Saturday, September 01, 2007

On Colonies and Corridors

One thing we are all learning is how important wildlife corridors are these days. Sam Wright’s study on Key Biscayne (see update post) demonstrated this in real time; our new colony at Nova Southeastern University is yet another example. My friends biologist Ericka and entomologist Thomas recently bought a new home and even before their butterfly garden was planted, atalas showed up from the neighborhood to bask in the shade of their trees. Now that nectar sources are planted, the atalas are happier than ever. Their yard, shady with dappled sunlit areas, virtually swarms with Zebra Longwings, Julias, Swallowtails and skippers of various types. Plant it and they will come!

Martial Scrub Hairstreak uses Bay Cedar, or Buttonwood as a host plant. If you live near a wetland or along the coast, you may be lucky enough to see one! Plant some Bay Cedar to increase your chances. This little tiny guy was captured in Bahia Honda State Park, home of the famous Miami Blue Hairstreak.

We know that each species of butterfly has specific needs: a host plant (for the caterpillars—larvae—to munch down), nectar sources for the adults (some require certain types of flowers) and most adults like to hang out in a shady canopy when not busy making more butterflies or nectaring on scrumptious flower nutrients. A few require very specialized foods (Malachites slurp up the juices from fallen fruits, for example.) See below for help learning those specialized butterfly needs. Once you know your habitat type, you can choose the butterflies you want to visit, plant the required foods and shelter for the adults and caterpillars...Voila! A beautiful sanctuary is created in your backyard for you and wildlife.

Planting a garden is not only helpful to our butterflies, but to all the ‘urban wildlife’ that has been displaced as we change their native environment to one more suited to urbanized human habitation. Birds, mammals such as possums and raccoons, reptiles such as snakes, turtles and lizards, and even fishes benefit from having a place to call home in the midst of the concrete jungle. In the long run, WE are the final beneficiaries to all this wildlife---a healthier ecosystem, a calmer, more aware approach to life and therefore a healthier mental attitude....What can be more relaxing than watching butterflies and birds dance through your back yard after a hard day at work!

Here’s some great resources to get you started!

Broward County NatureScape has a lot of helpful people and advice for getting your yard into shape. Visit the site to learn how!

Florida Native Plant Society is a fountain of information! Visit the site and learn what plants used to flourish in South Florida before the onslaught of development and non-native invasive plants were introduced.

Why plant Native? NPS has these perfect answers:

"Promote Biodiversity. Of course, growing native plants will preserve and promote the species you grow in your yard. But in addition, growing natives contributes to the ecological balance that developed here in Florida over the millennia. Natives perpetuate the relationships between our native plants and the many other organisms that depend upon them for their survival.

Save Time, Money, and Energy. When used intelligently, native plants require less maintenance, are less expensive, and save energy. Did you know that lawnmowers are a significant source of air pollution? They also use up an appreciable amount of fossil fuel.
Conserve Natural Resources. Used properly, native plants require little to no extra water or fertilizer compared to most exotics. Watering non-native plants that aren't adapted to Florida's climate wastes energy as well as water, costs you money, and contributes to the pollution of surface water. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used in landscape and lawn maintenance run off into streams and creeks, polluting these water bodies.

No Pesticides Needed. Native plants have been exposed to Florida's pests as long as they have existed in Florida, and continue to display their resistance to insects and disease in our own yards. Forty years ago Rachel Carson pointed out that pesticides are biocides - their toxic effects are not confined to pests, but spill over to cause health problems for wildlife and people. Now, Our Stolen Future reminds us that we have again underestimated the danger of pesticides.

Watchable wildlife. Native plants are the best choice for attracting and nourishing our native wildlife. Native plants provide the food and shelter that our birds and butterflies need. Native plants leaf-out, bloom, and fruit when our native species need them most, and provide the nutrients that our native animals have adapted to through millions of years of co-evolution."

The Association of Florida Native Nurseries allows you to search for plants, where they are sold, and all the contact information you need to find what you are looking for. Some nurseries specialize in the really tough to find Florida native plants. It’s a great site!

Our local Broward County Chapter of Native Plant Society has super field trips, plant identification workshops every month, and very knowledgeable, helpful experts to help you planning your garden.

And finally, get your yard certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It is not too diffficult a process!

Attend the events at the City of Plantation's Tree Day! Learn about the “Birds and Butterflies in Backyards” from Master Gardener Barbara DeWitt. It will be a rewarding experience for residents in the community.

One of my favorite FREE services is from the great Master Gardeners and staff at Broward County IFAS Extension office. They can tell you what those bugs are, the plants, the soils, everything. Love this place for information!

And of course, our Broward County North American Butterfly Association has everything you need to know about butterflies and plants. We have a great butterfly host plant list complete with pictures put together by member Alex Schore…it’s printable and simple-to-follow! And our monthly meetings are free and open to all. Come and enjoy our next meeting, September 13, 2007, at 7 PM, held at the Broward County Extension office on College Avenue in Davie (see the website listed above for detailed directions!)

If you ever catch yourself saying, "Someone ought to do something..." STOP! and realize that YOU ARE SOMEONE....Do your part, however small your little corner of it may be, for the planet! Rabbi Hillel used to say: "If not YOU, who? If not NOW, when?"

And speaking of native landscapes: Big Cypress was a complete success, with 1,200 friends enjoying the beauty of this magical place. Maybe I'll see you next year?


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