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Our Native Wildlife Needs Native Plants


By Shelley Harms

Ah, spring in Norfolk! Frog choruses, birdsong, green leaves and . . . burgeoning invasive plants. It’s time to pull up the garlic mustard and chop out those invasive shrubs like honeysuckle, barberry and burning bush.

Alien invasive plants are spreading all over town—they are probably growing in your own backyard. These plants move and spread far and fast, displacing native plants as they go. They produce seeds that are spread into our forests by the wind, birds, animals and strong underground rhizomes. They leaf out before native plants, stealing their sunlight. They are vigorous and shade-tolerant, able to grow in conditions many natives cannot. They even keep their leaves longer than natives. All this enables invasives to grow strong and take over, at the expense of our native plants.

Why care? Because our native wildlife depends on native plants. The caterpillars and other insects that baby birds, frogs and other animals need, cannot eat barberry, burning bush, honeysuckle, Norway maple, garlic mustard, phragmites, purple loosestrife, Asian bittersweet, Japanese knotweed and the other alien invasive plants spreading throughout Norfolk. Chickadees, for example, need 9,000 caterpillars to raise a brood of babies. They can get plenty of caterpillars from oaks, but not from Norway maples; from blueberry bushes, but not from burning bushes; from goldenrod, but not from garlic mustard.

Other reasons to care—barberry has been shown to boost the population of ticks that carry Lyme disease, and Japanese knotweed will grow through concrete foundations if allowed to spread. In Britain, insurance companies have started refusing insurance to homes that have Japanese knotweed infestations.

The good news is that the whole northwest corner is becoming more vigilant about fighting the invaders. This spring, we have terrific opportunities to learn about managing our own properties to promote native plants and control the invasives.

The Salisbury Forum is bringing Doug Tallamy, author of the wonderful book, “Bringing Nature Home,” to our area to speak about just how important it is to replace alien invasive plants with native ones, right in our own yards. His talk is on May 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hotchkiss School Auditorium.

Inspired by Tallamy’s visit, the Salisbury Association Land Trust has developed an exhibit called “Go Native,” which opens May 6 at 4:30 p.m. and will be on view throughout the summer at the Salisbury Association’s Academy Building.

The Sharon Land Trust is doing two invasive field workshops on May 20, one at the Housatonic Valley Regional High School Invasive Management Area (North Campus in Falls Village), from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., and the other at the land trust’s Mary Moore Preserve (24 Williams Road in Sharon), from 1 to 3 p.m. Invasive plant managers will be present at both sites, describing the processes at work in nature and various methods for the safe and effective control of invasives in large landscapes and in backyards.

Right here in Norfolk, our Conservation Commission is bringing back Mike Nadeau, who gave a popular talk last year on “Lawn Alternatives.” He will speak June 3 at 4 p.m. at the Norfolk Library, on “Using Native Plants for Naturalistic Landscapes.”

If you are inspired to take action after learning about gardening with natives, you can participate in the Norfolk Conservation Commission’s annual Ornamental Plant Exchange on June 10 at the Farmers Market. Norfolk residents who take out an invasive shrub or tree on their property can bring proof of removal to the Farmers Market and pick out a lovely, free native plant to replace the invasive.

These events will “bring home” the ways that each of us can affect the health of our native communities of plants and animals. It is exciting to imagine people all over our region working to correct the mistakes of the past by restoring the beautiful native plants that can support our beloved native wildlife, one tree or bush or flower at a time.

Photo by Katherine Griswold: Juicy caterpillars are important for raising healthy bird families. Birds can find the caterpillars they need on native plants.


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