Native Plants and Biodiversity

Not too late to order this book for Christmas!
A great book that helps us to understand the importance of bio-diversity within species. We may not always condsider the reason behind diversity and how it plays an essential role in our ecosystems.
Here’s a great article also by Doug Tallamy that makes the point:

Bringing Nature Home
Gardening for Life
Chances are, you have never thought of your garden — indeed, of all of the space on your property — as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.

If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that gardens are for beauty; they are a chance to express our artistic talents, to have fun with and relax in. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is taken by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status. But no one has taught us that we have forced the plants and animals that evolved in North America (our nation’s biodiversity) to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that biodiversity was happy somewhere out there “in nature;” in our local woodlot, or perhaps our state and national parks. We have heard nothing about the rate at which species are disappearing from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how vital biodiversity is for our own well-being.

We Have Taken It All
The population of the U.S., now over 300 million people, has doubled since most of us were kids and continues to grow by 8640 people per day. All of those additional souls, coupled with cheap gas, our love affair with the car, and our quest to own ever larger homes have fueled unprecedented development that continues to sprawl over 2 million additional acres per year (the size of Yellowstone National Park). The Chesapeake Bay watershed has lost 100 acres of forest each day since 1985. We have connected all of our developments with 4 million miles of roads, the paved surface is nearly five times the size of New Jersey. Somewhere along the way we decided to convert most of our living and working spaces into huge expanses of lawn. So far we have planted over 62,500 sq miles, some 40 million acres, in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey to within 1 inch and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done. And it’s not like those little woodlots and “open spaces” we have not paved over or manicured are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests that have been thoroughly invaded by alien plants like autumn olive, multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and Japanese honeysuckle. Over 3400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S, and that area is expected to double in the next 5 years.

To nature lovers these are horrifying statistics. I stress them so that we can clearly understand the challenge before us. We have turned 54% of the lower 48 states into cities and suburbs, and 41% more into various forms of agriculture. That’s right: we humans have taken 95% of nature and made in unnatural. But does this matter? Are there consequences to turning so much land into the park-like settings humans enjoy? Absolutely, both for biodiversity and for us. Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce and in too many places we have eliminated both. At least 40% of Delaware’s plant species are rare or extinct, and 41% of its forest birds no longer nest in the state. Over 800 plant and animal species are rare, threatened, or endangered in Pennsylvania and 150 have already disappeared entirely. Many of those that haven’t suffered local extinction are now too rare to perform their role in their ecosystem. These can be considered functionally extinct. The song birds that brighten spring mornings have been in decline since the 1960s, having lost 40% of their numbers so far. Birds that breed in meadows are in even more trouble. Once common species such as the northern bobwhite, eastern meadowlark, field sparrow, and grasshopper sparrow have declined 82%, 72%, 68%, and 65%, respectively, in total numbers, and are completely absent from many areas that used to support healthy populations.

Why We Need Biodiversity
For most of us, hearing such numbers triggers a passing sadness; but few people feel personally threatened by the loss of biodiversity. Here’s why you should. Biodiversity losses are a clear sign that our own life-support systems are failing. The ecosystems that support us – – that determine the carrying capacity of the earth and our local spaces – – are run by biodiversity. It is biodiversity that generates oxygen and clean water; that creates topsoil out of rock and buffers extreme weather events like droughts and floods; and that recycles the mountains of garbage we create every day. And now, with human induced climate change threatening the planet, it is biodiversity that will suck that carbon out of the air and sequester it in living plants if given half a chance. Humans cannot live as the only species on this planet because it is other species that create the ecosystem services essential to us. Every time we force a species to extinction we are encouraging our own demise. Despite the disdain with which we have treated it in the past, biodiversity is not optional.

Parks Are Not Enough
I am often asked why the habitats we have preserved within our park system are not enough to save most species from extinction. Years of research by evolutionary biologists have shown that the area required to sustain biodiversity is pretty much the same as the area required to generate it in the first place. The consequence of this simple relationship is profound. Since we have taken 95% of the U.S. from nature we can expect to lose 95% of the species that once lived here unless we learn how to share our living, working, and agricultural spaces with biodiversity. 95% of all plants and animals! Now there is a statistic that puts climate-change predictions of extinction to shame. And studies of habitat islands with known histories, such as Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal and Ashdown Forest in England, have so far shown these predictions to be accurate. Species are lost at the same proportion with which a habitat is reduced in size. The good news is that extinction takes awhile, so if we start sharing our landscapes with other living things, we should be able to save much of the biodiversity that still exists.

