Native plants are beautiful. For me, their beauty comes from more than their flowers. Native plants have a role in our local ecosystem and that’s where bugs come in. Understanding the relationship between bugs and plants is an important part of our education in native plants.
At this point in my personal education, I am “all about the bugs.” I am thrilled to see bugs, discover and identify new bugs, and find instances of something eating my bugs.
If you are not a bug “convert,” let me pass along a little information about why you want to see more bugs in your yard this year. I hope by the end of this article that you too will be cheering for more bugs (more native bugs, that is).
First of all, let me hit you with the pretty reason. People like butterflies and want more butterflies (there is a whole concept out there called “butterfly gardening”), right? Butterflies are bugs. They start out as small eggs on leaves, hatch out into caterpillars, and then devour those leaves on their way to becoming big enough to be a butterfly.
Oh wait, did I just say they devour leaves? I suppose you might be wishing that they eat plants that are not your favorites then. Nope, they have to eat their host plants and that’s where they female butterfly lays her eggs. She is not laying eggs on crape myrtles, forsythia, waxleaf privet, ‘Bradford’ pear, or that big row of Leyland cypress/Cryptomeria.
If you want butterflies to truly live in your garden, you need host plants. More than just parsley and fennel, plant milkweed (Asclepias), spicebush (Lindera), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), goldenrod (Solidago) and many others. The important thing is to do your research and use regionally appropriate plants. Moths are also very beautiful and useful so consider them as well.
Ok, so we need plants for butterfly caterpillars to eat. What else?
How about a HUGE ecosystem service called pollination? We need bugs for that. Do you like having berries for birds or food crops for yourself? So you like having your flowers set seeds (for the birds to eat or to make more plants for you)? If so then you want pollination services.
Pollination services are performed by bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, hummingbirds and even bats. Flowers open up and along come pollinators but not just any pollinator. In my garden, blueberry (Vaccinium) flowers open and the bees arrive. The Magnolia macrophylla flower opens up and beetles arrive; beetles are the number one pollinator for magnolias. The Hypericum flowers open and the bees arrive. The Hydrangea arborescens flowers open and, well, several things arrive. Sometimes flowers support more than one pollinator.
Ok, here’s the third reason – birds. What do birds have to do with bugs? They eat them!
Insects are the number one diet for all baby birds and they are a significant source of food for birds known as insectivores (like warblers).
Birds eat caterpillars (the larvae of butterflies, moths, sawflies and others), they eat beetles (both as grubs and adults), they eat dragonflies, flies, bees.
They also eat worms and many other soil-dwelling critters (did you know that snails are a source of calcium to produce healthy bird eggs?). If you like birds, you really should be cheering every time you find a bug in your garden.
So there you have it – 3 really great reasons to want bugs in your garden:
- They are pretty (caterpillars grow up to be pretty bugs). Many other bugs have really cool markings. Have you seen dragonflies?
- They provide essential services like pollination.
- They support birds as a source of food.
And if you need a fourth one: children love bugs so get the kids and grandkids out there exploring nature in your own yard. There are some really cool bugs out there. You don’t even have to like them yourself, nature will handle it. I like this quote from fellow blogger Loret Setters:
“I guess the point is that not every critter is going to be something that you want to hug or photograph but they may be the food for something that you want to hug, photograph or observe in your own beautiful wildlife garden.”
Even spiders are important. Need more convincing or need resources? Try these posts:
So, can I count on your support for more native bugs?
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