In the photo above, not only is the plant an introduced hybrid, the bee was also introduced by European settlers. These bees displaced many of our native North American bees – a fact most people are unaware of.
I find it interesting how a few studies can herald a paradigm shift. One area where I see this happening is the debate over native and non-native plants. Let me begin by assuring you that I do not promote or cultivate invasive thugs such as oriental bittersweet or kudzu. But there is increasing evidence that some plants we refer to as “non-natives” or even “invasives” and spend millions in usually futile attempts to eradicate, are actually beneficial to wildlife and pollinators. Maybe we should leave some of them alone.
In a previous post, which you can read here, I wrote about a scientific study that showed that one plant, Lonicera, or Honeysuckle (the shrub, not the vine) was an important food source for migratory birds, and therefore contributing to increases in bird populations. The author’s advice: stop trying to get rid of honeysuckle because it has become a valuable part of the ecosystem, and the birds depend on it.
Now, respected plantsman and writer, Graham Rice, cites another interesting study – this one done in the UK over a 30-year period. Biologist Jennifer Owen found that “alien” plants produced more food for certain species, in this case moths. Rice’s conclusion is that we gardeners should stop obsessing over planting only “native” species and just plant what we and the birds and insects like – excluding the thugs, of course.
Many advocates of “natives only” planting would respond by saying that the nutrient quality of the fruits and seeds produced by non-natives is usually inferior to that produced by natives. I have not yet read any studies proving this to be true or untrue, nor am I a biologist, so I really can’t take a position on this issue.
If you want to read the study itself, click here. It looks like the book is in short supply right now, so keep trying.