Bidens alba....Pollinator MAGNET

The Unwanted are Welcome in My Garden

Dateline: March 11, 2011*

Shown on Bidens alba, cudweed is the larval host

Do you ever think about plant priorities in the garden? I’m always a bit confused when I do an Internet search on a native plant or wildflower and am greeted by multiple returns touting how to kill them. Have people become so oblivious to the matter of taking care of our native wildlife that they are more willing to believe that lawns and exotic ornamentals are classier than providing a sustainable landscape that will protect life for our future generations?

Case and point, I did a search on “cudweed” the other day looking for the name of a butterfly. While some Gamochaeta spp. are introduced, there are still several that are native. A list came up with various entries, the majority containing the words “control ” “pest” or “noxious”. Let’s be clear, American lady butterfly caterpillars (Vanessa virginiensis) use this species as a larval host so I don’t want to kill it.

One of the scariest results of my search was an entry from NC State University (NCSU) consisting of a list of “weeds” and the chemicals that will control them in turf grass. The scary part was that many of these “weeds” are native plants that have benefit to wildlife and humans, but the turf grasses are mostly introduced.

Let’s review some of the choices on their weed “hit list”:

Carolina Geranium (Cranesbill) feeds birds and deer

Geranium, Carolina aka CRANESBILL (Geranium carolinianum). This plant is native to the Lower 48 (USDA). According to University of Florida IFAS, “the seeds are eaten by birds and rodents. The seeds are reported to have astringent, febrifuge, diuretic and nephritic properties.” It is foraged by white-tailed deer. Hmm, good for birds, mammals and has ethnobotanical purposes. Certainly we should kill this in order to maintain some introduced turf grass.

Plantain: larval host for Buckeye butterfly and feeds many species

Plantain(Plantago spp.). This is another species that has some introduced but many are native to a great part of the US. According to the Weedy Wildflowers of Illinois description of Plantago virginica, a resident of my yard:

“The caterpillars of the butterfly Junonia coenia (Buckeye) and the caterpillars of several species of moths also feed on plantains (see Moth Table); Tiger Moths (Arctiidae) are particularly well-represented in this group. The seeds of plantains are eaten by the Grasshopper Sparrow and possibly other granivorous songbirds. Both tree squirrels and ground squirrels eat the flowering spikes to some extent, while rabbits eat both the spikes and leaves. The Deer Mouse eats the seeds of plantains and many other plants.”

Again, good for butterflies, mammals and birds, so I guess we should kill it.

Florida Betony may be aggressive, but has an edible tuber

Betony, Florida (Stachys floridana). Native to the SE, Texas and California, it is listed for NC as a Class B Noxious weed (USDA). It is a very pretty wildflower and is an edible plant, so this makes little sense to me. NCSU states:

“Florida Betony becomes a problem in lawns as well as in ornamental beds, and is especially problematic in centipedegrass and St. Augustine grass.”

The USDA lists centipedegrass as an introduced species, with St. Augustine listed as a native, although here in Florida there is some debate regarding that status. The University of Florida has a listing showing how to kill Betony in the following grasses Bermudagrass, Centipedegrass, Bahiagrass, Zoysiagrass, and Perennial ryegrass, all of which are introduced species. Are we so brainwashed by magazines with aesthetic characteristics of what gardens are “suppose” to look like that we overlook the benefits our natives provide to wildlife and ourselves?

Other native plants on that weed hit-list that are already in my habitat and are most welcome include:

Dollarweed (Hydrocotyle spp.) pollinator nectar source, good for maintaining soil stability; edible by humans
Blackberry (Rubus spp.) Browsed by Deer; fruits eaten by turkey, quail, songbirds, edible by humans
Purslane, Pink (Portulaca pilosa) nectar source, edible by humans
Woodsorrel, Yellow (Oxalis stricta) nectar source, edible (small quantities) by humans
Toadflax, Oldfield (Nuttallanthus canadensis) nectar source; larval host to Buckeye Butterfly

And there were numerous others.

Ok, I can possibly understand a golf course needing to maintain turf a certain weed-free way (I do enjoy a game of golf every now and again, although I often get mesmerized by plants in the rough). What I don’t understand is homeowners buying into the belief that their place should resemble the fairway on a golf course. Is it any wonder that there is a decline in birds, butterflies, bees and native mammals? Are we so shallow as to be inconsiderate of the needs of our wildlife? AND, If our food supply is ever compromised, I wish those of you with golf course quality lawns good luck in the eating department. Starvation can be painful, although, if you eat your Saint Augustine grass you probably won’t feel it too long since you’ll go quickly from the chemicals used to keep it “weed- and bug-free”.

Dollarweed Salad Anyone?

I have my garden priorities in order. Personally, I’ll be eating fresh bluegills from my fertilizer-free pond, tossing a Pennywort and Betony salad from my chemical-free meadow area and enjoying it with some Blackberry tea and perhaps some Blackberry pie for dessert. Oh, and on the next day I’ll probably have Squab because doves just love the seeds of those pesky Cranesbill plants I have and they visit daily for that treat. I love my wildlife, but there is survival of the fittest, you know!

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 11, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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