Monday, November 24, 2008

A Message For Us All

This past weekend I went to the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) conference at the Garrison near beautiful Ft. Benjamin Harrison Park.

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was one of the keynote speakers. His message was potent and timely. He discussed how native plants play a key role in the environment.

Many of us have grown up with the belief that great expansive manicured lawns are attractive. Throw into the mix a few exotic trees and shrubs that are insect resistant, because, heaven's no, you can't have unsightly holes bespeckling the leaves. Make sure you spray the lawn often with chemicals to ensure there aren't any "weeds". Wallah, you have a classic American yard. Unfortunately, this is NOT what we really want. When we rid our yards of native plants (plants that occur naturally in an area) and insects, we are removing valuable food sources or links in the food chain for most living things. Many animals rely on insects for food. Bats, birds, raccoons, opossums, moles, shrews, most rodents, spiders, salamanders, frogs, snakes, turtles, toads, skinks, etc... rely on insects for a great source of protein and fat. Caterpillars, pound for pound, are higher in protein, iron, thiamine and riboflavin than beef. By removing the food source, we are also discouraging the wildlife to visit our yards, as well. Would you live in a place if there was no way to find food nearby?

Photo by John Howard

Can't insect just eat whatever plant is available? Research says no. Insects need native plants to survive. They have forged a relationship with specific plants over thousands of years. Their bodies have adapted the ability to digest native plants. They do not possess enzymes to digest foreign plants. They cannot break down the chemicals that those plants produce to ward off predators. Only plants that insects have a long standing relationship with are the ones they can and will eat. Some of the exotic plants from Asia and elsewhere have no natural enemies here.

Because we, as a group, remove native plants whenever a shopping mall, housing addition, or business park is built, we need to start thinking of ways to replace the insects' food. What we can do is plant a variety of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in our own landscapes to help lessen the blow. It is not a perfect solution, but it will help. And when we restore the plants, the insects will come back, bringing the birds back, etc... We need to realize that not only do native plants play an important role in most animals' lives, native plants ensure our existence as well.
Over the weekend I visted a wonderful place called Goose Pond in southern Indiana. It is a wetland restoration, or a native planting on a large scale. Each year, more new and exciting species return to this area. King Rails have nested there. Barn Owls have been seen there. Whooping Cranes, Ibis, and Snowy Egrets have visited there. The list goes on. In my next post we will discuss this amazing place located only 2 hours from Indianapolis.

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