Native butterfly weed, a form of milkweed, can make a good replacement for invasives in a sunny area. (Becky Gallery photo)
Once again, it’s the season to brave short days and long nights, smile, and prepare for planting time.
That’ll happen, but let’s get the bad news out of the way first: According to the World Wildlife Fund, our planet has lost two-thirds of its wildlife since 1970, mostly insects. This is worrisome because without insects, 80% of plants would not survive.
All animals need plants to survive, directly or indirectly. The loss of insects leads to a loss of plants, which leads to a loss of animals, and the negative spiral continues. The circle of life breaks down and that’s not where we want to go.
There was a time when planting “pest-free” plants was all the rage because we wanted to get rid of insects that damage leaves. We planted what we now know are ornamental invasives — barberries, privet hedges, bittersweet vines, and others — in order to have perfect-looking plants. We know better now. We know that chewed leaves and missing berries mean that somewhere out there is a happy animal.
And now the good news: Although some people believe it’s too late to change our trajectory, it’s not. We can get our insect life, and thus the circle of life, back on track.
To get started, check out this site to inform your plant choices for the coming spring: nwf.org/nativeplantfinder. Put in your ZIP code to learn which plants are best for feeding our insect pollinators. Beneficial trees and shrubs include beach plum, cherry, or chokecherry to attract 421 species of caterpillars, or cranberry or blueberry to attract 290 species. Among flowering plants, sunflower can attract 60 species of caterpillars, while geranium can attract 26.
Wondering where to plant these insect magnets? Contact the Harpswell Invasive Plant Partnership, your local source for plant guidance, by going to hippmaine.org. You’ll never look at native oaks, hickories or cherries like you did in the past, once you know how valuable they are to the insect world.
Working together toward better insect days will benefit all of us. Our children and grandchildren will thank us. Let’s leave them healthy land with the insects, wildlife and plants they need to grow their food in a sustainable world.