My Passion: Sustaining Wildlife One Bug at a Time
What do the following three things have in common?
Please, don’t answer aloud all at one time. Let’s not ruin the surprise for those who might not know.
Besides, if all of you already know the answer, I may as well stop right now and go home, because one of my goals tonight is to teach at least one of you something you didn’t already know.
Ok, anyone, what do those three things have in common? If you identified them as plants, you get partial credit. They are, indeed, plants. In plain English, they are white oak tree, winterberry holly, and strawberry bush. If you identified them as plants native to Arkansas, then you would be correct.
Which also makes you as qualified as I am to give this presentation.
But, I have dibs on the next six minutes to share with you my passion about gardening with native plants…. even if I am not a bonafide expert yet.
My passion is making my own corner of the world a sanctuary for wildlife.
When I started gardening, it was mostly because, after having to be nice to people all day long, I had this overwhelming compulsion to kill somebody, anybody.
So, instead, I found that, when I got home from work, what really helped me was to deadhead flowers, weed, or prune bushes.
As my passion for plants grew, I came to learn that, through gardening, I could, conceivably, make a real difference, not just in me, but also in the environment around me by providing essential food, protection, and water to birds, bees, butterflies, and other critters.
The more I learned about the interconnectedness of all the species and science behind it, the more adamant I became.
The concepts discussed in this book (hold up copy of the book), Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy, have had a powerful impact on me, much like Richard Dawkins did with The God Delusion (hold up copy of the book).
Time does not permit me to fully develop Tallamy’s concepts tonight, but we might think of it like this:
The sun shines
Plants consume the sun
Insects consume the plants
Birds and other critters consume insects and use plant byproducts like seeds nuts, and cover.
Humans consume or otherwise enjoy the birds and critters
Sun Plants Insects Critters Humans
The problem is that we humans remove the native plants when we settle an area. We dig out and throw away the diverse flora that our native wildlife depend on and replace it with exotic aliens and biologically monotonous lawns.
We replace our native plants, like chokeberry and sedges with non-native or alien species, like crepe myrtle and Bermuda grass, which evolved on a different continent.
Over millions of years, insects evolved to make use of plants with certain characteristics, be it color, taste, consistency or whatever.
If the native insects are unable to chew or digest a non-native plant and yet no longer have access to the flora on which they evolved, they don’t thrive.
Research has shown that more than three times as many insect species were associated with native plants than non-native plants.
That is a huge difference in the degree to which native plants support the populations of native insects as compared to non-native plants.
And while you might think that fewer insects is a good thing…I mean, we all hate mosquitoes and gnats, right? But, insects drive the engine of all the critters that feed upon them.
Tallamy’s book reports research that compared the quantities of butterfly larvae produced on native verses non-native plants that showed that the native plants supported 35 times more caterpillar biomass than non-native plants supported.
Fewer insects means less food for the birds and all the other creatures that depend on them. 96% of birds feed their young insects because they are loaded with protein and other nutrients that their babies need. No food for babies. No babies to grow up to be adults. You get the picture.
And it’s not as hard as you might think to build a better microcosm in your back yard!
I started small then worked my way up.
For example, I replaced my crepe myrtle with a really pretty and interesting rabbit-eye blueberry bush.
I replaced my Chinese wisteria with American wisteria, which is much better behaved and every bit as pretty.
I’m in the process of replacing my lawn with native grasses and sedges.
For every non-native plant species, there is a better, more suitable native species available.
Transition to Conclusion:
I don’t know about you, but I, personally, tend to feel inadequate when it comes to making a difference in the world. But I do believe that I can
make a difference in my little corner of the world by the choices I make in managing my garden.
And if enough of us make better choices, we can, together, make a collective difference.
So, I started out wanting to kill somebody.
Then I learned that gardening could help save human lives by maintaining my sanity.
Then I learned I could help the birds, bees, and other critters by making better choices in managing my garden.
And now I want to share what I have learned with other people.
I hope that I have met my goal tonight of teaching at least one of you something you didn’t already know.
And just maybe, the next time you stroll through the garden section of Home Depot you will take just a moment to consider something of what I talked about tonight.
I sincerely appreciate your attention and for allowing me to share with you my passion about saving wildlife one bug at time.