Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Plants That Always Thrive

The Climate Crusader is looking at weeds through different eyes.

It has been a hot, dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest. We are usually known more for our liquid sunshine (read: rain) than actual sunshine, but so far 2015 has been an exception. My lawn long ago gave up the ghost and turned brown. If I forget to water my garden for a couple of days some of the plants look more than a bit parched. But amid all of this, there are some plants that continue to do well.

They are green. They are flowering. Lush, even. What are they? Weeds.

Only, not really.

Let's get down to basics and consider the question of what a weed is. Wikipedia has this to say about weeds:
Traditionally this classification was applied to plants regarded as undesirable... Today the designation is less often used as a classification of plant life... Many native plants previously considered weeds have been shown to be beneficial or even necessary to various ecosystems.
The plants that are thriving on my lawn and garden this summer are mostly plants that I didn't put there. Rather, they're plants that took root themselves. These are plants that clearly handle summer weather better than my tomato or basil plants. And many of them are native species. That is, they evolved here in the Pacific Northwest.

It's no surprise that native plants need less tending than non-native species. After all, native plants evolved here. They do well in local soil, and tolerate local weather conditions well. They grow whether humans plant and water them or not.

Not all of them are pretty or tasty. But native plants have many benefits. For instance, native plants provide habitat and food for other native species, such as birds and insects. Native pollinators? They have co-existed with native plants for millenia. I already mentioned that native plants require less care, which also means that their environmental footprint is lower.  And native plants contribute to biodiversity, just by being their own fabulous selves and sending their pollen out into the world.

Antelope brush ecosystem

Last summer I visited the South Okanagan, a beautiful region in my home province of British Columbia. This area was originally covered by antelope brush, a humble looking plant that nevertheless sustains many other species. More than two-thirds of the antelope brush habitat has been destroyed, though, and with a thriving agricultural industry in the region the rest is under threat. If the antelope brush disappears, the consequences will echo through the rest of the species in the region.

So what is my point? My point is that we should re-consider the way we look at weeds. While some truly are invasive species that force out other plants, others are helpful native species. By nurturing these native species, and giving them space in our gardens, we're making our lives easier (since they'll grow with our without us), we're helping to protect the ecosystems we call home by providing plants that nurture local wildlife.

Here's to plants that always thrive!


Green Bean said...

This is a topic near and dear to my heart! I became interested in native plants with the California drought but soon learned that native plants are much more than just drought tolerant. They provide critical habitat at a time when ecosystems around the world are collapsing. Thank you for such a great article!

Betsy Escandon said...

As I read this I thought, Green Bean is gonna love this! An excellent perspective on so-called weeds and what they have to offer us.

Anna (Green Talk) said...

I love native plants and have replanted them other places in my garden. A bird dropped goldenseal and it multiplied to 30 plants the next season.

Norm Brown said...

I've read through this article a couple times and am stumped. My struggle is how to deal with private property owners. I like the idea of providing more natural spaces in my yard; but my problem is that this is not a generally accepted attitude when you get into suburban spaces. I've lived in several different states in the US and attitudes vary wildly.

In vast parts of the southern US you can commercials on the radio selling the idea of a "controlled burn" to clear your land for farming. In the northeast and Midwest, Homeowner Associations influence how owners can manage their yards.

I'm stumped on how to convey the importance of natural spaces when there are so many competing priorities. I do what I can with one person at a time and one home at a time; but "we" need more people to help with that fight.


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