Redesigning Suburbia
What will it take to give our local animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? NATIVE PLANTS, and lots of them. This is a scientific fact deduced from thousands of studies about how energy moves through food webs. Here is the general reasoning. All animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. The group of animals most responsible for passing energy from plants to the animals that can’t eat plants is insects. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. So many animals depend on insects for food (e.g., spiders, reptiles and amphibians, rodents, 96% of all terrestrial birds) that removing insects from an ecosystem spells its doom.

But that is exactly what we have tried to do in our suburban landscapes. For over a century we have favored ornamental landscape plants from China and Europe over those that evolved right here. If all plants were created equal, that would be fine. But every plant species protects its leaves with a species-specific mixture of nasty chemicals. With few exceptions, only insect species that have shared a long evolutionary history with a particular plant lineage have developed the physiological adaptations required to digest the chemicals in their host’s leaves. They have specialized over time to eat only the plants sharing those particular chemicals. When we present insects from Pennsylvania with plants that evolved on another continent, chances are those insects will be unable to eat them. We used to think this was good. Kill all insects before they eat our plants! But an insect that cannot eat part of a leaf cannot fulfill its role in the food web. We have planted Kousa dogwood, a species from China that supports no insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone. In hundreds of thousands of acres we have planted goldenraintree from China instead of one of our beautiful oaks and lost the chance to grow 532 species of caterpillars, all of them nutritious bird food. My research has shown that alien ornamentals support 29 times less biodiversity than do native ornamentals.

Your Garden Has a Function
In the past we didn’t designed gardens that play a critical ecological role in the landscape, but we must do so in the future if we hope to avoid a mass extinction from which humans are not likely to recover either. As quickly as possible we need to replace unnecessary lawn with densely planted woodlots that can serve as habitat for our local biodiversity. Homeowners can do this by planting the borders of their properties with native trees plants such as white oaks (Quercus alba), black willows (Salix nigra), red maples (Acer rubrum), green ashes (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), black walnuts (Juglans nigra), river birches (Betula nigra) and shagbark hickories (Carya ovata), under-planted with woodies like serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), hazelnut (Corylus americnus), blueberries (Vaccinium spp) . Our studies have shown that even modest increases in the native plant cover on suburban properties significantly increases the number and species of breeding birds, including birds of conservation concern. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save biodiversity from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant native plants!

Blue Days

Nothing to cry about, quite the contrary! This lace-cap hydrangea serrata is attracting lots of visitors, both humans and pollinators. So happy that our buzzing friends (the buzzing insects, not the humans) are finding nourishment throughout the gardens.
And, it’s blueberry season here in Maine! I’ve picked up a carload of blueberries from my friend’s farm in Washington. Ten 10 lb. boxes of blueberries for here and for friends. Of course, we will freeze most of them, but a couple of fresh pies will be made and some blueberry ice cream cranked out. Like I said, nothing to cry about!!! Yum! Summer at its best!

Rusty Patched Bumblebee

This played on Maine Public radio this week. Something for all of us to consider, another great reason to grow a garden and to add native plants to your landscape. As our human footprint continues to increase, creating habitat for declining species is the least we could do.

Please listen….not only a warning about the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee being put on the endangered species list but some curious facts about this amazing little bee!
I apologize for the possible broadcasts you may hear after the piece on the bumblebee, not sure how to edit the recording!

Picture 1308Picture 1311Not sure what we’re more happy to see….the lovely blooms that grace the gardens, or the pollinators that are so busy collecting pollen and nectar. We have noticed a drop in our pollinating friends between last year and this season. It is worrisome. We are so glad to see them buzzing about and furiously working over the poppies ( and all the other blooms) in the gardens. We are fortunate that the majority of the plants, trees, and shrubs that we grow are natives, and this helps the native pollinator population.
Being at that ‘mid-point’ of summer we too have been working furiously. The gardens are always in need of attention…. we are harvesting, weeding, and continuing to amend the soil as needed. We have a lovely new WWOOFer named Hannah, who has been helping to keep things ship shape. Many hands make light work as they say. We can always use several pairs!
She is enjoying the work and the abundance of fresh vegetables that are coming into the house. One thing for sure, if you WWOOF at the nursery, you’re sure to eat well. Hard to believe that it is almost half way through the month of July! Here are just a couple of recent photos from the display gardens. Picture 1322Picture 1316 And, we’ll leave you with this……

