Yes, Professor Cregg, that is EXACTLY the point. The world as we know it WILL come to an end!
This summer a turbulent conflagration arose, neatly summed up here, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” in which the value of native plants was denigrated. Deprecated. And diminished. I herein wish to object heartily and explain why. Here follow some facts, but never fear, we will try to have fun with them.
Watch out, a fact is coming: A native plant has co-evolved in a particular place with the other plants and animals that are its neighbors. Over thousands of years these plants and animals have developed highly complex relationships with each other. They have come to depend on each other in special ways.
Not every bee or other pollinator can pollinate every plant. Many flowers developed a shape that is just right for a specific pollinator, or for just a few pollinators. That way it didn’t waste pollen on visitors that would take the life-giving substance to a plant that couldn’t use it. The yucca plant can be pollinated only by a yucca moth, and the list goes on…and on…and on!
Butterflies can obtain nectar from a wide variety of plants, but when it comes time to lay their eggs, the caterpillars that hatch out can eat only one , or at most a couple, kinds of plant leaves. Think of the Monarch butterfly – there is currently a nation-wide effort to promote use of the milkweed their caterpillars must have.
While adult birds eat seeds, when it comes time to reproduce, the majority of birds need insect protein and fat for the energy necessary to make eggs, and most nestlings require soft, high-protein insect dinners. Caterpillars are a mainstay of this kind of bird food. Remember how many different kinds of plant a caterpillar can eat? Your yard can help.
This interdependence is widespread and fascinating to learn about. The overall health of any ecosystem is put at risk when interdependent elements are removed. As pieces of the food web are taken away, species become extinct, it’s that simple. And yes, nature does evolve and adapt, but not fast enough to save the numbers of living things going down the tubes as we speak.
Plants and animals have had to make incredible adaptations in order to live in places that are super hot, super dry, shady, windy, water-logged, woebegone and wonderful. This is what biodiversity is all about. So do we want to lose those living things? No, of course not. Tallamy has compared ecosystem breakdown to a Jenga tower. Remember those wooden blocks, all the same size and shape – you built a tower and then each player removed a block. The player who removed the last block, causing the tower to fall, lost the game. Uh huh.
Biodiversity should be sustained because:
◊ New chemical assets yet undiscovered
◊ Moral and aesthetic values in preserving the earth (as we know it!)
◊ Our continued existence depends on a functioning ecosystem
If you would like to read an eloquent essay on the moral/aesthetic values for native plants, Thomas Rainer has a recent post that is replete with thought-provoking ideas on the subject as well as helpful design advice. Designing With Native Plants.
But I digress. Going back to the full quote from Professor Cregg:
“OK, here’s where I get confused. The reasoning in Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, is that native insects don’t feed on exotic plants, therefore if we plant exotics, native food pyramids will collapse and it will be the end of life as we know it.”
Yes, quite. If we remove the native plants the insects depend on, we pull major portions of the Jenga tower out from underneath. Native plants ARE the anchors of the food web. So we will have to make some choices. OK. Fine. Will you chose this one? →
Or this one? ↓
Would you like this bird?
OR this one?
You can have half of the flowers in this meadow.
OK. You see where this going, right? The world as we know it can and will change. But as we move into the future of our planet, the ark we call earth, which living things will you allow to come with us?
Have you been waiting for good news? Here it is: A beautiful wildlife garden planted by you in your suburban yard, patio, balcony, or community park, will be a place that brings you joy AND lets you contribute to a sustainable planet. Even though in the United States we have used or modified for our own use, between 95 and 97% of the land, it IS possible for many, not all, but many, of the species of living things we have now to co-exist with us. (Tallamy) We will have to be mindful. But the amount of land currently used by us for living in is significant enough in size to help preserve and conserve the native plants and animals we love. Using native plants in your landscapes, wherever they are, even if they are tiny, will help. The presence of native plants will give food and shelter to creatures who need it, and also help connect and make corridors between our natural areas, which are cut off from one another.
So start now. Then we won’t have to choose!
∞∞∞ all photos by author
© 2012, Suzanne Dingwell. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us