Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Go native

(In looking back at blog archives today, I came across this post, first published on March 6, 2008 and decided to share it with you again.)

One of the more hopeful trends in gardening in recent years has been the greater usage of native plants in our gardens. Native plants are a key element in maintaining biodiversity in the great web of life on our planet.

These plants are the ones that native animals and insects have evolved with over thousands of years. They are the plants that these creatures have learned to utilize for food or shelter.

When non-native plants invade an area, usually escaping from our gardens, the native creatures are often unable to feed upon them. In extreme situations, this can even lead to starvation of individuals and could potentially contribute to the extinction of a species. Thus, the importance of native plants in a healthy ecosystem can scarcely be overemphasized.

The interest in using native plants has created a reading audience eager for books and articles on the subject. One such book that came to my attention today through an article in The New York Times is Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy. It was published November 2007.

Mr. Tallamy is chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. Seven years ago, he and his wife bought 10 acres of land that was formerly part of a hay farm in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and set about recreating a native ecosystem. In order to do that, they first had to remove the invasive species of plants that were established on their land. They are still working on that.

Mr. Tallamy points out that almost all native songbirds feed their young on insects, and insects, for the most part, feed on plants. Native plants. Many insects are specialists and must have one particular kind of plant in order to survive.

So, to feed the birds, we must first feed the insects. And to feed the insects, we must give them plants that they like and know how to use. Native plants.

As the Times article about the Tallamy's project stated:
"So the message is loud and clear: gardeners could slow the rate of extinction by planting natives in their yards. In the northeast, a patch of violets will feed fritillary caterpillars. A patch of phlox could support eight species of butterflies. The buttonbush shrub, which has little white flowers, feeds 18 species of butterflies and moths; and blueberry bushes, which support 288 species of moths and butterflies, thrive in big pots on a terrace. (Appropriate species for other regions are listed by local native plant societies.)"

As you think about adding plants to your garden this spring, give some consideration to the beautiful vegetation that evolved here and learned to survive our quirky climate. It will require less coddling from you in order to survive and thrive and, best of all, you will be supporting your local wildlife. The chickadees and butterflies will thank you!

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