The Tip of the Iceberg
Nature is the best teacher. A lesson I've learned many times over, most recently when my wife and I bought our house almost five years ago. The yard was a bit worse for wear, so I set about trying to impose order. As I spent that first summer trimming, hacking back, and uprooting long neglected plantings, I realized I hadn't spent that much time outside in years. I started to notice birds, bees, dragonflies, and butterflies of all different shapes, colors, and sizes. "This is great!" I thought to myself, "How can I bring in more?"
Down the Rabbit Hole
A few google searches and I had read a handful of articles about "pollinator friendly" plants and I was off to the garden center intent on more plantings. But while I waited for my precious new plants to grow and flower, I kept on reading. What I found shocked me. Some of the plant's I'd bought were invasive, plants that could escape into the wild and muscle out native flora. "But how bad can that be? These are pollinator friendly!" well, pretty bad it turns out. Those common daisies, butterfly bushes, and foxgloves certainly attract grown butterflies and bees, but they did nothing for caterpillars and only helped a handful of types of bees.
Part of the Problem?
So why were these "friendly" plants not so friendly? It turns out that monarch caterpillars aren't the only ones that eat a single type of plant until they turn into butterflies, it's pretty much all caterpillars! And while some of those caterpillars turn into pretty butterflies and moths I can ooh and ahh at with my kids, a whole heap get eaten. I learned that caterpillars are a staple food for baby birds, beneficial insects, and all sorts of other critters. Without caterpillars, populations for all those other animals decline, along with all the things that eat those creatures, and so on. And all because my "friendly" plants were only good to adult butterflies and not the juveniles. And as for the bees, it turns out bees have different shaped bodies and tongues to work with different flowers, and some of those bees turn out to be far more productive than honey bees at pollinating the food crops I liked to eat all summer long, like squash, tomatoes, cherries, and plums.
Bringing it Back Around
Everything was much more connected than I thought. My choices about how to make my yard pretty had an impact on how heavy my local farmer's crop would be. Of course I had only a tiny impact, but multiply that the thousands in my town and you it starts looking pretty big indeed. So I went back, revised my plantings, added a few more, and now my yard is a much more lively place than it was before. And now I spend a lot less time mowing the lawn and more time watching nature come right up to my door. This whole experience reminded me of how a small decision on the part of one person really does ripple out, whether it's how you landscape your yard, what brand of shampoo you buy at the supermarket, or if you give a little more to your favorite charity at the end of the year. I'm sure it's not the last time I'll learn this lesson, but this time certainly had the most beautiful outcome.
If you'd like to talk more about how it's all connected, Contact Me. And in the meantime, take a moment to think about how your actions connect to the broader world around you.