Botany of a City Essay

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Botany of a City

The story of each community can be determined by its plant life. Plant life can determine what will inhabit the area and what the economy will thrive on. Atlanta, Georgia is no exception. When the first European explorers reached the upper Piedmont of Georgia, it was already inhabited by Creek Indians, also known as the Muskogee. The Creek Indians believed that there were supernatural powers attributed to all natural things. They used many plants in healing the sick and also believed that there were plants that would provide them with greater hunting powers. The majority of Creek territory was located in the hilly

Piedmont. The vegetation was an oak-pine forest, composed of a mixed growth of oak, pine, sassafras, chestnut, and hickory trees. In Indian Territory, Creek lands were a mosaic of oak woodland, tall-grass prairie, and bottomland hardwood forest changing to a mixed long and short-grass prairie on the western periphery of their region. The bulk of the area encompassed a forested belt known as the Cross Timbers. “Creek Indians chose to settle in stream bottomlands, and tried to avoid the heavily timbered and tall-grass prairie areas. They favored areas that provided reliable wood qand water sources.

Limited agriculture, widespread livestock husbandry, and increasingly dispersed tribal towns continued to characterize the Creek landscape. ” (Swanton, 2000) This inhabitation of the Creek Indians extended into the early 1800s. The Decatur area was treatied over from the Creeks in 1820. Many people assume that Native Americans left the forests virtually untouched; however, this is not true. Native Americans cleared, farmed, and burned the landscape of Georgia, in some areas greatly impacting and changing the natural landscape. In the Atlanta area, indigenous populations apparently never attained

sizable numbers. Therefore, their influence on the present Atlanta landscape probably was minimal. (Swanton, 2000) Many plants native to the Atlanta area were used by both the Indians and others for their medicinal value. The cornus florida (Dogwood tree) is a flowering tree that will reach a height of 25 feet at maturity with a 25 foot spread. A variety of Dogwood trees can be found throughout the country, but the red Dogwood is more common to the southern regions of the country. The red Dogwood grows in acidic, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, well drained, clay soils.

The red Dogwood has red blooms that appear in the spring. This tree has glossy, red fruit eaten by birds when ripened in the fall. Flowering dogwood was used medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for its astringent and antiperiodic properties. The dried root-bark is antiperiodic, astringent, diaphoretic, mildly stimulant and tonic. The flowers are said to have similar properties. A tea or tincture of the astringent root bark has been used as a quinine substitute to treat malaria and also in the treatment of chronic diarrhea. The bark has also been used as a

to treat external ulcers and wounds. The inner bark was boiled and the tea drunk to reduce fevers and to restore a lost voice. A compound infusion of the bark and the root has been used in the treatment of various childhood diseases such as measles and worms. It was often used in the form of a bath. The fruits are used as a bitter digestive tonic. The 1830s to the 1930s was the time of great expansion of agriculture in the Georgia Piedmont. Cotton was a primary crop and land that was flat enough to plow became agricultural land. Even areas of forests were cleared for the production of cotton. This left

the ground unprotected from erosion and the loss of topsoil. Cotton as a crop drains the soil of nutrients and in the 1930s the soils became poor. Many farms went bankrupt and farmers abandoned their fields. It wasn’t long before the pines quickly reclaimed most fields, and forestry became the agriculture of the Piedmont. Pines could survive in the poor soils, and the Piedmont gradually reforested, although it has not returned to its original state. From 1930 to 1960, Atlanta slowly grew from a primarily suburban and rural city to a large urban city. Further growth took place from 1965 to present.

This period of time saw tremendous residential, industrial, and transportation growth. Atlanta became the great international city that it is today. This expansion eliminated many of our trees, changed drainage patterns, increased impermeable surfaces, and fragmented and isolated habitat patches. (Livingston & Shreve, 1921) Cotton was a primary contributing factor to the growth of Atlanta’s agricultural industry. Cotton grows in a warm climate, with rich soil. Cotton requires a 160-day frost free growing period. Cotton is unique in that the entire plant can be utilized in different

ways. The fiber or lint is used in making cotton cloth. Linters provide cellulose for making plastics, explosives, high quality paper products and processed into batting for padding mattresses, furniture and automobile cushions. The cotton seed is crushed and separated, with the oil being used for cooking, and the hulls being used as meal for livestock, or fertilizer. Cotton is a labor intensive crop and expanded the role of slavery in the south. Without the use of slave labor, it is unlikely that farmers would have been able to produce enough cotton to survive.

Prior to the Civil War, the cotton industry was challenged as slaves and land became more expensive and harder to find. Farmers tried to plant cotton anywhere they could find, using even poor soil. Cotton growing was proving to be profitable and anyone who could take part in the industry did. With the use of slave labor and the boom of the cotton industry, there became a division of class and race in Atlanta’s society. (www. georgianencyclopedia. com) As a mainstay of the Atlanta agriculture, cotton expositions became a way for Atlanta to attract visitors and expand their economy.

