Landscaping with native plants will enhance the Island Inn Commons area. Photo: C. Leinbach

Watching the restoration by the Ocracoke Preservation Society of the former Ocracoke Island Inn building and the landscaping of the grounds, which is now known as the Commons, has been uplifting.

The later additions to the original building, which were damaged by termites and beyond repair, have been removed.

The historic building built in 1901 has been raised and although much needs to be done, progress is being made. Beautiful red cedar shingles will soon cover the roof.

In addition to saving the building and eventually putting it to good community use, we are also witnessing the emergence of a designed landscaped area now referred to as the Commons.

Although, like the building, there is much more to do, already one can admire the appearance and layout of the flower gardens and benches.

Spearheaded by Debbie Wells and Kathy Koss, a landscape designer in Pittsboro, and some enthusiastic volunteers assisting with the planting, mulching and weed removal, this carefully thought-out landscape plan includes plants native to Ocracoke.

The Commons already has a variety of island fig trees (albeit they are non-native) from Chester Lynn’s nursery and planted by Ocracoke students.

“Joe Bell” flowers, the local name for the brightly colored, daisy-like perennial Gaillardia, were already on the property and transplanted to the garden area.

By fall, two varieties of eastern cedars, native azalea, yaupon and blueberry bushes from Hyde County and a small bay tree will be planted.

Native plants are those that occur naturally in a region in which they evolved and grow in harmony with the environment.

Here it is our sandy soil, the water levels and variable weather that includes 100-mph winds, flooding and droughts. These plants also require less watering, if any, and do not require fertilizers.

To understand the importance of native plants, consider reading “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Douglas W. Tallamy, an entomology professor at the University of Delaware.
Bugs and insects are good, he writes, and vital in the food chain to maintain healthy ecosystems. They do not cotton to exotic plants; they avoid them.

Without bugs there can be no birds, anoles and other creatures. He provides a scientific basis for replacing exotic ornamentals with home-grown perennials, ground covers, shrubs and trees. They provide nectar, pollen and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other creatures.

Ocracoke village is noted for its large population of Yellow-rumped Warblers that show up in the fall and return north in March to nest. They are here because of the substantial number of wax myrtle bushes with their bright-colored berries, their favorite food source.

Those of us who live on Ocracoke take joy in seeing in our yards green anoles, butterflies and mockingbirds. They need native plants to thrive.

There are a variety of diverse plants, trees and shrubs for an Ocracoke property: eastern white cedars, live oaks, wax myrtles, yaupon, red and swamp bay or bayberry and loblolly pines, dogwood, thistles, violets, and hollyhocks to name just a few. Many of these are available at Ocracoke’s Garden Center or can be ordered.

To go native, it is not necessary to remove all of your lawn, and some exotic plants may fit in aesthetically. But, when possible, start with native plants that can add to the beauty of the yard.

Besides, Ocracoke village could use a green tune up.

Hurricane Dorian in 2019 devastated the landscape, and according to one source, 9,000 truckloads of debris totaling over 6,650 tons were removed from the island. Much of this was toppled village trees and large bushes.
Those who were on the island post-Dorian will recall the small mountain of debris temporarily placed at the parking lot of Lifeguard Beach, causing wags to quip that it was the highest peak in Hyde County.

We as individuals may feel helpless watching in horror the deforestation of the Amazon and the warnings about how this is contributing to global warming, and this summer’s record-setting temperatures.

In the last two centuries, this country has lost massive amounts of forests, meadows and wetlands leaving wildlife clinging to fragmented habitats and endangered ecologies.

Tallamy notes that there are about 130 million residential yards. As small as it may seem, if enough individuals landscape their property to match the native environment, it will improve biodiversity.

Envision your property, he writes in his latest book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard,” as “one small piece of a giant puzzle, which, when assembled, has the potential to form a beautiful eco- logical picture.”

He calls it the Homegrown National Park.

Sea Oats (Unicola paniculata), a native plant of the dunes on Ocracoke. Island. Photo: P. Vankevich
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  1. The original structure of the Island Inn which is under renovation (originally the Oddfellows Lodge) was built in 1901, not 1903.

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