The most destructive influence driving extinctions is habitat loss. We are experiencing a loss not just of our native plants as land is developed, but an alarming loss of native insects that depend on them and the birds and other wildlife that depend on the plants and the insects. We are not only losing beautiful and beneficial pollinators like butterflies, but native insects that birds need to raise their chicks and other wildlife that depend on the foliage, seeds, fruits, and nuts that these plants produce. From native trees and shrubs to native perennials, our hope is that we can begin to repair our frayed environment and see an increase in the life forms we are currently losing. The fabric of our ecosystem is damaged and in need of repair.
Over millennia in an undisturbed native ecosystem, plants and animals evolve together and biomass (what is produced when organisms grow and mature) moves from the lower level of plants to insects and small mammals, then to larger herbivores and finally to the carnivores. You can say that we all “eat sunshine”, because the plants take sunshine, combine it with carbon dioxide and by the miracle of photosynthesis produces food that feeds all animals through their production of leaves, roots, sap, pollen, nectar, seeds, nuts, berries and any other plant parts. It all starts with sunshine and carbon dioxide. And, incidentally, if we want to reduce carbon in the atmosphere a quick way to do this is by installing a plant!
To repair and restore native ecosystems it is essential to restore native plant communities first. If this is done then the insects, birds and mammals will follow. We are not suggesting that you disregard beauty to rebuild habitat, as there are many plants that bring beauty to our lives that are completely native. Although non-native or exotic plants lend beauty to our landscapes, it has been estimated that up to 90 percent of all insects are specialists and do not utilize non-native species (Tallamy 2007). Maximizing the number of native plants in our landscapes is essential in establishing and maintaining healthy native ecosystems.
Our youth represent the future of our planet. We have much work to do to reduce and stop global warming, clean up our environment and stop polluting our land, air and oceans, reduce the spread of invasive species, and reduce habitat loss, so we can stop the alarming increase in species extinctions. We have a responsibility to leave a legacy of healing and renewal, of mending the fabric of our ecosystems. Each time we plant a native plant garden we make one stitch in the frayed fabric of our ecosystem, which we have so thoughtlessly and callously altered for our benefit and convenience. Our mission is no smaller than restoring the world that sustains us, because in the end if we do not, we harm ourselves (Tallamy 2007). We are dependent on the plants and animals in our world. The difference between us is that we can alter our environment, one garden at a time.
Did you know?
- A chickadee pair will need from 5,000 - 9,000 caterpillars to feed a single nest of chicks in one season!
- Native plants provide 35 times more caterpillar biomass than non-native species (Tallamy 2007).
- Studies have found that there are declines in bird population in areas heavily invaded by non-native plants (Tallamy 2007).
- There has been nearly a 50 percent reduction in population sizes for many of our bird species in the last 50 years, and it is estimated that 12 percent of bird species are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and the encroachment of non-native plant species (Tallamy 2007).
- Insects contain more protein than beef (Lyon 1996) and for that reason 96 percent of birds feed their chicks insects (Tallamy 2007), and that includes hummingbirds who feed their chicks tiny aphids and fruit flies! After all, chicks have a brief two weeks to grow from a naked hatchling to a fully feathered baby bird ready to fledge.
Tallamy, Douglas W. 2007. Bringing Nature Home, (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press), 358.
Lyon, W.F. 1996. Insects as human food. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. HYG 2160-96.
These grant proposals focus on educating youth about the importance of native plants to the survival of native ecosystems and their relationship to our own existence.
Application Deadlines for 2023
- March 31
- June 30
- September 30
- Youth: Grades PreK-12, and college or graduate students, of any public non-profit youth group.
- Location: Youth groups and garden locations must be within the boundaries of the New River chapter areas: the seven counties of Bland, Giles, Wythe, Pulaski, Carroll, Floyd, Montgomery; the towns of Christiansburg and Blacksburg; and the city of Radford. The garden must be sited in a public space that is accessible to the public.
- Plants: We emphasize the use of species native to Virginia, with preference given to local genotypes; insist that the plants used be nursery-or home-propagated, not wild-collected; and bar the use of species known to be invasive.
- Grant Amounts: Grant requests should range between $200 and $500. Larger requests may be considered based on available funds and project scope.
- Decisions: Grants will be awarded no later than one month after the March, June, and September application deadlines.
These grants can be as small as the renovation of an existing flowerbed, to the restoration of a meadow with removal of non-native species and the incorporation of natives, to the growing of native plants propagated from seeds or plugs, to the complete transformation of lawn space to native grasses and wildflowers. As long as plants native to Virginia are used, there is robust involvement and education of our youth, and the garden is open to the public, we are open to possibilities.