Dordt College News

Koerner's learning is put into practice

June 23, 2014

Last November, Lillie Koerner, a junior agriculture/plant science major, spread native perennial seeds on the frozen soil where non-native annuals usually lined Sioux Center’s streets.

The project was a perfect one for Koerner who had worked with the City of Sioux Center the previous spring and summer, planting, watering, tilling, and weeding flower beds. She applied what she’d learned in her Local Flora class as she ordered and planted the seeds, and it gave her a way to share with others her passion for establishing native prairie plants in domestic locations.

Koerner’s work built on a project from the previous year by Biology Professor Jeff Ploegstra and students Abby Davis (’13) and John Short (’13). They had written and received a grant from Iowa’s Living Roadway Trust Fund (LRTF) for a project for the Local Flora class. Their goal was to encourage a healthy relationship between people and the environment. LRTF provides funds to preserve Iowa’s native vegetation, especially along roadways, and it supplies educational materials to Iowa residents.

Ploegstra initially brought his students together with city officials, who welcomed the idea of using native species and planting asters instead of petunias. The LRTF grant was a win on every level. Davis and Short gained experience in the grant writing process; Koerner completed hands-on work with native species; Sioux Center’s flowerbeds are filled with independent plants that reflect Iowa’s native habitats; and Dordt provided a service to the community.

Short appreciated the opportunity to turn roadsides “into something that could be both beautiful and beneficial to biodiversity.” For the grant, he measured existing flowerbeds and researched native plant growth habits. He created computer models of the beds and plants, considering layering and blooming needs to create attractive city flowerbeds.

Short believes the experience helped him gain his current job, evaluating landscape plants for invasiveness. It also relates to his master’s program in international agricultural development at the University of California, Davis, where he is focusing on grassland and forage management in arid ecosystems.

The LRTF project was a great way for Koerner to connect her classroom learning to action, but it also had a broader impact. Perennials offer attractive, economical, and low maintenance vegetation options, and she is pleased to see a more diverse plant environment they create taking hold in the community.

Elizabeth Riley (’15)

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