Wow! A Revelation.

Hibiscus Flowers photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 7/29/10
This flawless, magnificent Hibiscus bloom was growing at the entrance to the Phipps Conservatory’s Outdoor Gardens in my hometown, Pittsburgh. The earlier post we made, with this same flower, shared that despite alot of time spent posted right there, there were no insect visitors. None, and I was there in the middle morning, when flies, bees, butterflies, beetles and others are at their busiest. Nothing flew or walked or crawled to get the nectar of this stunning giant of a flower.

Recently, a visit to Kathy at Sylvania Natives, a Pittsburgh nursery that devotes itself to selling native plants, led to her recommendation that I read Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007). It was slow getting into it, then . . . . Wow! The Revelation? It was something that has puzzled me for much of my life. I remember the gardens, carefully coiffured, of the thousands of homes that surrounded ours in Long Island, New York. Green gardens, expansive lawns, few, few flowers, and leaves untouched. 100% of the leaves of those garden cultivars were in perfect form. Nothing missing, not a leaf tip missing. Then too, my own flower garden attracted few butterflies, bees, wasps, etc..

Tallamy explains that those gardens, and much of American suburbia, are planted with alien species that are  foreign to the U.S. His own research concluded that after many, many decades, insects and other herbivores here will not eat most of these leaves and stems. They will not nectar at most of these flowers and will not place their eggs on most of these plants. Sum total of these findings? Gardens without native plants do not attract and nurture our butterflies or our moths or our bees. His plea (it really is a plea) is to begin to intersperse native trees, bushes and annuals amongst our existing ornamentals. When an azalea bush fades, replace it with a native plant known to host our own insects.

Yes, then, this Hibiscus takes your breathe away, but it is alien to our region, if not to the United States. Pennsylvania bees, butterflies and moths do not recognize it as a food source. To my knowledge, no insects lay eggs on it, because it does not register as a food sources for their larvae. There is no re-education for most species of insects. They don’t know it, their genes don’t connect it to anything known to them. Nada. Nothing.

Since that visit to Kathy weeks ago, we’ve planted American Hornbeam (tree), American Plum (tree), Green-headed Coneflower (perennial), Monkeyflower (perennial), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and Chokecherry trees in our new garden. Yes, we do find that some leaves are getting munched-on (eaten for our international friends) here and there, but that is natural, the way it was and always will be. A pleasant revelation, even now.

Jeff

3 thoughts on “Wow! A Revelation.

  1. Beautiful exotic flower photo! I really ppreciate the story how native plants to your area attract the local insect and bug population for the survival of plants and insects. The wild bees on our property are noisy and busy collecting pollen from the blossoms of wild salal, huckleberries, honeysuckle and other native plants. It’s a happy spring to see so many.

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  2. Loved Tallamy’s book. Read it twice, and then our book club read it. It really changed the way we garden, now we very rarely put in anything non-native, and go out of our way to look for native plants.

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  3. Something to consider- we talk about “food deserts” in American cities where fresh vegetables are hard to find. This describes our suburbs as “food desserts” for our insects and birds…. an important idea to consider for all of us. Thank you for this post. WG

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