grass lawns.
What’s in it for me? – We all benefit from the fact that much of Riverwoods is a woodland ecosystem. The woodlands minimize flooding by absorbing rainwater and snowmelt, thereby reducing the volume and rate of water runoff much more effectively than turf grass and cultivated areas, while also reducing erosion from water runoff. In addition, woodlands filter water pollutants from stormwater, cleaning and recharging the underground aquifer (from which many of our residents derive household water) and providing this area with cleaner recreational waterways.
Similarly, the trees help clean our air, absorbing a variety of pollutants including the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Another benefit is the reduction of noise pollution by baffling sound transmission from nearby roads. Finally, our woods provide nesting areas for birds and other wildlife, which in turn assist in the control of insects. In all of these ways, our diverse woodland ecology protects and improves our overall quality of life.
There are economic benefits as well. Property values tend to be higher for wooded lots, since the supply of wooded properties has been declining while demand for such property has been increasing. Preserving or re-establishing a natural landscape provides significant savings of time and money for the homeowner. Natural landscaping utilizes less water and hardy native plants, once established, require little care. Because they have adapted to local conditions over thousands of years, they generally require no fertilizer or pesticides, little or no irrigation, no weekly mowing, and little or no weeding. Pollution is reduced because use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and of fuel-burning equipment such as lawn mowers is reduced.
Finally, native plants provide biodiversity and wonderful visual appeal. They grow in a variety of shapes and textures, from rigidly columnar to gracefully spreading and vary in height from a few inches to more than eight feet for some grasses. They exhibit numerous colors and shades, ranging from greens to blues to silver, and include multiple variegated species, and flower at different times of the year. Some have colorful seed pods or provide changing seasonal colors, and some, such as prairie grasses, remain upright throughout the year, swaying in the breeze, even during the bleak winter months.
As a homeowner in Riverwoods, one of the few areas that retains many of its original natural features, we are each entrusted with a precious resource. In effect, we are each stewards of the land we inhabit.
It’s easier than you think. When preserving or restoring the natural landscape, the first and most important thing to remember is to do no harm. Before diving into a project, get expert advice. This approach is particularly important in dealing with our fragile woodlands.