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Why Florida Native Plants?

Okay, it is hard to argue that beautiful, landscaped, green yards aren’t eye catching but what does it contribute to our Florida environment. The next few months in this Enviro Educator section, we will be looking at the impact of lawns on things like wildlife and water quality. How can we make Florida a better, healthier place for all living things? Let’s start with native plants.

Native plants can more easily withstand droughts, cold, and intense heat than many of our non-native landscape plants. Even if the plant looks dead chances are it will recover and come back when the conditions are more favorable. Native plants require less water, fertilizer, and lawn services, after all the woods survive just fine without any of these things.   What many of us don’t realize is the role that native plants play in creating landscapes that preserve life for all species.

All plants, through photosynthesis, produce oxygen and create energy stored in plant tissue for animals to eat. They do this by taking in carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. Obviously, without the plants, there would be no life on planet Earth.

Almost 1/3 of all animal species are insects that eat plants. The other 2/3 of the animal species eat plants or rely heavily or solely on insects that eat plants.   Birds, for example, our attracted to fruits, seeds, and insects that have everything to do with plants. We all love our birds, don’t we? Many of us purchase bird seed, place in containers, and wait for the birds….and squirrels… to show. Here is another way to get birds and it involves no bird seed.

Did you know that while some adult birds will eat the seeds in feeders, many will not, and no baby birds will be fed. Some 96% of land-dwelling birds rely on insects to feed their babies. Also, insects contain more protein than beef, (pound per pound), this is essential for baby birds to develop quickly. Studies show that spiders that are fed to baby birds contain more taurine, which is an amino acid that helps bird to grow smarter and bolder.

Native plants support more insects and more of a variety of insects. It is a fact that the presence of native plants, thereby more insects, correlate with increased number of birds, a greater diversity, and more pairs of breeding birds.

So, in a nutshell, native plants bring in more insects, but many homeowners do not want insects in their yard. That is the reason many non-native plants are used. Most insects don’t eat the non-native plants. These plants might as well be plastic since no life is sustained from them. It is important to educate Floridians about insects in their yard. Folks are worried that these insects will also get into the house. This is not the case, since you will be planting for wild bees’ beetles, butterflies, and months. These insects don’t want to be in your home. Bugs that live in your home are of a different type, that is best managed through good housekeeping. Let those insects eat your native plants, the birds will eat just the right number of insects to stop your plants from dying. That is what is great about the balance of nature. Celebrate that some of your plants are being eating, that is a sign your yard is working to support nature.

Native plants support more insects due to the thousands of years plants and insects have lived together in a particular place. They have adapted to each other and need each other to survive. Many insects are specialist, they only eat a narrow range of plant species. Plants can protect themselves chemically from being eaten by many insects, but over time some insects have evolved and are able to eat the plant. Insects that are moved out of their plant region into another region will not be able to eat the plants and will therefore die.

It is quite likely that you could see insects on your non-native plants, but they won’t be enough, and they may not be the kind we want or need to support our natural environment.  About 10 % of plants are generalists and can eat a variety of plants. These insects if indigenous to the area will pick native over non-native if given a choice. Problems do occur when non-native plants are imported to an area along with the non-native insects and disease. This can be damaging to ornamental and food crops.

“The number of species that will survive our destruction of their habitat is a simple percentage of the amount of habitat we leave undisturbed: a 1:1 correspondence If we take 95 % of the land, we’ll end up losing 95% of the species that originally inhabited the land- if we stay on the present course.” We continue to destroy our native habitat because we need a place to live. Just think about giving back to the habitat by losing a little bit of your turf and add some delicious native plants. No one is asking you to convert all the way; but if you aren’t using your whole yard for walking or playing, plant some native shrubs, ground cover, anything. Make your yard interesting and see who comes to visit.

Information comes from Douglas W. Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Pants.” Dr. Tallamy’s quote, “garden as if life depends on it,” because it does. Plant native.

Remember, always work with nature instead of against her.

Article provided by Jane Whitehurst, KCA Newsletter Chairperson

August 2021
1. The Dog Days of Summer are Here
2. Star-Friendly Lighting Standard Now in Place for Keystone
3. Why Florida Native Plants?
4. Riding the Trails in Keystone, Equestrian Style
5. New to the Neighborhood: BoldHouse Nutrition
6. New to the Neighborhood: Matlock Custom Home Builders
7. What are Phytochemicals?