04 June 2008

Planting Native Plants Now Helps Sustain Nature Long-term

One native plant can make a huge difference in the future of butterflies, birds and humans.
Photo Monarch larva are on milkweed in the yard during their migration through Oklahoma to Mexico last fall.
Whether you grow a potted plant or a farm, everyone can help stop the extinction of American insects, birds and animals by planting one native plant each year.
Tulsa Audubon Society annual tour is this weekend with six home gardens that are wildlife habitats. One vendor will be selling plants, birdhouses and other nature items at each location.
Mary Ann King, owner of Pine Ridge Gardens (www.pineridgegardens.com) and Marilyn Stewart of Wild Things Nursery (www.wildthingsnursery.com) provided information about some of the plants they will have available for your garden.
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis — toothache tree/prickly ash /Hercules' Club is a host plant for Giant Swallowtail butterfly and songbirds eat the fruit. Native of all the states in the southeast US. Aromatic, small tree with flowers and fruit. Sun to part shade.
Callicarpa Americana — purple beautyberry can grow in full sun or part shade, moist and dry settings. In late fall, vivid purple fruits appear that become bird food. Can be used as an under-story shrub in a wooded setting; grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.
Milkweed (Asclepias) curassavica is the preferred host plant for Monarch butterflies in the spring, summer and well into the fall. There are dozens of milkweeds in varying sizes and flower colors. Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on the leaves on their way to Mexico in the fall. King said they can be dug up and over-wintered indoors.
Chionanthus virginicus — fringe tree/grancy graybeard is a small flowering tree with wonderful fragrance from its springtime flowers. Sun to part shade with drought tolerance after established. Fruit attracts birds. Easy to grow and adapted to polluted settings. No serious disease or insect problems.
Cephalanthus occidentalis — buttonbush has showy fragrant flowers. Hummingbirds use this to scoop up tiny insects to feed their young. Grows 5 to 8 feet tall in moist shade.
Aristolochia tomentosa or Dutchman's pipe vine is a host plant for Pipevine swallowtail butterfly. This woody, deciduous vine can grow 20-feet long.
Sassafras albidum is a native, shrubby, tree that grows in full sun to part shade. The leaves are variable, can be mitten shaped and have remarkable fall color. Attracts a variety of birds and is a favorite among birdwatchers.
Songbirds, Bobwhites, wild turkeys, eat the fruits of the female tree.Southern Dogface butterfly larva eat legumes, among them are: Amorpha Canescens (leadplant); Amorpha fruiticosa (false indigo) shrub or small tree; and Amorpha nana. "They attract the cutest caterpillar that looks like a Disney character with its maroon head and neon-orange eye spots," Stewart said.
Both Stewart and King emphasize that grasses are also underused since they add beauty to the landscape and provide food for butterfly caterpillars to munch on.
Grasses: Indian, Blue Grama, Northern Dropseed, Trident, June Grass, Little Bluestem, Prairie Brome, Side Oats Grama and others.
Stewart said that the Northern Dropseed, June Grass and Prairie are gorgeous.
Other vendors at the tour and plant sale include Clear Creek Farm and Gardens, Missouri Wildflowers Nursery and Bird Houses by Mark Roberts.
Any remaining doubt in your mind about the importance of adding native plants to our gardens and parks will be erased quickly by Doug Tallamy's 2007 book "Bringing Nature Home".
The Tallamy family built a home on 10 acres of hayfield and began clearing out the non-native plants to replace them with habitat plants. He paints the non-native plants with herbicide rather than spraying. His method eradicates invaders without harming any native seedlings below.
The invasive plants that provide no food for American insects and animals include: Japanese honeysuckle, autumn olive, multiflora roses, butterfly bush, privet and lilacs (China), Siberian elm, bachelor button, lantana, mulberry etc.
Tallamy says they are pretty but may as well be plastic as far as their habitat support is concerned. Adult insects can use the nectar but cannot raise families on these plants because their stomachs are not adapted to digesting their leaves. The plants that are native to their land such as dogwood, cherry, oak, arrowwood Viburnum, goldenrod, Joe-pye weed, black-eyed Susan can thrive when the imported and exotic plants are cut back. Without those native plants, American birds cannot feed their young. Tallamy says that the more appealing garden hybrids of American native plants serve nature just as well as their parents.
Tallamy does not recommend that homeowners remove their prized plants from China, Japan, Europe and South America. He urges us use our gardens to create "a grassroots solution to the extinction crisis.
"If every gardener planted one native plant each year, we could collectively stop the starving and extinction of native insects and birds due to the loss of habitat and food to raise their young."
As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered — and the ecological stakes have never been so high," Tallamy says.
"Bringing Nature Home" by Doug Tallamy, published 2007 by Timber Press, $27.95.

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