Posts Tagged ‘native plants’

Goldenrod, a weed or a treasure?

May 28, 2015
Field with goldenrods. © Beatriz Moisset

Field with goldenrods.
© Beatriz Moisset

“Goldenrods are magnets for a wide variety of animal life. I am talking about the six-legged and eight-legged fauna, insects and spiders.”
“The blue-winged wasp has developed a taste for Japanese beetles and treats them the same way as June beetles.”

Blue-winged wasp on goldenrod. © Beatriz Moisset

Blue-winged wasp on goldenrod.
© Beatriz Moisset

Read the full article in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens


Moths in the Native Plants Garden

May 19, 2015
Hummingbird moth at Monarda flower © Beatriz Moisset

Hummingbird moth at Monarda flower
© Beatriz Moisset

” Most people think that moths are drab and plain and that they only fly at night. The attitude toward moths ranges from indifference to dislike. Aversion to moths can reach the point of irrationality; some see them as death messengers. Moths deserve better than that.”

Read more: Moths in the Native Plants Garden

Ailanthus webworm moth on snake root © Beatriz Moisset

Ailanthus webworm moth on snake root
© Beatriz Moisset

You can help pollinators in your own garden

March 9, 2011

Here are some of the things you can do to help pollinators in your garden:

Plant a pollinator garden. Turn some of your lawn into a wildflower meadow. One major objection of gardeners, the fear of stings, doesn’t need to be a serious concern. Most native bees are quite different in this respect from honeybees and hornets; they hardly ever sting and if they do, it is very mild. In fact there are some, such as the Andrenids, that are incapable of doing so. Their stingers are too small to penetrate human skin.

Avoid pesticides or if you absolutely need to use them, inform yourself carefully about the specific pesticides that kill only the target species, rather than decimating many others unintentionally. Furthermore, avoiding pesticides may not be as bad as it sounds since nature has its own checks and balances and manages to keep most pests under control without resorting to pesticides. There are some cases in which use of pesticides backfires by destroying these checks and balances. Avoid herbicides also; they can be bad for pollinators. They either deprive them of food or poison them.

Plant native flowers, that is flowers that grow locally, not just native to the United States; these are best for pollinators. Some bees may be able to adapt to non-native plants, such as many fruit trees or some of the less fancy cultivars. But native pollinators and native plants have become mutually adapted through millions of years, so they make the perfect match in most cases.

Grow a variety of flowers that bloom through the seasons. This is good for native bees; fortunately this is also what most gardeners aspire to have in their gardens. However highly selected cultivars or those with doubled-flowers don’t take care of the needs of pollinators. In general they have lost all the cues that pollinators need, such as scent. In some cases, they have also lost the pollen or nectar and so they don’t provide any food to bees.

Plant the kind of lawn that provides habitat beneficial to bees. A perfectly manicured, pesticide saturated lawn is a desert to wildlife, including pollinators. Reducing the size of the lawn would benefit native pollinators. But it is also possible to have a lawn that is good for bees while being esthetically pleasing. As mentioned before, stay away from pesticides and herbicides as much as possible. Second, allow some small wildflowers; the look of your lawn may change as a result but it will continue to serve its purpose. Clover is great food for native bees; it also fixes nitrogen cutting down the need for fertilizers. Other small plants that benefit bees are ground speedwells (Veronica), wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), smartweeds or knotweeds (Polygonum), wild strawberries (Fragaria, several species), etc. Rather than calling them weeds we should call them grass companions or pollinator food.

Provide housing for bees. A simple bare spot here and there (no mulch or grass, just bare soil) may be enough for a few hard-working soil nesters. A sand pile may be even better. It bears repeating: There is no real need to worry about stings from solitary bees.

Dead logs or snags can supply housing for bees. You probably can’t have a dead tree on your property, but it is possible to keep a stump or a standing log and use it as an attractive planter; perhaps it will in turn provide housing for some little bees. Drilling holes on an old post or even a tree trunk would also make good nesting sites. They should be 3/32” to 3/8” in diameter and at least 4” deep.

Or you can make your own bee houses. It is possible and relatively easy to build one by following instructions posted in several websites. Or you can buy one; some resources listed below. I have discovered that watching the comings and goings of those busy mother bees can be as much fun as observing a bird house. Once again, stings don’t seem to be a real problem; I have had my face right in front of their houses and have even let them climb on my finger without any consequences.

Hollow tubes, just about the size of drinking straws, can also be used as bee nests. Some of the suppliers listed sell them. You can also tie up a bunch of hollow twigs, such as elderberry, or paper drinking straws (plastic ones are no good) together or pack them into a container such as a small milk or cream carton and place them horizontally. They should be closed at one end with the open end facing south or southeast. If you have trouble figuring out where the south is, step outside sometime between 10 AM and 1 PM and face the sun. That is how you want to place the nests. (See links below for instructions).

You can let some of your ornamental grasses stay all winter; they can be quite handsome and add variety to your winter landscape while providing nesting to your friendly native bees.

Helping the native bees would benefit us because of their invaluable services to the environment and to our gardens.


Ross, Edward S. (2003) Pollinator Conservation Handbook. The Xerces Society and The Bee Works. Portland, Oregon ISBN 0-9744475-0-1. (Bee gardens, bee houses, etc.)
The Xerces Society Guide (2011). Attracting Native Pollinators. Storey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60342-695-4 (Everything you want to know about pollinators and their conservation)

Urban Bee Gardens. Berkeley University
Nests for Native Bees. The Xerces Society
Bee houses. National Wildlife Federation. (How to build a bee house)

Sellers of bee houses
Mason bee homes.

Introduced species, discordant notes

July 18, 2010

I would like to recommend three books that illustrate the impact of the ever increasing numbers of human introduced species into habitats not their own; they analyze the effects of some of these introductions, describe measures used to control or prevent the consequences of such introductions, and make suggestions about what you can do.

+ Nature Out of Place: Biological Invasions In The Global Age by Jason Van Driesche and Roy Van Driesche, 2004
+ A Plague of Rats and Rubbervines by Yvonne Baskin. 2003
+ Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy and Rick Darke. 2007

These books show us that ecosystems are like symphonies. It takes millions of years of co-evolution to develop a fine tuned system, richly complex and delicately balanced. If you took a well crafted symphony and added a snippet of music from another composition, the introduction wouldn’t fit with the rest of the work. The composer could weave this introduction into the symphony by tweaking the alien fragment and the related parts until it all worked well together once again. It would take some time and effort but it can be done. However if a large number of musical fragments are introduced it becomes impossible to repair the piece. Likewise ecosystems have been dealing with introduced species all along; it may take many thousands of years, perhaps millions, but eventually the non-native species become part of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, in recent times, humans have been moving species around, intentionally and unintentionally, at unprecedented rates. The numbers of species invading new environments far exceed the pace of evolution; ecosystems suffer serious disruptions as a consequence.

Tallamy’s book, in particular, had a profound effect on me. I wish I could summarize its main premise in just one sentence; I will try: most land birds (and many other creatures) need insects and, in turn, insects need native plants in the immense majority of cases. In other words, introduced plants provide no food for native insects and as a consequence birds go hungry.
He presents abundant proof of this thesis, for instance, in one study done in Oxford, Pennsylvania “native plants supported 30 times more caterpillar biomass than alien plants supported.” Other work shows that the Asian reed Phragmites australis sustains 170 species of herbivores in its native land while it feeds only 5 species in North America. More than 300 years have passed since its introduction and it is still no good at sustaining native herbivores.
I can assure you that, if you are a gardener and a bird lover, you will never grow a non-native plant again after reading this book.