If you’re sick and tired of the pandemic era and going a little stir-crazy, break through the winter blues by joining your neighbors to take action on invasive plants.
Take ACTION on Invasive Plants
November’s invasive action day was a great success. The second in the series of action days will be Saturday, Feb. 13, 9 a.m. Snow date one week later. For more information call or text David at 860-508-0107 or send a note via GranbyInvasivePlants.weebly.com
The Caterpillar Connection
Fun Fact: Chickadees need between 6,240 and 9,120 caterpillars to raise a family. Wow!
Caterpillars are the premium food for black capped chickadees: they are soft and easy to eat, relatively large, nutritious, low in non-digestible chitin vs. beetles, for example. They are among the highest of any foods in carotenoids essential to the birds’ immune systems, overall health, sexual attraction mechanisms and vision. Bird seed is great, especially when other sources are covered in snow but to reproduce, birds really need caterpillars.
Problem is, a huge number of caterpillars are host plant specific—they depend on just one plant. Think Monarch butterflies and milkweed. It takes a long time, eons, to evolve these specialized insect-plant connections. Those prize cultivars and imports from other continents that we showcase in our gardens are useless to most native caterpillars.
Worse, when a host plant disappears, the insects that depend on it can’t switch to another host, and they disappear. When invasive plants like multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry and others dominate, overwhelm, outcompete and ultimately eliminate native plants that caterpillars depend on, the bird population declines or disappears as well.
When we replace woods with imported shrubs and trees, when we replace fields with monocultures like lawn, when we disrupt natural light patterns with artificial floodlights, we drive away crucial sustenance for birds and cripple the fragile diversity of our natural world.
What to do?
Replace big chunks of lawn with native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and groundcovers with deep woodchip mulch, not bark. Replace traditional floodlights with motion detector lights, yellow lights and LEDs. Control imported invasive plants, and plant native plants.
But not just any native plants. Some are super valuable, others not so much. At the top of the list: oaks! Oaks support about 500 species of caterpillars. Other “keystone” trees, and the number of butterflies and moths whose caterpillars use them as hosts in our area are: native versions of cherry (410), willow (377), birch (376), and aspen/cottonwood (319). Top flowers are: goldenrods (123), wild strawberries (77) and native sunflowers (58).
Much of this information comes from Nature’s Best Hope, a book published in 2020 by the celebrated Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. Tallamy recommends three essential resources:
Native Plant Finder at the National Wildlife Foundation, nwf.org/NativePlantFinder
Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States, Guild to Creating a Sustainable Landscape, by Tony Dove, Imagine, 2018.
HomegrownNationalPark.org. The grassroots movement to plant natives, restore biodiversity, and together grow a new national park, one home at a time:
More resources, including UConn and Extension Service and other local publications, are available at GranbyInvasivePlants.weebly.com
We are the leaders we’ve been
February is a great month to attack the invasive plants mentioned here because they are more visible and approachable. Cut big multiflora rose and Japanese barberry shrubs and Oriental bittersweet vines to the ground. Let the winter weather pack them down and start the decay process. Make plans to pull the stumps in the spring and plant native replacements.
Working together, we’ll shift Granby fields, forests and yards choked with invasive imports to a healthy, sustainable mix of native plants beneficial to wild life and human life.
For more information about these and other invasive plants, past columns, and a contact form to get help with identifying invasives on your property, go to GranbyInvasivePlants.weebly.com