They aren’t weeds! They are vital producers and the fuel for all food chains!
What is a food chain, a food web and a biomass pyramid?
A food chain is a linear relationship that begins with plants (producers) and shows the order in which organisms eat. n other words, the plant is eaten by the herbivore, the herbivore is eaten by the carnivore….so on and so on.
Picture source: http://heightstechnology.edublogs.org/tag/foodchain/
A food web is a bit more complicated at first glance, but it is nothing more than multiple food chains in one diagram. Food webs show that there are more than one feeding relationships. Think of it as your dinner plate, you don’t eat the same thing over and over.
Picture Source: www.epa.gov
Once you understand food chains and food webs you are ready for the next step in understanding why native plants are so important; biomass pyramids. Biomass Pyramids represent the amount of mass, matter and energy available at each level of the food chain to sustain that food chain. It is shaped like a pyramid to represent that mass, matter and energy is lost between each level (AKA Tropic Levels). In fact, we generalize that 90% is lost between each level and only 10% passes on.
Take the model above. Grass is the producer and the first tropic level of our food chain. The grass captures the photons of ebergy from the sun and converts that energy into stored energy through a process called photosynthesis. If this process does not occur, the organisms living in this ecosystem are at risk because…well….no other organism can capture and transfer the suns energy into usable energy.
The vole then eats the grass and goes about it’s daily life. IN the process of living the mole uses a majority of the energy it got from the grass. In fact, the vole transfers 90% of the grass biomass into waste products, heat and energy and only keeps 10% of everything it got from the grass. If the vole did not do this the vole would increase in size by 90% every day. That is a really huge vole!
The same process occurs as the Barn Owl eats the voles. In the daily life of the owl it eats multiple voles, the owl also has to fly to hunt, take care of young, avoid predators and carry on a host of bio-chemical reactions with its’ body . Thus, the owl uses 90% of all matter, mass and energy taken in each day.
Let’s add some numbers and see if that helps you understand this. Let’s say the barn own weight 500 g. There would need to 5,000 g of voles available and 50,000 g of grass available in order for the correct amount of biomass to be transferred up the food chain and support this one owl. This is a little over simplified, but we hope you get the idea.
Back to the original question and the relationship to native plants.
Local plants and animals have spent the last 10,000 plus years evolving with each other. When we replace the very first level of a food chain with a plant that the next level may or may not understand as a food source, you disrupt the chain…disrupt the web…and disrupt the entire flow of mass, matter and energy through an ecosystem.
So why use native plants? It supports the entire ecosystem of organisms living in that region.
Here are some other reasons to go native!
Choosing native plants allows our native organisms to coexist with non-native landscapes. There are added benefits to a homeowner who chooses natives over non-native ornamental plants. Native landscaping doens not need herbicide, pesticide or fertilizer. Native plants are perfect for the novice gardener because they require very little maintenance once established and promote plant and wildlife conservation.
Stormwater is arguably one of the top sources of pollution impacting our Nation’s water quality. Native plants have a much different root system than non-native ornamental plants. Native plants have roots that extend deeply into the ground which helps to pull water hitting the surface infiltrate into the ground. Every drop of water that infiltrates, does not become stormwater and does not lower the quality of the water available to your community.
ACTION– Learn about Clean Water Act and also NPDES. Then head to your community public works department and ask to set up an appointment to learn how your community addresses stormwater. Once you have done some research you can offer suggestions on installing native plants to create bioretention and wetland detention basins both of which slows down and absorbs rainwater, thus reducing the quantity and velocity of storm water runoff while improving water quality.
To Create Wildlife Habitat
A native plant garden or large planting with a diversity of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses provides food and shelter for insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals throughout the growing season. Leaving seed heads and plant structure throughout winter provides continuing food and shelter for many creatures and provides opportunities to observe nature up close. To underscore the importance of native plants to birds, virtually all terrestrial birds feed their young insects. Native plants provide food for insects, and insects provide food for birds. With no insects, we would have no birds.
ACTION– Bees and Butterflies are in trouble! Planting native plants will go a long way in helping these two critical insect groups. Make plans with your family to install native plants. Encourage others in your neighborhood to do the same. Start a community network and trade seeds in the fall.
ACTION: Check out the organization Plant Map. With their program you can map a botanical garden, public garden, plant society, garden club, school or your related nonprofit organization and share your plants, gardens and collections. Connect with your members and supporter profiles and show them on your profile map. We’re adding tools so that you can import plants, share your events and contribute blog posts about your organization on the site.
You can use their program to organize your community network!
Plant Native http://www.plantnative.org/
Native Plant Data Base http://www.wildflower.org/plants/
University of Illinois Extension Office http://urbanext.illinois.edu/wildflowers/nativeplants.cfm
Native Plant Network http://www.nativeplantnetwork.org/journal/
Tallgrass Restoration http://www.tallgrassrestoration.com/
Plants of the Southwest http://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/
Porterbrook Native Plants http://www.porterbrooknativeplants.com/
Plants of the Southeast http://ncbg.unc.edu/native-southeastern-plants/
Plants of the Northwest https://green.kingcounty.gov/GoNative/Index.aspx