Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Challenge: Embrace the Insects

A book titled 'Bringing Nature Home',by Doug Tallamy, has inspired us at the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum to further embrace the connection of plants and insects. Tallamy is researching insects, specifically butterflies and moths, and their ability to feed on different plant species in our landscapes. He reminds us that the most important job of a plant is to convert the sun's energy into sugars-- food that then can be used by insects and animals. There should be things eating plants!

According to Tallamy about 90% of insects native to the United States are specialists that "are adapted to find, eat, digest and survive on plant lineages that produce particular types of phytochemicals". Many plants in our landscapes are aliens from other continents and do not have the correct phytochemicals for native insects to eat them.  As we rapidly loose our native habitat we need look at increasing the biodiversity of our own communities through using more native species where it makes sense. If we don't have the habitat for our native insects, then we in turn have less bird, reptile, and amphibian species that need insects to survive.
Buttonbush, great nectar and host plant.

Just because a plant is pretty (and drought tolerant,disease resistant, and has great form...and...) doesn't mean that it's a plant that supports native insects. Some plants may not seem exciting for insects but are an insect feast. Oaks can support over 500 species of butterflies and moths. Black cherry is right behind them with over 400 species. Personally I've started my own little credit system when I am doing landscape design. I can plant 'that' (example, butterfly bush that has little benefit beyond a nectar source to adult butterflies) if I plant one or two of 'those' (example, Buttonbush or  New Jersey Tea which have great benefit to insects, caterpillars and adult butterflies). It certainly has made my design and plant choices more intentional, yet allows me to continue and enjoy some of those non-native species. More of Tallamy's thoughts and research on choosing plants here:

Butterfly bush, great nectar plant and poor host plant.
My weekend challenge to you:  Begin to look at your yard as an eco-system with many interconnected parts. This weekend go looking for beneficial insects in your landscape. Take a stroll, flip over a few leaves, and look close. Do this even if you're an avid gardener. Don't forget to look at the trees and shrubs! This is a great activity to do with a child.  Take a mental note of what you find and also what is growing in your yard.  If you are not finding many insects, or signs of insects, perhaps there is an opportunity to create more diversity by using some regionally native plants.

Here is what I found while walking through the display beds this morning:

Purple coneflower and bee

lady bug

Milkweed leaf and green lacewing

Common milkweed and milkweed beetles

This Buttonbush had little insect marks all over it!  It will be blooming soon.

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