DeBerry to Speak On Thomas Jefferson

Dr. Candy S. DeBerry will present “Thomas Jefferson: Advocate for Native Plants” at Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Center at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 23, as part of the Ohio County Master Gardeners’ Public Garden Lecture Series.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Schrader Center is located in Oglebay Park.

DeBerry is an associate professor of biology and director of the biochemistry program among other notable titles at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.

In addition to securing the Louisiana Purchase and finding a trade route to the Pacific Ocean, Jefferson implored Lewis and Clark on their expedition between 1804-06 to gather plant and animal specimens. Then, they were asked to report on “the soil and face of the country, its growth and vegetable productions” with emphasis on native plants which are defined as being present in an area before European settlement.

DeBerry said, “Jefferson saw native plants as crucial to the economic independence of the newly-formed United States of America. In his book, ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’ (1785), he listed dozens of indigenous species that were valuable as medicinal, esculent (edible), ornamental and useful for fabrication of materials from cloth to buildings.

“Today, we know that native plants have co-evolved over millennia with native insects and other animals. At least 90 percent of native insects have evolved specialized relationships with native plants,” she said.

The rest of the animal kingdom, from amphibians and reptiles to birds and mammals, including humans, is partially or totally dependent upon insects or the ecosystem services, such as pollination, that is provided by insects.

Quoting a nationally recognized researcher, DeBerry said, “Gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. It is now in the power of individual gardeners to make a difference to the native plants and animals of North American and the ecosystems that sustain them.

Therefore, the choices of what we plant in our gardens are so much more than just what looks pretty or smells nice.”

For Jefferson, the native plants of North America were evidence of the superiority of the New World as well as sources of food, medicine and other materials necessary for the new country to secure economic independence from Europe. Today, scientists are discovering the crucial role of native plants, including many of Jefferson’s favorites for creating wildlife habitat and increasing biological diversity.