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Wild About Wildlife

This week is National Wildlife Week, a week devoted to celebrating the beauty and diversity of America’s wildlife. Here at Little Red Wagon Native Nursery, we celebrate all wildlife. Indeed, one of the reasons we so passionately encourage people to incorporate native plants in their landscapes is because it’s a great way to #NurtureNative.

There are many reasons to plant native, but these reasons are perhaps best summarized by this simple statement: plants “are the ecological basis upon which life depends...”

To put it another way, over the millennia, plants and wildlife that coevolved developed mutually beneficial relationships. Insects and animals that use plants for food and shelter provide those plants with benefits that include pollination, seed dispersal, fertilization and more. Thus, when the natural balance between wildlife and plants is upset, biodiversity and ecosystem health are both lost.

In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine last spring, Doug Tallamy, a professor at University of Delaware and one of my favorite scientists and authors, stated, “‘Ninety percent of the insects that eat plants can develop and reproduce only on the plants with which they share an evolutionary history.’” Since insects are such an important part of the food web (for instance, birds eat between 400 and 500 metric tons of insect biomass every year), it follows that a reduction in native plants means fewer insects with serious knockdown effects across the ecosystem.

Tallamy confirms this: the worldwide population of arthropods (chiefly insects) has declined by 45 percent from preindustrial times. This impacts the diets of numerous species: lizards, birds, frogs, and even mammals are losing all or large parts of their diets. “‘The little things that run the world are disappearing,’ [Tallamy] says. ‘This is an ecological crisis that we’re just starting to talk about.’”

So, what is one to do?

Plant “powerhouse plants” that are critical to sustain food webs. Research by Desiree Narango, Doug Tallamy and Kimberly Shropshire demonstrates that a small percentage of plant genera are essential components of the local food web and consequently can have an extraordinarily large influence on ecosystem health. Here in Tampa, these powerhouse plants include:

Flowers:
-Goldenrods, sunflowers, hibiscus, and cassias

Trees and Shrubs:
- Oaks, beach plums and cherries, willows, and pines.

But please remember to use natives to #NurtureNative. Native plants are foundational to ecological function. They are key to improved soil conservation, wildlife habitat, water quality and more.

Here at Little Red Wagon, we’re happy to help you find the powerhouse plants that are best for your yard. Just stop by and talk to us. And remember to #NurtureNative and help our native wildlife.