As we are still suffering the impacts of the invasive Corona Virus, I don’t think I need to dwell on the undesirability of invasives but should rather talk about the positive ramifications within our ecosystem that arises from planting and propagating native species which can be superbly decorative and have native wildlife value.

Do you know how many caterpillars a Carolina Chickadee couple must provide to launch a brood? Between 6000 and 9000 before they fledge after about 16 days, they then continue to feed their chicks for another 20 days, according to Dr. Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and Author of Bringing Nature Home. View his YouTube presentation on the subject in Hope For The Wild.

Dr.Tallamy says Ninety-six percent of birds are raising their broods on arthropods, mostly insect protein. He asks what kind of landscapes are capable of raising the quantities and varieties of insects to raise their broods? Quoting Forester et al 2014 he says 90% of insects live only on the plants on which they co-evolved, i.e. native plants.” He argues that while the adults may also eat seeds and berries we need to “put these plants in our yard to make the insects so that the birds will be there to eat the seeds and berries later on.”

This Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is a magnificent specimen tree in The Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. 80-90% of Hummingbirds’ food is composed of insects, they top up on nectar. I didn’t know that before listening to Dr. Tallamy’s video linked above. C. Paxton image and copyright.

This article may be of most interest to people living in the Southeastern region of the USA but many of the ideas are relevant elsewhere. Back in early April I did some website maintenance work for the Acadiana Native Plant Project NPO’s and they kindly agreed to pay me the equivalent value of my fee in membership of their organization, some native plants that they had propagated together with an excellent book by William R. (Bill) Fontenot recently awarded the Caroline Dormon Award for the Outstanding Louisiana Naturalist of the Year 2021. Native Gardening In The South (second edition). More on that excellent book later!

A volunteer kindly dropped off our native plants and work began. I began by reducing the Chinese Tallow trees and privet thickets. I didn’t fell them entirely, but left stumps for standing deadwood value. We planted in: Purple Cone Flowers in the drier area near the drive that are good for pollinators. A Red Buckeye beneath the canopy edge at front and rear beloved by native bees and hummingbirds. Two Possum Haw (Deciduous hollies) that will hopefully provide a berry feast, two Red Mulberry trees that will pump out the fruit, a button bush in the dampest area that will hopefully be a magnet for butterflies, a Snowbell, two Laurel cherries, two Red Junipers for birds and some Mountain mint for bees and other pollinators. The quality of the plants was excellent and there were many thick worms in the rich moist planting compost.

Shortly afterwards we were kindly presented by a friend with one more Red Buckeye, some Broadleaf Mountain Mint, A Yellow Coneflower and an envelope-full of Purple Coneflower seed. The momentum is growing!

We have been growing from seed, too. A pollinator mix and hummingbird mix, also Bluebonnets from seed that we will plant in along the drive. In the past I had disappointing results from just broadcasting wildflower seeds on grass. This time I planted the seeds in flats and then pricked them out. The germination was phenomenal! I raked over the ash in a burning area and we broadcast the Purple Coneflower seed mixed with a handful of sand from an old fire ant mound, just before a rain storm. Hopefully we’ll have good germination there too.

This rewilding pleases my wife and I because in the wake of the IBPES report on the biodiversity crisis we wanted to do more to support the local resident and migrant native species. This coincided with our growing awareness as members of the local Northeastern Louisiana Master Naturalists that we live in “invasive-species-land” here, Japanese Honeysuckle, Wisteria, Chinese Tallow trees and Chinese Privet abound. Our bird feeders were mobbed by flocks of common House Sparrows. Things don’t feel right. It’s not that the wild creatures weren’t using the plants here, the Wisteria is buzzing with bees when in bloom, Cedar Waxwings feed on the privet berries and Yellow-rumped Warblers feed on the tallow seeds etc. but there was a lot of uniformity and overgrowth, the number of different plant species in the garden was not high and wild butterflies wafted through without much refreshment and had little cause to linger with us. They don’t have any choice of food material for their larvae or much for themselves as adults. Furthermore, the lovely wildlife we saw feeding were busy propagating the foreign trees and bushes by pollinating and spreading their seeds from here, not native ones. As such we are part of a much wider problem – the decline of native species and promotion of invasives. Attractive as they may be (I love the appearance of wisteria), there are attractive alternatives that work with the local ecology, not against it. Carolina Jasmine, trumpet vines, cross vines, Virginia Creeper etc.

I’m a novice wildlife gardener, if anyone wants to see what gardening for wildlife can achieve when done well, then a fine exemplar can be found at Allen Acres Bed& Breakfast near Pitkin, Louisiana. Dr. Charles Allen is a botanist with a great love of the Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths, and much else besides. If you like wildlife watching and whimsical garden design, I highly recommend a sojourn at Allen Acres for salving the soul and macro-photography. He doesn’t just plant natives, but they are mostly selected for their food value for larvae and adults. The result is a beautiful biodiversity hotspot and thronging with life!

Recently I have been reading learning that there are many attractive native plants that also perform ecological functions interacting with other species, providing food and shelter to the creatures with which they co-evolved while also pleasing the gardener’s eye with bark, foliage, blossoms and fruit.

Check out this excellent Nature Notes Video Defending Louisiana Flora and Natural Communities by Brian Sean Early for a great overview of the subject!