Friday, October 25, 2013

The Importance of Native Plants, Part 2

The following article, which features Dr. Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, was submitted by Karina Veaudry, FNPS Landscape Committee Chair. Excerpts of Tallamy’s original text were reprinted with his permission. For part 1 of the article, click HERE.

Landuse in Florida today and predictions for 2060; the
rust color depicts developed land, green is conservation
and yellow is undeveloped.
Your Role in Building Biological Corridors: Networks for Life
Throughout the U.S., we have fragmented the habitats that support biodiversity by the way we have landscaped our cities, suburbs, and farmland. This is a problem because isolated habitats cannot sustain themselves or support populations large enough to survive normal environmental stresses. We can reconnect viable habitats by expanding existing greenways, building riparian corridors, and by changing the landscaping paradigm that dominates our yards and corporate landscapes. Replacing half of our lawns (areas that are essentially barren and ecologically sterile) with plants that are best at supporting food webs would create over 20 million connected acres of connectivity and go a long way toward sustaining biodiversity in the future.

Re-designing Suburbia

Illustration from
What will it take to give our local birds and animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? NATIVE PLANTS, and lots of them. This is a scientific fact deduced from thousands of studies about how energy moves through food webs. Here is the general reasoning: All animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. Insects are responsible for passing energy from plants to animals that can’t eat plants. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. So many animals depend on insects for food (including 96% of all terrestrial birds) that if insects were removed from an ecosystem, the resultant ecosystem would be doomed.

Above: Lagerstroemia indica; below: Prunus umbellata
But that is exactly what we have tried to do in our suburban landscapes. For over a century, we have favored ornamental landscape plants from China and Europe over those that evolved right here. If all plants were created equal, that would be fine. But every plant species protects its leaves with a species-specific mixture of nasty chemicals. With few exceptions, only insect species that have shared a long evolutionary history with a particular plant lineage have developed the physiological adaptations required to digest the chemicals in their host’s leaves. They have specialized over time to eat only the plants sharing those particular chemicals. When we present insects from Florida with plants that evolved on another continent, chances are those insects will be unable to eat them. We used to think this was good, the mantra being, "Kill all insects before they eat our plants!"  The truth is that an insect that cannot eat part of a leaf cannot fulfill its role in the food web. We have planted millions of Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica), a species from China that supports very few insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering Plum tree (Prunus umbellata), which supports over 450 species of birds, butterflies, moths and pollinators. This is but one example. Non-native plants create an ecological hole because they fail to provide the prerequisite food and nesting sources for existing local wildlife.

Your Yard Has a Function
The Florida Scrub Jay is a federally-listed endemic
species - it needs NATIVES!
In the past we didn’t design home landscapes to reflect the critical ecological roles they play. If we hope to avoid future wildlife extinctions and create a situation from which humans are not likely to recover, then we need to change our approach to home landscape design. By replacing unnecessary lawn with densely planted woodlots, we can foster biodiversity and fill the habitat void. But we MUST do this by landscaping our  properties with native trees and plants

Studies have shown that even a modest increase in the native plant cover on a suburban property will significantly increase the number and species of breeding birds present, including birds of conservation concern. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save so many  species from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant natives!

posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Importance of Native Plants, Part 1

The following article features Dr. Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, was submitted by Karina Veaudry, FNPS Landscape Committee Chair. Excerpts of Tallamy’s original text were reprinted with his permission.

The Need to Plant Natives in (sub)Urban Landscapes
As development and subsequent habitat destruction accelerate, there are increasing pressures on wildlife populations. But there is an important and simple step toward reversing this alarming trend: Everyone with access to a patch of earth can make a significant contribution toward sustaining biodiversity. There is an unbreakable link between native plant species and native wildlife - native insects cannot, or will not, eat non-native plants. When native plants disappear, so do native insects; subsequently, the food source for birds and other animals is dramatically reduced. In many parts of the United States, habitat destruction has been so extensive that local wildlife populations have entered a state of crisis and may be headed toward extinction. Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy, Ph.D., has sparked a national conversation about the link between healthy local ecosystems and human well-being. By acting on his practical recommendations, which are highlighted below, we can all make a difference.

Gardening For Life
Chances are, you have never thought of your yard as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout Florida. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.