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Seeds For The Season

IMG_0027We’ve just finished with our seed orders for the upcoming season. Folks often ask us which seed companies we buy seed from. As many of you know, the nursery end of our plant production is done on site. We propagate most of the woodland, native, and shade perennials ourselves. As you may remember from past posts,( 2nd seed post) seed collection is one form of propagation we use here. The seeds that we order from the companies I’ll be mentioning, are for the several large vegetable gardens we grow. We garden organically and feel very committed to purchasing seeds from companies that offer organic seed, open pollinated varieties, as well as a selection of heirloom varieties. Most importantly we want to support seed companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. As signers, companies pledge that they do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. As the seed industry is becoming dominated by large multinational corporations, sourcing safe seed from ethical and ecologically minded companies can be challenging. But good seed companies still exist, they are out there, and supporting them is important ( crucial, really) to the safety and health of all us, the environment, and the future of our food. Without listing the names of the ” multi -national giants” who are permeating the seed industry, we encourage gardeners and growers to do some research on the negative effects caused by GMO’s and treated seed. For example, neonicotinoids, an insecticide used by many of the large seed companies to coat their seeds, is absorbed into all parts of the plant, including the flowers. Residues build up in both pollen and nectar, and are extremely toxic to our bee population ( as well as all other pollinators), causing both paralysis and death. Who you buy your seed from is an important matter.IMG_0028
With all that said, here are the seed catalogs we primarily order from : Fedco Seed Company,, P.O, Box 520 Waterville, Maine, 04903 , ( 207) 426-0090
Johnny’s Selected Seeds,, 955 Benton Ave. Winslow, Maine 04901 , (877) 564-6697
Seeds of Change,, P.O. Box 152 Spicer, MN. 56288 , (888) 762-7333
High Mowing Seeds,, 76 Quarry Rd. Wolcott, Vermont 05680, (802) 472-6174
Territorial Seed Company,, P.O.Box 158 Cottage Grove, OR 97424, (800) 626-0866
Turtle Tree Seed,, 10 White Birch Rd. Copake,NY 12516, (518)329-3037
We buy the bulk of our seed order from Fedco and Johnny’s. Our favorite tomato variety, Martha Washington, is offered at Johnny’s. In addition to Fedco’s huge vegetable, tree, and cover crop offerings, I always buy my dye garden seeds from them and most everything else. They’re local and both great companies. We like Seeds of Change, Territorial, and High Mowing, and often find a few specific varieties that one or the other does not offer. My seed order with Seeds Of Change this year: Corno Di Toro pepper, Hutterite bean, Emerald Oak Lettuce, Tokyo Market Turnip, and Leonardo Radicchio. A small order, but very specific. I love to support Turtle Tree Seed company from upstate New York. They are a small bio-dynamic, open pollinated seed company that is doing great work to ensure the future of our seeds. Two things I will order from them ( for sure) is Phacellia, an annual that is native to California and Arizona, a great pollinator and used as a soil builder in Europe. The other is Silphium perfoliatum, also called Cup Plant, a native perennial from the mid west to the east coast, north into Canada. It grows 4-8 feet tall, with sprays of yellow flowers from July through September. It is also important to birds, butterflies, and bees.
There is so much conversation to be had regarding the future of our seed security. It is really worth reading up on and researching. It is truly worth the effort in knowing where your seed and plants come from. It can and does impact so much. Well, happy gardening…….not quite yet, we have to get through a few more snowstorms first! IMG_0033

Open For ‘Beesness’

Peony japonica

Peony japonica

Peony obovata var. willmottiae

Peony obovata var. willmottiae

Two different species peonies have recently opened in the garden. On the many occasions we stopped to admire their blooms, we were fascinated by the number of pollinators who were also making their visit. Several types of bees were present, along with many other significant pollinators…insects and beetles, all focused on their work. Soon, we will devote a more in depth post on the importance of these various pollinators. It’s a topic we’re often thinking about. It was comforting to see all the activity on the peony blossoms yesterday, and we find ourselves just as enthralled with this ‘buzz’ of activity as we do with the flower itself. Reminding us that the flower exists for more than just its beauty, and that its design is part of an important cycle. As you enjoy the blooms of your own gardens, keep a look out for all these essential pollinators and be glad for the crucial role they play.
Peony japonica

Peony japonica

Peony obovata var. willmottiae

Peony obovata var. willmottiae

Also, we couldn’t help snapping a picture of the primulas and marsh marigolds continuing to do their thing. The bird bath is made by our good friend and neighbor, Mark Guido. Several examples of his wonderful stone work find a place in our gardens. More on him later, as well!Picture 802