Atlanta held its first cotton exposition, the International Cotton Exposition in 1881. The purpose of the exposition was to expand trade, and boost the economy. The International Cotton Exposition was host to more than 200,000 people and lasted for two and a half months. Those who promoted and hosted the exposition were doing so to expand the economy and create an industrial center in Atlanta. The fierce competition in the cotton industry would also lead to the demise of the Atlanta countryside, as farmers leveled forests in order to create more land for the farming of cotton. (Parkins, 1938)

The yellow pines played a major role in the development of the railroad in Atlanta and the railroad provided for the growth and expansion of Atlanta and its economy. It was the growth and expansion of the agriculture surrounding Atlanta that created the need for expansion in the transportation industry, namely the railroad. Effective and efficient transportation was needed. Atlanta was growing at rate faster than any other southern city. Competition between communities in the south propelled the expansion of the railroad to Atlanta. Local politicians were aware that transportation would provide for economic

prosperity. Atlanta was given railroad connections with the seacoast in 1845. Atlanta’s growth was in part due to its geographic location. The creation of the southern terminus of the first railroad in northern Georgia, the Western and Atlantic, fixed its location and it became a crossroads of railroads in the early 1850’s when a line was built northwestward from Augusta and another from Atlanta to Montgomery. The railroad also brought with it challenges during the Civil War. As a central hub, it was the seat of large manufactures for the Confederate army and a depot for supplies, and sustained major

damage during the war. The railroad provided Atlanta with an ability to maintain its trade with the world. (Parkins, 1938) Atlanta was rich in resources to assist in building the railroad. The yellow pines were used as railroad ties and provided timber for construction. The Longleaf Pine is an evergreen that grows mainly along the southern border and the western edge of the United States. In its mature state it will 60 to 80 feet in height, with a 30 to 40 foot spread. The Longleaf Pine grows in alkaline, loamy, rich, wide range, clay soils. The Longleaf Pine thrives in full sun to partial shade.

The Longleaf Pine trunk has scaly, coarse, light, orange-brown bark with upright branches forming an oval, open crown. The flexible, dark green needles are up to 18″ long, and the large, spiny cones are up to 10″ long and may persist on the tree for two years. For the first five to seven years, the pine stays in a tufted, grass-like stage after germination, growing slowly while the root system develops. It is drought tolerant once the tree is established. Following the grass stage, it grows at a medium to fast rate. The inch long clusters of new growth are silver white during the winter.

The roots are sensitive to disturbance during construction. This tree provides food and cover for wildlife, including the now endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Squirrels, quails, brown-headed nuthatches, and turkeys eat the seeds. (www. georgianencyclopedia. org) Today only 3 million acres across the South contain some longleaf forests, and of that only about 12,000 scattered acres retain an old-growth component with a biologically diverse understory. One study estimates that Georgia maintained more than 4 million acres of longleaf forest in 1936, while just 376,400 acres remained in 1997. The longleaf pine is

considered to be the dominant tree species in this ecosystem and is essential to its existence. It is in its understory where the diversity of this system exists and has therefore been threatened. “In fact, the longleaf pine, grassland forest may well be the most diverse North American ecosystem north of the tropics, containing rare plants and animals not found anywhere else. The understory throughout the longleaf range contains from 150 to 300 species of groundcover plants per acre, more breeding bird than any other southeastern forest type, about 60 percent of the amphibian and reptile species found in the Southeast,

and at least 122 endangered or threatened plant species. ” (www. georgianencyclopedia. org) Atlanta is a city rich in history and diversity, much of which was created and sustained by its ecology and plant life. It was the plant life that sustained the Creek Indians until their expulsion. Plants, such as the cornus florida were used medicinally among many others. In a time period when modern medicine was not available, it is likely that these medicinal plants played a critical role in everyday life. The role of cotton in the development and subsequent effects to Atlanta cannot be overstated.

As a primary crop, it afforded for the growth of the city but came with a cost to its environment and to its citizens. The cotton industry is largely responsible for the race relations and much of the civil unrest that occurred in Atlanta and the southern regions of the United States. Competition that took place for resources resulted in the destruction of forest lands and the establishment of a class society. Cotton also took its toil on the very soil in which it was grown, depleting it of nutrients needed to grow further crops. Although it was important to the economy of the Atlanta area, the result of forced growth and

competition was not a successful venue for Atlanta. The Longleaf Pine was only one of a large variety of pine trees that grow in the Atlanta area. The Longleaf Pine provided high-quality lumber for building materials; raw materials for the naval stores industry, and forage for livestock. As with other resources in the Atlanta area, the overuse of forest lands, and the competition for resources depleted the forest and led to a decline in the population of the Longleaf pine. The creation of a large-scale timber industry furthered the decline of the forest area. Atlanta, rich in

resources, is a good example of poor management of the land by it inhabitants. Resources that were once plentiful were depleted in order to build industry and create profits. Works Cited Livingston, Burton E. , and Forrest Shreve. The Distribution of Vegetation in the United States: As Related to Climatic Conditions. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1921. Questia. 26 Jan. 2007 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=9416357>. New Georgia Encyclopedia. The Longleaf Pine Ecosystem. www. georgianencyclopedia. com 26 Jan. 2007 < http://www. georgiaencyclopedia. org/nge/Article.

jsp? id=h-2200&hl=y> Parkins, A. E. The South: Its Economic-Geographic Development. New York: Wiley, 1938. Questia. 26 Jan. 2007 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=12088884>. Swanton, John R. Creek Religion and Medicine. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. Questia. 26 Jan. 2007 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=85724942>. Tang, Anthony M. Economic Development in the Southern Piedmont, 1860-1950: Its Impact on Agriculture. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1958. Questia. 26 Jan. 2007 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=3520587>.

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