Imagine if private property owners across North America landscaped their yards with plants found in their area. What wonderful habitats would be available to native animals!
This last summer, the Electric Power Research Institute presented a series of daily, online talks relating to pollinators and plants, titled ‘The Pollinator Party.’ One of the talks, presented by Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware, was on using native plants in landscaping to support insects by providing plant forage and pollen for their food and cover. A thriving insect population adds to the food chain by becoming the food source many songbirds require.
According to Tallamy, there are 101 million acres of suburban yards and 50 million acres of rural residential properties in the United States. If those properties were planted with native plants, bird and insect species would benefit. In the arid Southwest, planting with native plants also results in using less water to landscape a property.
Many plants have developed chemicals to repel foraging insects. Native insects have countered this and have evolved to eat plants endemic to their habitat. When plants from other locations have different repulsive chemicals, the native insects might starve as their diet depends on native plants. In order to have those beautiful butterflies, there first must be suitable plants for the caterpillars to eat. If a property owner can put up with some caterpillar damage to leaves and refrain from using insecticides, people’s yards can support a complete food web.
People are also reading…
Endemic pollinators have evolved with native flowering species and this relationship is often beneficial to both. Pollinators are necessary for spreading pollen from plant to plant: they feed on a flower’s nectar then fly from one flower to another. Some pollinators are very specific to certain species of plants.
And some horticultural plants, especially those bred to have large, showy flowers, do not provide the nectar that pollinators need to survive. Manicured lawns provide little if any food benefit to insects or birds. A monoculture of Kentucky bluegrass is functionally a desert to many nectar-feeding insects. Without pollinators, we would not only lose the plants we love to look at while hiking through our many trails in the forest, but many of our crop plants that require pollination via insects would vanish too.
Many songbirds depend on insects for some, if not all, of their nutritional needs. Tallamy mentioned birds need carotenoids in their diet. I never thought of birds requiring vitamins, but caterpillars are one of the best sources of carotenoids. Caterpillars are also a superior food for hatchlings because they are soft-bodied and easier to digest.
Landscaping with local plants gives songbirds and pollinators a large area necessary to survive. Most need places to overwinter if they do not migrate. Backyards with naturalized areas can provide shelter during the winter. Migrating species need places to rest and eat during their journey. Landscapes with native plants, flowers, insects, and sheltering trees or shrubs will aid these travelers as they fly.
If the landowner grows plants suited to the microclimates in their yard, water can be saved. Money is also saved as chemical fertilizers and other inputs will not be needed. The homeowner will also be able to sit out in the yard and use the time watching nature rather than tending the yard since landscaping with …….