The traditional residential landscape
does little for fostering biodiversity.
If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that yards and gardens are for lawns and beauty; places to express our artistic talents. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is interpreted by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status. No one taught us about the importance of maintaining native plants for native pollinators. We didn't learn that habitat destruction forces the diverse populations of plants and animals that evolved in Florida to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that these other species were happy somewhere out there “in nature” (e.g. in local "woods" or perhaps in our state and national parks). We have heard nothing about the rate at which species disappear from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how critical it is to our own well-being to promote biodiversity in our own backyards.

The face of urban sprawl
We Have Taken It All
The population of Florida (now over 19 million people) continues to grow while our natural resources and drinking water availability have shrunk to all-time lows. Our population explosion has gone hand-in-hand with urban sprawl and hundreds of miles of new roadways that bisect native habitats and large mammal migratory routes (black bear, panther, etc.). The effect on natural ecosystems and biodiversity has been devastating. Migratory birds that have stopped in the same areas for centuries are increasingly finding it difficult to find their native plant food sources. Somewhere along the way we also decided to remove most of the native plant food sources for birds and other wildlife on our properties into huge expanses of lawn. 

Is lawn mowing an activity that deserves the
praise it gets? Furthernore, why is this guy
so happy?
In the U.S., so far we have planted over 62,500 sq miles (45.6 million acres), in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done. And it’s not like the remaining “woods” and “open spaces” are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests, thoroughly invaded by non-native, invasive plants like Mexican petunia, camphor trees, coral ardisia and air potato. Over 400 species of invasive plants have invaded hundreds of millions of acres across Florida killing native trees and plants – and displacing the food and nesting sources that our birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife need for their survival. Sadly, because of political pressure from the ornamental plant industry, many invasive plants are legal to sell. Most citizens are completely unaware of this, operating under the reasonable assumption that a menacing species of plant would not be commercially available. They are not told that "Florida 'Friendly'" is a sneaky way to describe a non-native species, or that by purchasing invasive plants they are contributing to the destruction of native habitats. How? Birds will eat from an invasive plant in your yard if there is no other food around. In turn, they fly away and drop the seeds in nearby natural areas, complete with "fertilizer." Seed can also be dispersed by the wind and/or spread by landscape maintenance equipment. Other plants can spread by aggressive rhizomes.

U. S. Land Use (lower 48 states)
To nature lovers, the following statistics will be horrifying. Dr. Tallamy stresses them in his book so that we can clearly understand the challenge before us. We have turned 54% of the lower 48 states into a matrix of cities, suburbs and tiny fragmented habitats that cannot sustain themselves because they are cut off from their natural hydrology and connection to adjacent habitats. We have turned another 41% more into various forms of agriculture. That’s right: we humans have taken 95% of nature and made it unnatural.  But does this matter? Are there consequences to turning so much land into the park-like settings humans enjoy? Absolutely - for biodiversity, wildlife food sources and for us. Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce and in too many places we have eliminated both. In Florida, 112 plant and animal species are rare, threatened, or endangered and a myriad have already disappeared entirely. Many of those that haven’t suffered local extinction are now too rare to perform their role in their ecosystems. These can be considered functionally extinct. The song birds that brighten spring mornings have been in decline since the 1960s, having lost 40% of their numbers so far. Birds that breed in meadows are in even more trouble. Some species have declined by 65% to 82% in total numbers, and are completely absent from many areas that used to support healthy populations.

We're all in this together
Why Biodiversity Matters
For most of us, hearing such numbers triggers a passing sadness; but few people feel personally threatened by the loss of biodiversity. It IS, in fact, something that should cause every one of us reason to be alarmed. Here is why: a diverse network of native plants, animals, and insect species evolve together in ecosystems - they interact and depend upon one another specifically for what each offers, such as food, shelter, oxygen, and soil enrichment. We humans have inserted themselves into those ecosystems. We benefit from the oxygen that plants create (and the carbon they sequester), the water they filter, and their protection from extreme weather. We eat the fruits that were made possible by insect pollinators, who themselves are a food source for animals.
Humans cannot behave as though they are the most important species on this planet because their lives depend on the services provided by OTHER SPECIES. We encourage our own demise every time we force a species to extinction. Maintaining the species in each ecosystem is necessary to the preservation of the intricate web of life that sustains all living things. E. O. Wilson (known as the "father of biodiversity") said, "It is reckless to suppose that biodiversity can be diminished indefinitely without threatening humanity itself." 

