Keep­ing the gar­den na­tive

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECO WATCH - By KATHY VAN MULLEKOM

ECOL­OGY is on many gar­den­ers’ minds these days. Gar­den­ers who value the science of re­la­tion­ships be­tween liv­ing things and their en­vi­ron­ments in­creas­ingly want to know more about those con­nec­tions – how toxic chem­i­cals worsen a yard’s over­all health and why bees, birds and but­ter­flies are cru­cial to our daily lives, for ex­am­ple.

“We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to sup­port the land that we de­pend on for our own sur­vival, and that re­spon­si­bil­ity in­cludes thought­ful choices about how we land­scape our own tiny spot of Earth,” says Carol Heiser, habi­tat ed­u­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor with the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Game and In­land Fish­eries. She en­cour­ages pub­lic, pri­vate and cor­po­rate landown­ers to pro­vide habi­tat for song­birds, mam­mals, am­phib­ians and other na­tive wildlife.

“In­sects and plants co-evolved for mil­len­nia and have de­vel­oped in­tri­cate in­ter-re­la­tion­ships. Un­for­tu­nately, over the past 300-plus years, we’ve re­placed a sub­stan­tial por­tion of the nat­u­ral land­scape with non-na­tive plant species from other con­ti­nents and the re­sult has been an al­ter­ing of the food web,” she says.

“This, in turn, has had the effect of de­press­ing in­sect pop­u­la­tions that de­pend on spe­cific ecosys­tem pat­terns, along with an as­so­ci­ated de­cline in bird pop­u­la­tions which rely on in­sects to feed their young. Al­though land clear­ing and de­vel­op­ment are cer­tainly con­tribut­ing fac­tors to the loss of habi­tat, the in­tro­duc­tion of non-na­tive species has had an in­sid­i­ous but far-reach­ing, dele­te­ri­ous out­come.”

Habi­tat gar­den­ing, which is more ac­cu­rately called con­ser­va­tion land­scap­ing, around homes is one way of “putting back”, or mak­ing an at­tempt to mimic the orig­i­nal na­tive plant com­mu­nity, she con­tin­ues. This means re­mov­ing ex­otic in­va­sive plant species and re­plac­ing them with na­tive species.

To ac­quaint your­self with habi­tat gar- den­ing, Heis­ers sug­gests you first go on­line to look at pho­tos of in­va­sive ex­otic plants and learn to iden­tify them. Then, take a clip­board and walk your yard, list­ing any in­va­sive plants.

“When that list is done, make an­other col- umn of all the other non-na­tives that aren’t in­va­sive but ex­otic just the same. You’ll prob­a­bly be sur­prised that most of your favourite ‘or­na­men­tals’ are non-na­tive,” she says.

“They’re called ‘or­na­men­tal’ be­cause they’re just that: dec­o­ra­tions without any bi­o­log­i­cal pur­pose.”

Next, go back on­line to find out what na­tive species are best for your grow­ing needs, she ad­vises. Se­lect one non-na­tive plant species in your yard, re­move it and re­place it with a na­tive species.

“Af­ter you’ve in­stalled the na­tive species, pay close at­ten­tion through­out the grow­ing sea­son to what in­sects you’ve never seen be­fore that are now vis­it­ing these new plants,” she says.

“This should give you a huge sense of pride that you have done a good thing, be­cause you’ve just added more in­sects for young birds to get their pro­tein. Con­grat­u­la­tions, you are now a ‘grand­par­ent’.”

Fi­nally, re­peat the re­mov­ing and plant­ing process ev­ery year for the next sev­eral years — un­til your yard has been con­verted into a na­tive plant land­scape.

“Keep a jour­nal of the in­sect species that visit your yard, which will rep­re­sent an in­crease in bio­di­ver­sity and ev­i­dence of your suc­cess,” she says.

“You can ex­pect a re­newed sense of per­sonal con­nec­tion to na­ture, know­ing that you’ve taken part in ... even if only a very small way ... a change in our land­scape ‘cul­ture’.”

More in­for­ma­tion on con­ser­va­tion land­scap­ing is avail­able at: www.nwf.org, www. na­tive­plant­cen­ter.net, www.abfnet.org, www. bring­ing­na­ture­home.net. www.dgif.vir­ginia. gov/habi­tat. — Daily Press/McClatchy Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Gar­dens filled with na­tive plants will pro­mote a healthy land­scape. Com­mon milk­weed, for in­stance, is an im­por­tant pol­li­na­tor that ben­e­fits but­ter­flies such as frit­il­lary and tiger swal­low­tails.

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