Beautiful Native Plants

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Native Plant People, It's Up to Us Now

A recent Landscaping with Native Plants conference in Colorado offered a sold-out audience a wide range of topics, but one resounding theme was echoed by every single speaker - it’s up to us now. The need for conservation is critical, the time is now, and we must, all of us, take on the responsibility for thoughtful planting that will slow the loss of species and shore up the functionality of our own local ecosystems. 

Keynote speaker, Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society delivered a powerful talk, ‘Insect Apocalypse? What Is Really Happening; Why it Matters, and How We All Can Help.’ He began by describing the loss of insects worldwide, and emphasized that even if the word ‘apocalypse’ might not yet be applicable, the trends of decline in insect abundance and diversity are distinctly and quantifiably alarming. 

 Native bees like this one are important to maintaining the fabric of the planet.
Insects are undergoing severe declines in abundance and diversity
on every continent except Antartica.

We need more research, yes, Scott said, but we cannot be paralyzed by lack of information. Even if we don’t know everything, because many insects have not yet been assessed, we do know that the decline of what we have measured is severe, and that there are NO studies that do not show decline. We know enough to know we must take action. 

And why should we care? Because insects pollinate at least 75% of flowering plants, this translates to one in three mouthfuls of the food on our dinner plates. Attempting to further illustrate the major role of insects in our web of life on earth, Scott asked, “Do you like salmon? Aquatic insects are the first food of the salmon hatchlings. Do you like grizzly bears? They eat the salmon, and berries, which rely on pollination . . . " The list could go on and on, of course. For a short but complete and scientific summary from the Wiley online library, put this in your file: 'The importance of Insects,' or for a more expanded explanation from E. O. Wilson, 'The Little Things That Run the World.' 

The two biggest problems: 
  • Habitat loss
  • Pesticides
 Habitat loss is the primary problem, we’ve taken away too much of insect’s native habitat. And the landscapes that remain are often of degraded quality - we mow too much, we graze too much, we allow the spread of 
non-native, invasive species, leaving spaces not conducive to the life cycles of insects we need. 

And pesticides. We use more pesticides now than we ever have before, and they are more powerful. Perhaps this is not the place to enumerate the hazards of pesticides, suffice it to say that the hazard list is also growing exponentially. With droll humor Scott declared that he had no sympathy for either the perfect lawn or the perfect rose. It is vital that we get off the poison train and onto the high quality habitat. 
Remedies? This slide sums up the answer to our problems of habitat loss and degradation. Native plants ARE the fabric that holds the planet together. 

Society must take steps at all levels to protect, restore, and enhance native plant habitat.

“So what do we do to encourage robust populations of diverse native insects? We need high-quality, climate-resilient habitat across the landscape. Government agencies, farmers, managers of natural areas, homeowners, and businesses all can protect and restore habitat, reduce the harm of pesticides on non-target insects, and undertake actions to help slow climate change.”

The conclusion of the talk focused like a laser beam on the need for individual action. You could absolutely feel the audience levitating in unison when Scott said, “Native plant people need to be there and hand hold.” We must, while refraining from, ahem, bludgeoning them with our ideas, get people excited about native plants. We need to educate and implement:
  • Show people that native plants are also BEAUTIFUL
  • Encourage them to start small, just start
  • Work to make natives more available
  • Talk to HOAs and community leaders
  • Use the tried and true gateways: You love birds? butterflies? pollinators?
      fishing? Oh, you need beautiful native plants! 
  • Natural areas are glue that holds it all together - protect them!
Show people native plants are beautiful.
 No problem!
Boulder raspberry, Rubus deliciosus. 

Through his extensive experience Scott has come to realize there are lots of people out there who want to help, and we just haven’t tapped them yet. He encouraged everyone to get out and talk to people, and to get quality habitat going on any available patch of ground, no matter how small. 

Another reminder from Scott came from his observation of the scientists and staff at Xerces who got out in the field to collect data. Inevitably, he said, when they get out there and begin to make discoveries, they fall even more deeply in love. 

Isn’t this a potent reminder that we need to be leading our friends, our neighbors, and especially, leading our children, ‘out there,’ wherever they are, city, suburbia, or country, so they can discover for themselves the fascination and beauty of our complex and interdependent world?

In a city? Here’s just one of the many guides available  for you: Learn About Nature in Cities

The Xerces Society, named for the first known butterfly to become extinct, by the way, the Xerces blue, maintains an extensive website, a science-based, current source of reliable information on plants, pollinators and all invertebrates, land and aquatic.  You can find regional planting guides, trainings, book recommendations, planning tools, archives of articles, business partnership opportunities, and much more. 

Native Plant People, (NPP). It’s up to us. Let's get out there and hold some hands.

Sue Dingwell
Thanks to the Colorado Native Plant Society 
for spearheading sponsorship of this conference!

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