Many people love butterflies and want them in their garden. But if you ask, "do you want caterpillars chewing on your garden plants?" you may get a different answer. The truth is, butterflies (and all moths -- butterflies are day-flying moths) have different food requirements as they develop through the stages of egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult. Most caterpillars are specialized feeders on fresh green leaves, and feed on only the leaves of a few native plant species they coevolved with. If we want our native butterflies to thrive, such as the beautiful Monarch butterfly pictured, we must include the food plants of their caterpillars in our gardens. In the case of Monarchs, the food plants for the caterpillars are various species of native milkweeds, e.g., common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, or butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. Once the caterpillars grow up and metamorphose into adult butterflies, they become pollinators and drink nectar from many different kinds of flowers, native and non-native. But only native plants provide food for the larval, or caterpillar stage. Plant native plants and start your biodiversity garden today! The photos for this post were taken in our Biodiversity Garden in London, Ontario, in mid-August 2022.
I had a fantastic experience being interviewed by Dr. Tony Weis, geography professor at Western University, for a project of the Rachel Carson Center. Read the article here: Overcoming the Fear Factor: Teaching and Learning about Insects and Biodiversity.
Need a little inspiration to start your native plant garden this spring? This coming Thursday evening, May 2nd, at 7:00 pm I will be speaking on biodiversity gardening at the Wolf Performance Hall, London Public Library, in downtown London, Ontario. This event is free and open to the public. 2 hours free validated parking in City Plaza during Library hours. See you there! (photo: Bloodroot, "Sanguinaria canadensis" taken several days ago in our biodiversity garden in London).
I had a very productive and rewarding experience working with the Editor Hannah Hoag of The Conversation Canada. I continue to get positive feedback from folks who read my piece, How to fight insectageddon with a garden of native plants. With spring just around the corner (and past a snow storm, or two), I hope it will inspire you to plant native! Hannah and The Conversation, thank you so much for helping to make the article a reality!
I had a wonderful experience as a guest blogger for Nature Canada, working with Sam Nurse, Website and Social Media Coordinator. Checkout my piece: Recipe for a garden full of birds, butterflies, and bees.
When a tree dies, its role in the ecosystem changes, but it is still a home. Some bird species utilize dead trees. A dead tree is bird habitat, and habitat for hundreds of other species, especially fungi and insects, that are specialized feeders on dead wood. I've written about dead wood as habitat in a previous post on click beetles.
In my lifetime I've seen many dead trees cut down for the sole reason that they were ugly or unsightly. Sometimes a dead tree poses a hazard to people, and in that case it should come down.
I took the photographs above on 14 June, and posted the top one on Twitter shortly after. I observed the male red-bellied woodpecker drumming just before I took the photo (top). There were multiple snags. The pair of flickers (below) were engaged in courtship. Yes, these are common species, but they are beautiful nonetheless. They have value.
About a week later I discovered that the snags had been cut down and removed. It is possible they were determined to be a hazard to people, but I doubt it, given the location and the project going on. Even if they were deemed a hazard, could the design have been altered to keep the people and the other species' homes safe?
If a tree must be cut down, don't remove it. Leave it on the ground, if possible. But please try to keep dead trees standing by designing people-spaces around them. Let dead trees be. They are home for other species.
Disclosure: Please don't eat fruits, berries, seeds or any plant parts unless you are certain of the identification of the plant. Some native plants can be toxic!
I am really into edible native plants. What could be more appealing than a beautiful, natural plant that feeds our native wild animals, and us too?! This is not the first time I've written about this subject. See my piece about eating beechnuts. Tonight I'm writing about my top 3 favourite native edibles, black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and river grape (Vitis riparia), all of which we have in our biodiversity garden. Black chokeberry is a hideous common name, so I call it the more appropriate "Nina's favourite jam plant". The fruits make the most delicious jam, and they're loaded with antioxidants. Read more on the Wikipedia page on Aronia. All fruits are edible raw, but they are not what I'd call tasty until they've been cooked with sugar. We usually mix the three fruits together in random combinations -- warning, I often wing-it when I cook! We buy pectin at the grocery store and follow one of the recipes that comes in the box. We always make some jelly too, by mashing then straining the fruits to get pure juice (elderberry and river grape have large seeds). We often add lemon, and sometimes ginger. Sometimes we mix in store-bought fruits. Whatever works! We love to experiment and try new food combinations. Regardless, it is our favourite jam/jelly, and we eat it all winter long.
People are often surprised when they learn that I have a PhD in systematic entomology, and a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design. I'm a classic multipotentialite (thank you, Emilie Wapnick). Photography has not only been essential for teaching, learning and doing science, it is my art. One of the side benefits of biodiversity gardening is that native plants are photogenic. They are infinitely more beautiful than most alien garden plant species that have been selectively bred by humans (and, they attract the brilliant six-legged animals...) Let me introduce you to my subjects, and my science-based art.
Just over five years ago I came up with the term "biodiversity gardening" to describe gardening with native plants. On Earth Day 2011 I launched this educational website, and biodiversity gardening came into being. Gardening with native plants increases biodiversity, compared to conventional gardening practices utilizing alien plants. It is really quite a simple concept. Terrestrial ecosystems are comprised of species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms that coevolved over evolutionary time. Many of the food webs are based on obligatory relationships, such as those of plants and leaf-feeding insects. There are many kinds of insects that feed on fresh green leaves, and they require the native host plants they coevolved with. They can't feed on alien plants. Essentially, a healthy ecosystem will have a diversity and abundance of native plants, which will support a diversity and abundance of native insects, which will in turn support healthy populations of other animals that feed on insects, such as birds. It is common knowledge that habitat loss is the number one cause of biodiversity decline today. In order to have habitat, you've got to have native plants. Native plants are the foundation of healthy ecosystems. Do your part -- transform your backyard into a biodiversity oasis with native plants. Start your biodiversity garden today. What a great way to celebrate Earth Day!
Many gardeners dutifully plant nectar sources for adult butterflies. But they may not be aware of the details of the life cycle of butterflies. Most butterflies require native plants in order to reproduce. Butterflies start out in life as eggs, then hatch into caterpillars. Most caterpillars are specialist feeders, and eat only a few species of native plants they coevolved with. Butterflies will only lay their eggs on their native host plants; caterpillars will eat only these same host plants. The typical North American garden full of alien plants such as periwinkle, hostas, Norway maple, etc., and even the so-called butterfly bush, will not feed our native caterpillars. If you want butterflies, you've got to have caterpillars, and caterpillars require the fresh green leaves of native plants. And, the flowers of native plants are excellent pollen and nectar sources for all pollinators. Most of us are aware that the monarch butterfly requires native milkweeds for its caterpillar. It is no exception. If all gardens had host plants for caterpillars, butterflies might not be in decline.