Wildlife gardeners are, by their very nature, indefatigable optimists.
We have great hope that, by planting native plants in the right places, we will attract a diverse array of wildlife to our gardens. And, in truth, it is a safe bet that this hope will be borne out.
Sadly, though,our optimism is sometimes tested.
Most advocates for native plants know the horror stories of alien invaders all too well. The litany includes chestnut blight, dutch elm disease, hemlock wooly adelgid, emerald ash borer, viburnum leaf beetle, and more.
The damage from these invasive pests has been, or is expected to be, extensive to our American chestnut, American elm, Eastern hemlock, green ash, and native viburnums. So extensive that it may be tempting tempting to give up hope that we can protect these “lost cause” species and circle the wagons around other native plants not (yet) under such devastating attack.
Not so quick . . . .
I’ve written before about attempts to preserve some of these species through the introduction of disease-resistant native plant cultivars, but today I’m not writing about those. Those manifest our innate hope that humans can fix the problems that humans have created.
No, today I’m writing about the need to plant trees we know are doomed to die young.
We are used to thinking that trees have a natural lifespan of decades or centuries, and this is true. But native trees begin having a beneficial impact on their environment almost from the moment they are seedlings.
Our majestic American chestnut trees are a food source for over 120 species of butterfly and moth larvae, and for the most part it does not matter in the least to these larvae whether the trees they are feasting on will die in two years or two hundred years.
What matters is that the leaves of the American chestnut are available when butterfly or moth is laying eggs, and whether they are there when those eggs hatch.
If we throw in the towel and stop planting these endangered trees in our landscapes, we are making the problem worse for the wildlife that depend on those specific endangered trees.
Many of us know friends or family members who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness at an age far too young, but only the most callous among us would use that diagnosis as an excuse to stop loving or taking care of them.
Trees aren’t people, but I do think we owe it to our world to minimize the damage we are doing.
While the people who read this blog are not the ones who imported chestnut blight or dutch elm disease or the hemlock wooly adelgid, we CAN keep fighting to make sure these native plants exist in sufficient numbers in our landscapes.
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