When I first started to learn about native vs. invasive plants, I saw things as pretty black and white. Native = good; non-natives = bad. I started hatching a plan to get rid of everything non-native and replant everything “native.” My first hint that I might be over-simplifying (and in for a TON of work!) was when an informed friend asked, “Native? How far you going back?”
He had a point. Landscapes and ecosystems change over time and not solely because of human intervention, so what era should I be returning my land to? What about that Butterfly Bush that feeds dozens of butterflies at the of the summer? It’s not native, but it sure seems to help!
Something didn’t jive completely with my own common sense, but I wasn’t well enough informed to know what approach to take. And then I met Amanda, (PLAN it WILD co-founder), who had a very common sense solution: Support Habitat.
Habitat support has less to do with whether a plant is native or not, and more to do with whether it’s helpful to the ecosystem. Through this lens, there are plants that are harmful, neutral or positive helpers; regardless of whether they are native or not. For instance, I have a lovely Japanese Maple that I nurtured back to life when we first moved in. It’s not native, but it’s not exactly hurting anything (although you shouldn’t let a horse eat it). Just one is pretty neutral. Bamboo, however, with its pervasive ability to multiply quickly, is taking over a patch of our land and killing off other, more helpful species in the process. There isn’t anything that needs to eat bamboo around these parts. Perhaps some creatures have adapted to make it a part of their diet, but it doesn’t need to be here, and it’s taking over for something that would be far more beneficial – so the bamboo is harmful and it’s coming out. But, the Butterfly Bush? It’s staying, at least until we can fill in the yard with native butterfly food. I’m learning quickly that the world of invasives is shades of gray (green!).
With the ‘use your yard to support habitat’ approach, the questions become more interesting. What kinds of habitat do I have on my property? What’s already here? What ought to be here, but isn’t? What does it need to support itself? What help can my land be to nature?
An assessment from PLAN it WILD has answered those questions for my little parcel of land and I can’t quite describe the joy in opening the report. It’s something like this: We pass these trees, shrubs, birds and bugs every day, but not quite seeing the world they’re living in. Reading the assessment was like an introduction to great neighbors we hadn’t known were there – and with a way to invite more in.
Connected. Connected to something larger than myself. That’s what it felt like.
And with that…our plan begins!