Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Its Alive

Butterfly Weed sprout
You'll remember the earlier post where I admitted my own foot had wiped out one of the newly planted Butterfly Weed.  That was a sad event because that little plant was in the first piece of landscape we changed from non-native to Native.  Well...hallelujah!  A little sprout has emerged from the mulch. 

The more I learn about Native Plants, the more I realize how vital they are to our existence.  I'm reading Douglas Tallamy's book "Bringing Nature Home". The first part of this book is discouraging if not downright depressing; but it's an important book.  I believe it is as important as Rachel Carson's classic "Silent Spring", which was instrumental in removing the chemical DDT from widespread use.  From this book, I've found our natives are not only easier to grow, lower maintenance, and better on the environment than our traditional, imported or hybridized ornamentals,  but they are vital to our existence.  Tallamy points out that plants are the beginning of the food chain.  We all like our gardens to be pretty, without holes chewed in the leaves by insects.  But apparently these plants are meant to be partially eaten, most likely by insects.  Then something else eats the plant eater.  A lot of birds, including the beloved hummingbirds, both eat and feed these insects to their young.  Non-native plants aren't eaten by insects.  That's largely why we bought and populated our yards with these exotic ornamentals.  They are often pest free.  That's one of the reasons foreign invasive plants are so successful at spreading rapidly.   They don't have any natural enemies.  So, in essence, we've taken away the food source for our wildlife.  Take away the food, the creatures dependant on that food, disappear.  No wonder we don't see as many birds, butterflies, and lightning bugs as we used to.   Example:  Butterflies.  In the past we often planted the Butterfly bush to attract butterflies.  And it does bring them in.  However, if we want to increase the number of butterflies, we have to provide not only the nectar that the adult butterflies crave, we have to provide a suitable place for them to lay their eggs, and food for their young (caterpillars) to eat.  The imported Butterfly bush certainly produces nectar but doesn't perform these last two vital functions.  Tallamy says to get a showy AND productive butterfly garden that provides all three of the necessary elements, we should plant a variety of milkweeds.  Tallamy goes on to say:  "When planted together, milkweed species such as butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), common milkweed (A. syriaca,) and swamp milkweed (A., incarnata) create a continuous display of wonderful pink or orange flowers that are highly attractive to several species  of butterflies from June into September.  Moreover, along with the floral show, you get brand new butterflies."  Remember that milkweeds are the only plants that the Monarch caterpillar lives on.  No milkweed, no new Monarchs.   It's hard for me to accept that we want and need bugs in our gardens eating part of our plants.  We'll have to talk about this a lot more in coming weeks and months.

Virginia Mountain Mint
Here's another bloom from the first converted native bed.  This Virginia Mountain Mint has opened up, producing a beautiful, aromatic bloom. This plant also attracts butterflies. There are five of these plants, right next to the 7 Butterfly Weed.  So, the combination of these plants provide all the requirements to produce future butterflies. 

1 comment:

Lori said...

I agree Bringing Nature Home is a dry, but excellent book. I love how you compared it to Silent Spring and I couldn't agree more. The question is how to get the word out so people will read the book. I applaud you for taking the time to mention it in your blog.

You also did a fantastic job of explaining the relationship between native plants and the food chain.

I look forward to reading more posts!