Wildlife Plants

The survival of some animal species depends on native plants; native flora and fauna evolved here together.  Providing habitat for wildlife is one excellent reason to plant natives.

Fruits and flowers are important food sources:  flowers provide pollen and nectar for insects and hummingbirds and fruits feed a wide range of animals.

The Cascade or Coast Penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus) blooms all summer with a profusion of purple flowers.  It gets 2-3’ tall and wide, thrives in the sun and seeds itself readily.

In his informative book, Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, Russell Link says about Penstemons,:  “The flowers attract hummingbirds, bumblebees, night-flying moths, and butterflies including swallowtails, common wood nymphs, and Lorquin’s admirals.”

Cascade Penstemon is showy, valuable for wildlife, and easy to grow.  What’s not to like?  Well…one thing.  The flowers are, uh, stinky.  So grow it, just not by the front door.

Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), another valuable wildlife plant, is a narrow evergreen shrub with holly-like leaves.  It gets 6-8’ tall and slowly spreads by rhizomes.  It thrives best in well-drained soil in the sun though it tolerates shade also (but will be lanky in the shade).   Both its yellow flowers and pretty clusters of blue fruit are valuable to wildlife (and edible for humans).

Some of Tall Oregon Grape’s specific wildlife benefits, according to Link:  “The berries are eaten by many birds, including grouse, pheasants, robins, waxwings, juncos, sparrows, and towhees.  Foxes, raccoons, and coyotes also eat the berries.  Deer and elk will occasionally browse the leaves and flowers.  Orchard mason bees and painted lady butterflies use the nectar.”

May Day

So, it is Native Plant Appreciation Week.  AND it was May Day a few days ago.  All week long, I have been beleaguered by sign-waving Native Plants.  They are standing tall and proud in the nursery (egged on by the free-range huckleberries in the woods adjacent). 

One of the Grand Firs (Abies Grandis) gave a speech:  “It’s time to take a stand! Haven’t we been downsized enough?  Our hard-working limbs, leaves and roots disrespected enough?”

The Large-Flower Fairybells (Prosartes smithii) straightened their curving stems a bit and waved their creamy yellow flowers. 

Grand Fir continued.  “Those humans have contracted out most of our work!  They dig pits to replace whole ecosystems and claim they will keep the water clean.  Are they doing the job RIGHT?”  Grand Fir paused for a moment to curl a branch into a full-on sneer.  “NO-O-O-O!  How can a hole in the ground do YOUR jobs of cushioning the earth from pelting raindrops and rushing, polluted runoff?  How can a gutter or a storm drain provide a home for a Junco or a Tree Frog?”

At this point, the demonstration took on a surprising degree of diversity.  Scolding noises came from the trees.  A tree frog croaked and the newly-hatched tadpoles in the kiddy pools waggled their tails.  And the little pots of mosses, carrying signs that said “Cushioning is our job!” and “Moss-Out Kills!” and “Solidarity with Peat!” stumped out to the driveway and staged a Moss-In.  The moss on the branches of the tall Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) overhead went wild, throwing lichen bits and hollering.

Grand Fir, encouraged, worked herself up a little more.  “Do they think that LAWNS or poodle-puff-who-knows-what-they-are-supposed-to-be shrubs will really give them what they need?  They need life!  And they get that from us!  WE are the 99%!  Just try to imagine how many plants it takes to keep one of those too-smart-for-their-own-good primates alive?”

“I know, I know!” squeaked a plump baby Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) in a 1-gallon pot, flapping its new, still-soft leaves. 

Grand Fir ignored him.  “Let me tell YOU!  There’s a big debt outstanding to Mother Nature!  It’s high time humans stop taking it out of OUR cambiums!”

The Red-Flowering Currants (Ribes sanguineum) began swaying back and forth, making a deep rumbling (which surprised me, since they are only a foot tall):  “No more bailouts!  No more bailouts!”

Grand Fir raised a limb to silence the somewhat off-topic Currants.  “It’s high time they APPRECIATED us!”

I’ve been hearing this kind of talk all week, and frankly, I have had enough.  Time for these plants to march on out of here.  Time for you to give them gainful employment in your yard, doing water quality protection, habitat support and general environmental cleanup.  And allow them to reclaim some space for Mother Nature.

Don’t be afraid to come—these highly qualified job candidates will welcome your support.  And I will make them put away their signs.