Birding Today: Add native plants to our ecosystems

We have discussed ecoregions or ecosystems defined by their own distinctive geography. There are animals that inhabit these areas, which do well to survive there. During spring and fall, migratory animals and insects are added to this mix because they want familiar food while they are in transit to their spring or winter homes.

Native trees and plants effectively live here without additional requirements for food and water. They are in a balance where located and create the same conditions for ecosystems that are in contiguous regions. These native varieties self-proliferate under the proper conditions. If a segment of that balance is missing for their survival, they will not thrive, and weeds grow in the dead space.

Introduced, adapted, improved, or indigenized flowers, plants, grasses, and trees don’t serve a beneficial purpose in the ecological food web. These alien plants (from other countries) are pretty but they don’t belong here other than to provide a cash flow to those selling them.

Insects are selective about their host plants, like the monarch butterfly, which has lost most of its population. When monarch eggs hatch on native milkweed, they are on the only food source that they can consume to survive and grow. Introduced non-native plants usually spread rapidly because they can, making them noxious or invasive and they are likely to harm economic, human, and environmental health. A perfect example of this definition is kudzu, which is native to Asia. It was introduced as a novel garden plant in the 1930s, and though it proliferates and chokes out native species, it isn’t as much a part of the South, as is johnsongrass and bermudagrass. All of these incur costs to native wildlife and pollution from water runoff.

However, if we wish to retain the biodiversity that we are losing rapidly, it is more important to retain warm season native grasses, wildflowers, and trees. If native plants and trees are put back on the land that isn’t used for agriculture, their long-term impacts will become a positive force for change, especially with the rapid loss of our grassland birds that can’t find nearby insect protein for their young.

Balance is urgently needed to protect and save our trees, rivers, and creeks, and to continue propagating native amphibians, fish, beneficial insects, birds, and mammals.

If we add native plants back to our ecosystems we have less weeds and our landscape shows neighbors the added benefits of helpful insects with no need for herbicides. Don’t allow unwanted plants to go to seed. Organic control means killing the root system of these plants. Disturbing the ground’s surface will bring up weed seeds, yet new native plantings will eventually populate the top soil layers with their seeds. The more natives in the environment attract more birds, as they have more insects to consume.

Organic pesticide recipes can be found here:

Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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