Disturbed sites and Waste Place

Disturbed sites and Waste Place Plant Communities

Some species of plants are most suited to some of the most hostile environments.  These environments are waste places and disturbed sites, both are found in wetland and upland areas.

A waste place is an area that has been completely disturbed and is now barren of vegetation.  In nature this might be after a local or large natural catastrophe: landslide, flood deposits, volcanic eruptions, and intense wild fires that sterilize the soil.  Man-made waste places can be large scale construction sites, abandoned agricultural fields, and gravel quarries and open pit mines.  Some ag fields may only be a waste place for a year because the large seedbank of weeds quickly colonizes the barren ground.  An open pit mine that is not reclaimed could be a waste place for a century because there is no seed bank and little nutrients, or water-holding organic matter to help plants grow.  These places are often dry due to loss of organic matter, but they can also occur in lakes and wetlands were large scale disturbance has occurred.

Bison Trail Creates Disturbed Site

A bison (Buffalo) trail passes through the grassland, under the shade of a tree, creating a natural disturbed site. The Eastern Cottonwood tree is a species often encountered in disturbed sites and waste places.

A disturbed site is much like a waste place, but only on a much smaller scale.  On a natural scale this could an animal trail, woodchuck burrow entrance, Man-made causes might be a small scale construction a roadside that is continually graded, or even a vegetable garden.  Due to its size a disturbed site usually does not remain as harsh as an environment as long as a waste place does.

There are no hard and fast rules that define one or other, but plants that are adapted to these sites usually share some of the same characteristics.  Most species are weedy, they have the ability to sprout readily from seeds locked away in the soil, or blown in from nearby vegetated areas.  Some of the seeds in the soil may have remained dormant for many decades, waiting for the right conditions to germinate.  Many of the plants are annuals or biennials with short life cycles, and produce many seeds.  As time goes by these species are replaced by more perennials that have longer life cycles and produce fewer larger seeds.  However, these are trends in succession and there are many species that don’t follow the trend.

Nodding Beggarticks Disturbed Site

Nodding Beggarticks (Bidens cernua) is a wildflower the colonizes disturbed sites of lakeshores and wetlands.

Plant Species Found in Disturbed sites and Waste Places