Use your garden to help the Buffalo-area watershed

tulip tree
Tulip Tree (Lirodendron tulipfera). ©

by Connie Oswald Stofko

In the  early 1900s, Margaret Wooster’s family farmed land in the Genesee Valley, south of Rochester.  When salt deposits were discovered underground, the family sold their land to a mining company. A mine shaft was sunk and family members went to work as salt miners for the company.

Eventually the mine was sold to what became Azko Nobel and the mine became the largest salt mine in North America.

Unfortunately, disaster struck in 1994. Residents of the area felt what everyone thought was an earthquake. It turned out that the shaking was caused by a collapse at the mine.

The mine flooded and was closed, but the effects on the surrounding area continued.  According to a New York Times article, sinkholes hundreds of feet in diameter gobbled farmland and swallowed 70-foot-tall trees. A bridge collapsed. Dozens of wells were sucked dry. Several square miles of the Genesee Valley sank eight feet. The ground released hydrogen sulfide gas, which smells foul, and methane gas, which is explosive.

Wooster used this story to demonstrate the enormous unintended consequences our actions can have on nature and the watershed.

Wooster spoke March 7 about the importance of the watershed surrounding Lakes Erie and Ontario. The  talk was part of the Western New York Land Conservancy Speakers Series.

Wooster is author of Living Waters: Reading the Rivers of the Lower Great Lakes and Somewhere to Go on Sunday, A Guide to Natural Treasures in Western New York and Southern Ontario.

black chokeberry
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). ©

The mine disaster is an example of the first of  three lessons from Aldo Leopold that Wooster discussed in her talk. Leopold is an American ecologist who wrote the well known essay, “The Land Ethic.”

Leopold’s first lesson is that “Man-made changes are of a different order than evolutionary changes, and have effects more comprehensive than is intended or foreseen.”

The second of Leopold’s lessons is that our land is not merely soil; it is an ecosystem that includes water and plants and animals, Wooster explained.

Leopold viewed the ecosystem as an energy circuit. In his third lesson, he said that native plants and animals kept the energy circuit open, but other plants and animals may not maintain that balance.

What you can do

During her talk, Wooster discussed efforts being conducted by numerous local organizations to restore natural habitat on our shorelines and to remove invasive species. These organizations include Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, where she works as a watershed planner.

The projects undertaken by these groups are large, but individual gardeners can help our environment and the watershed as well, Wooster said. Gardeners can take part in this effort by planting native plants and saving the seeds.

“We need seed saving,” Wooster said. “We need to cultivate our own native plants from our own stock.”

buttonbush in Buffalo NY
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Photo supplied by Margaret Wooster

For example, hemlock from New England might not work as well in the Buffalo area as trees that originated here, she explained.

Another thing you can do is to tell your local garden center that you’re interested in purchasing native plants.

“I want to interest local growers in native plants,” Wooster said. “Gardeners can create a demand with nurseries.”

The Western New York Land Conservancy is working with Amanda’s Garden, a native perennial nursery in Springwater, NY. The conservancy has a native plant sale each year in the fall. If there’s a particular plant you’re interested in, you can contact the Western New York Land Conservancy and they’ll offer it at their next sale.

Wooster provided us this list of native trees and shrubs that you can consider using in your garden.


Plant Species Indicator*** Type* Form**
Acer rubrum-Red Maple FAC T BR,BB,C
Acer sacharum-Sugar Maple FACW T BR,BB,C
Alnus incana ssp. Rugosa-Speckled Alder FACW S BR,C
Aronia arbutifolia -Red Chokeberry FACW S BB,BR.C
Aronia melanocarpa-Black Chokeberry FAC S BB,BR,C
Celtis occidentalis-Hackberry FACU T BB,C
Cephalanthus occidentalis – Buttonbush OBL S C,BR,LS
Cornus alternifolia – Pagoda Dogwood FAC S BB,C
Cornus amomum – Silky Dogwood FACW S BR,LS,C
Cornus sericea – Redosier Dogwood FACW S BR, LS,C
Ilex verticillata – Winterberry FACW S BB,C,BR
Linders nenzoin – Spicebush FACW S BB, C
Lirodendron tulipfera – Tulip Tree FACU T BB,C
Magnolia accuminata – Cucumber Tree FACU T BB,C
Myrica pennsylvanica – Northern Bayberry FAC S BR,C
Nyssa sylvatica – Black Gum OBL T BB,C
Platanus occidentalis – American Sycamore FACW T BB,C
Prunus pennsylvanica – Pin Cherry FACU T BB,C
Prunus serotina – Black Cherry FACU T BB,C
Q. rubra – Northern Red Oak FACU T BB,C
Quercus bicolor – Swamp White Oak FACW T BB,C
Quercus macrophylla – Bur Oak FAC T BB,C
Quercus palustris– Pin Oak FAC T BB,C
Quercus rubra – Red Oak FACU T BB,C
Rubus allegheniensis – Allegheny Blackberry FACU S BR,C
Salix exigua – Crack Willow OBL T LS, BR, C
Sambucus Canadensis – Elderberry FACW S BB, C
Tilia americana – American Basswood FAC T BB,C
Tsuga canadensis – Eastern Hemlock FAC T BB,C
*          T-Tree, S-Shrub
**        BB-Ball Burlaped, BR-Bare Root, LS-Live Stake, C-Container
***      Wetland Indicator Status – Indicator Status Designation signifying its frequency of occurrence in a wetland (Obligate [OBL], Facultative Wetland [FACW], Facultative [FAC], Facultative Upland [FACU], and Upland [UPL]).


Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis). ©

The next talk in the Western New York Land Conservancy Speakers Series will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, 641 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

Stan Radon, geologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, will speak about time, climate and the evolution of the geology and landscape of Western New York. He is popular for his gripping tours of local rock formations. He has been a geologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for the past 20 years and teaches geology and environmental sciences at the University at Buffalo and Daemen College.

The event is free, but please make reservations by calling  (716) 687-1225 or e-mailing The series continues through May.

By the way, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site is offering a new tour, which includes conservation topics from Roosevelt’s time.

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