Thursday, June 26, 2014

Going Native in your Garden

By Mary Farrah

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata L.); Sally & Andy Wasowski. 
In the landscaping world, why are our native flora continually overlooked? And at what price?  The answer to that question requires a closer look at ecology on a local and even international scale. Our native flora provide breakfast, lunch and dinner, free room and board, and are the preferred tryst location of our native insects. 

Native insects!? Who cares about them? Not many of us I realize, as I gaze down the  overflowing aisles of colorfully-labeled insecticides made to annihilate every pest under the sun. 

So why is it a good thing to have native plants in our gardens that serve as bug motels? For several reasons, actually. Not only do native bees, moths, dragon flies, butterflies, flies and birds serve as pollinators, but they rely almost exclusively on our native flora for food. 

Our native insects provide the protein-rich diet that our native birds need to survive. Birds, with their charming songs and their enviable ability to fly, rely on having nice, fat and juicy larvae around to create hard eggshells, fatten up their brood, and sustain them for seasonal flights down to warmer climes. Also, our late-fruiting native plants typically produce lipid-rich berries, an important autumnal to winter food source for migrating and overwintering bird species.  

 Polyphemus Moth; Mary Farrah.
Aside from the food and habitat they provide, many of our native perennials are just as attractive as their exotic counterparts and are adapted for our climate, making them a low maintenance option. An increased number of garden centers are carrying native plant varieties. 

By replacing our native flora with exotic imports, we are making long term changes to the food web and our ecosystem, for better or worse. So, for the next addition to your garden, how about using native plants?

Watch Mary discuss invasive species on CAUSES TV.

Mary Farrah is the Urban Gardening and Forestry Outreach Extension Agent in the Center of Urban Agriculture. She also writes about native and invasive plants in the Forest Hills Connection, which provides native plant resources. Mary is also the author of Plant Invaders in the District of Columbia. A new edition will be available later this year.

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