Searing heat waves, recurring downpours, and the news that insect and bird populations are declining precipitously all indicate that the climate crisis has already crossed our doorstep. While our government works out local, national, and global solutions, there are many proactive things we can do in our own yards.
Growing native plants and trees is a relatively simple act that could have a significant positive impact on our environment. Many people don’t realize that 90% of the insects that live in our neighborhoods can only digest the plants that they have co-evolved with for thousands of years, as documented by University of Delaware entomologist Douglas Tallamy. The birds that we love to see in our communities eat insects and raise their young almost exclusively on insects.
The simple fact is that insects are a vital part of the local food web. No insects – no baby birds. Other wildlife would be affected as well: insects are a significant protein source for frogs, snakes, chipmunks, fox, even bears.
Growing native trees and plants is important because they are environmental powerhouses in our yards. An oak tree, for example, is a host for more than 500 species of butterflies and moths. The non-native Crape Myrtle supports only 10 butterflies or moths. Baltimore, it’s obvious there is a problem when crape myrtles or nonnative nandina shrubs are ubiquitous in block after block of the city and suburban landscape.
This summer, Green Towson Alliance sponsored a Native Garden Contest. We were amazed not only by the beautiful native gardens that people are growing, but by the commitment shown by gardeners to supporting our ecosystem by growing native plants. And they’re not alone in wanting to support the ecosystem. Nearly 450 people participated in an online vote to choose the winners of the contest. That’s a lot of votes – and it indicates that people are hungry to learn about growing native plants and supporting our ecosystem.
The next step is for the local garden centers and landscape services to step up and do their part. Finding native plants and trees are not easy right now. It’s time for local businesses to offer native plants and trees, and it’s time for all of us to plant some natives in our yards.