The invasion I'm talking about is not all the people moving here to eastern Pennsylvania from New Jersey to escape huge property taxes. No, that is definitely not a silent invasion. And I'll talk about that invasion in a future blog post about community planning and smart growth. I'm talking here about invasive plants – non-native plants that crowd out native plants. So the obvious question would be, "What do invasive plants have to do with the birdscape (birdscape, in this case, refers to the variety and number of birds we see in our backyards, parks, and open spaces). Fair question.
|Butterfly house among purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)|
Most people who are serious about creating a thriving butterfly garden probably know that they must select plants that provide the food and shelter preferred by various butterfly and moth species in both their larval and adult stages. But invasive plant species tend to spread aggressively and crowd out native plants, stealthily diminishing the natural habitat for native wildlife.
My township’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) held an invasive plant removal event back in April of this year at an open space property owned by our township. The property is along a planned Greenway trail that would roughly follow the Little Lehigh Creek as it snakes right though the center of our township. Two years earlier, the township used some state grant money to hire the Natural Lands Trust to complete a natural areas stewardship report of this 86-acre property (it’s a great report – here’s a link to it: http://www.lowermac.com/library/file/main_bccc_eac/2010-04%20KratzerFarmStewReportLowRes.pdf). One of the report’s recommendations was to try to control the invasive plants that are found throughout the property.
|Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), an invasive plant|
So this spring, the EAC enlisted the help of our local Boy Scout troop and spent a Saturday morning pulling and uprooting garlic mustard plants and Japanese honeysuckle bushes. At the advice of one of our EAC members with a botany background, we targeted these two invasives because they were in bloom or beginning to bloom in late April when we held the event, so they were easy for our group of about 24 botanical amateurs to identify. We also applied for a mini-Greenways matching grant from the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful foundation, which allowed us to purchase approxilmately $1,000 worth of native plants to take the place of the invasives that we removed. It’s important to promptly replace the removed invasives with healthy native plants, because seeds from invasives will quickly try to take advantage of any disturbed soils to embed themselves and germinate.
New native plants waiting to be planted in place of invasives
The health of the ecosystem starts with the smallest members of the food chain, in this case insects, and ripples upward to the creatures that we are more likely to notice, such as our feathered friends. And really, this isn't just about insect diversity for the sake of birds. Our food crops depend on bees for pollination. A big, green, weedless lawn offers nothing at all for bees, and, arguably, is even detrimental to the bees along with hundreds of other insects. On the other hand, gardens and herbicide-free lawns offer all kinds of nectar and pollen opportunities for bees … and birds. After all, life is all about the birds and the bees, right?
|A bee in my butterfly garden|