People now want native plants: but are these micro-restorations worth it?
Wait, yes, sit down and prepare to be encouraged. We actually have a bright shining light on the environmental landscape. Last year, an American Society of Landscape Architects’ survey found that city people want native plants (83%) and sustainable residential landscapes (80%). This is a really delightful sign that the general population may truly be ready to do away with biologically depauperate and chemically dependent turf lawns and start to introduce native plant communities. Some may wonder if it really matters, and can small micro-patches of native plants really make a difference?
Well, we will let you decide. Below are some select field notes and observations made over the summer by our highly skilled maintenance crew led by Tracy Lawler.
It is still absolutely amazing to us after years and years of doing restoration and maintenance work, how many different critters find their way to even a small backyard restoration. After just spending a half-hour at a restoration, we usually count dozens of different species of insects, birds, spiders, small mammals, and other interesting animals that form a little “community” in that small area. If you thought your restoration was just about flowers and grasses and it looking pretty, or a few milkweed species for monarchs, you are in for a big surprise!
As our maintenance crews walk up to a restoration in the height of the July heat, they can hear the audible buzz of all the different pollinators visiting the wide range of flowering native plants. Insects with different hues of color, sizes, and shapes buzz busily from plant to plant. They are so fast and concentrated that they are not even slightly distracted by our crew’s weeding. We see giant black wasps, emerald green bees, fat fuzzy bumble bees, armored orange soldier beetles, and everything else in- between.
Usually gliding above, we see a multitude of butterfly species attracted by the diversity of flowers. Did you know there are several different species of swallowtail that visit our native plants? The black swallowtail caterpillar uses Golden Alexander as its host plant. Other regular butterfly visitors are the iconic Monarch, its doppelganger – the Viceroy, and energetic American and Painted Ladies. We even see several species of moths that come out during the day!
With so many insects in our restorations, it’s no surprise that we see so many birds ready to pick off a protein-packed meal. In addition, there are dozens of bird species like goldfinches, nuthatches, cardinals, and even ducks that come in to feast on native plant seed. This habitat is especially important when birds are in need of food and shelter during their long spring and fall migrations. We also find ground nests in our restorations every spring, with hungry little nestlings waiting for their parents to bring more insects and caterpillars to help them grow.
Every day, we see reptiles and amphibians taking up residence in our native plant restorations that we manage. We see garter snakes, painted turtles, snapping turtles, and other reptiles that call this habitat home. The baby turtles we find are especially fun to observe as they begin their lives among native plants. During most maintenance visits, we hear the residents of the restoration first, before we actually see the restoration. We are greeted by the calls of dozens or even hundreds of frogs and toads. They find shelter from predators among the plants that grow along the shoreline, and hunt insects among the cover as well. Every spring and summer we see their tadpoles swimming amongst the emergent native plants. We love finding them making their way onto land with newly developed legs even though they haven’t lost their tails yet!
Many restorations attract mammals as well. We observe small animals like mice, shrew, rabbit, muskrat, otter, squirrel, and others. Larger mammals are seen as well like mink, raccoon, and deer. During spring, it’s fairly common to find adorable little fawns curled up and asleep in the tall native grasses, patiently waiting for their moms to come back in the evening and feed them. Many clients worry when they find a baby deer alone without the mom in sight. But this is by design. The mothers often leave the fawns alone during the day so they can feed and avoid drawing attention to their young. They are usually safe from predators, being hidden in the tall cover.
Some animals like muskrat, deer, and rabbits might cause some damage in our native restorations by feeding on plants, digging, or laying on the vegetation. For example, muskrats burrow into shorelines to create their homes. We need to remember that making habitat and attracting these species is part of the goal. The effects of this animal behavior can be considered a “natural” disturbance and these natural areas are able to recover. Our native plants are very resilient and can bounce back from getting smashed or being eaten. Just think of the bison on the prairie. Those powerful hooves dig up some plants, but those prairie species are well adapted and can bounce back. The same holds true with native plants in residential micro-restorations.
Do you have an animal you want to see more of in your restoration? Are you interested in seeing more birds, bees and butterflies? Let our team know what you are interested in and we can help you select native plants to help bring them to your home!