Bringing Nature Home

Because our yards and gardens are part of the terrestrial ecosystems that sustain humans and the life around us, it is essential that we keep them in working order. Tallamy discusses the important ecological roles of the plants in our landscapes, emphasizes the benefits of designing gardens with those roles in mind, and explores the consequences of failing to do so. Gardening in this crowded world carries both moral and ecological responsibilities.

Please click HERE for Part 2 of this blog
---posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, October 11, 2013

F.N.P.S.: A Science-based Organization

(top) Student recording data for a restoration
project funded in part by FNPS Conservation
grants. (bottom) The project focus: Harrisia
, a rare, night-blooming native cactus.
Photos by Jon Moore.

by Juliet Rynear, Conservation Committee Chair

Whenever I hear a F.N.P.S. member say, "landscaping has nothing to do with science," or, "nothing to do with policy," I cringe in horror. The reality of our organization is that there is science behind science has everything we do, every policy we draft, and every function we perform. If the words "science" or "scientist" intimidate you, then it's time for a reality check. We all utilize and apply science on a daily basis, often without our conscious awareness.

Even if your primary interest is landscaping with native plants, please realize that horticulture is a science and landscaping is an applied science. Successfully growing and landscaping with native plants requires knowledge and understanding of the natural community which is native to the planting site and of the plant species that have evolved within that community. And, as with any type of gardening, knowledge of the soil type is essential. 

Volunteers surveying Seminole State Forest
after a prescribed burn. Photo by Jackie Rolly.
The best way to get to know any of Florida's natural communities is to experience them personally. If you have not yet had the opportunity to work "in the field" alongside professional land managers, botanists, students, or scientists, I encourage you to give it a try. There are many opportunities available to F.N.P.S. members, including Land Management Reviews, habitat studies, rare plant monitoring, and many others.

If you can't get outdoors don't worry, F.N.P.S. provides many opportunities for you to help fulfill our mission. You can join the Policy Committee or sign up for F.N.P.S. Action Alerts and help promote science-based policies that will protect our natural resources.     

Congratulations, you are a citizen-scientist!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Support FNPS through the EarthShare Federation

Goldenrods (Solidago spp)are important Florida natives
for attracting butterflies.
Giving at the Office

Workplace giving is a great way to support your favorite charity, and if you’re reading this blog post, I hope that means your favorite is the Florida Native Plant Society. As you know, the Society is very active in the conservation of nature in Florida. Of course our focus is on native plants and natural communities, but as they are the very building blocks of Florida’s ecosystems, your support of the Society is support for nature. And, there is no easier way to show your support than donating to the Society at the office.

As a member of the EarthShare Federation, the Florida Native Plant Society participates in multiple workplace giving campaigns throughout the state. If you happen to work for the state or for a company that offers payroll deduction options, you can choose to enroll in your employer’s workplace giving program. Just a pledge of a dollar or two per paycheck can have a huge impact on the Society’s work to protect Florida’s natural heritage and you will hardly notice it.

As you can imagine, the Florida State Employee Charitable Campaign is the largest that the Society participates in and the campaign is running now through November 1st 2013. So, if you are a state worker and haven’t enrolled in payroll deduction yet, please visit to make a pledge. From the main menu, you can go to the Charity Look-Up Tool and click on EarthShare. Scroll down through the organizations within the EarthShare federation and you will find the Florida Native Plant Society. It’s easy and it means so much.

We’re also involved in campaigns at: Ameriprise Financial; JPMorgan Chase; Accenture; UnitedHealth Group; Natural Body Spa and Shoppe; Entercom; the City of Orlando; and, Walmart. Some employers also match gifts, like American Express and UnitedHealth Group, doubling the bang for your buck. Even if your place of employment only offers United Way Campaigns or other payroll deduction programs that do not include EarthShare, you still can designate a gift to the Florida Native Plant Society using the write-in option.

Please consider designating the Florida Native Plant Society as your charity of choice in workplace giving and know that “giving at the office” is truly meaningful to nature protection in Florida.

Kellie Westervelt
Executive Director of FNPS

P.S. If you're reading this and are not a member of FNPS, join today to become part of our team. We need your ideas. 

Edited and posted by Ginny Stibolt
Butterfly photo by Ginny Stibolt