I’m sure you’ve noticed that there seems to be fewer and fewer bees, butterflies, birds and other critters visiting our gardens every year. Those with ponds have also noticed fewer dragonflies, toads and frogs. We certainly have plenty of beautiful flowers, shrubs, trees and perennials – but, sadly, few pollinators are noticing them. We may attract some birds if we set out feeding stations, which now seems to be the only way for us to arrange birdsong every morning.
Old timers (like me) can remember playing in gardens filled with buzzing honeybees – one had to be very careful going barefoot on lawns filled with flowering clover (watch out for the bees!). We also had fun with butterfly nets, and since there were so many butterflies around, they were quite easy to catch (and release!). We also used to fill up jars with lightning bugs every evening. Where have they all gone?
The problem is that we – humans – have overrun the planet. There are very few untouched forests and meadows left. We have built on, paved over, and fenced off everything. We then imported the more “beautiful” plants from all over the world, displacing what was there before — our native trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. We then ended up with our showy, beautiful gardens, but as a result, we lost the wildlife that depended upon the previous natives for food and shelter.
What? How could that be? We have trees, we have flowers, and they have just as much pollen as the native varieties….. So where are the bees and butterflies?
Every plant has its own particular mix of chemicals in leaf, stem, flower and root. Our native insects, including bees and butterflies, have adapted over many thousands of years to the chemical attractant mix within the native plants in their environment. Each insect has its preference for certain plants – as the best tasting food, or as the best place for their young to feed after hatching, etc. For example, the Monarch butterfly requires Milkweed for their egg cases, no other plant will do. No Milkweed, no more Monarchs. Certain insects only like to munch on the leaves of certain plants, those that provide the correct nutrition for that species. If those plants no longer exist, the insects either move on, or their species disappears altogether. So, what we have accomplished with the replacement of native flora with alien imports, is that we’ve removed the specific plants required for our native insects’ continued existence, creating the right conditions for their erasure from the environment. And in so doing, we are also removing many of our native bird species because their favorite food was….. you get the idea. Same thing goes for our pond life.
So, many of us have been recognizing that we have to return to what used to be, or eventually, the problems now faced by our insects and birds may start to climb all the way up the food chain to us, as well. Yes, we should also be curtailing our use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, but doesn’t it also make logical sense to provide our pollinators their necessary nutritional, living and breeding requirements in our own gardens?
This year we plan on greatly expanding our selection of native species, together with planting instructions and help with designing your own native garden. We will also be hosting lectures on this important topic. Spring is on the way! See you soon!