A couple of reminders, if folks will, regarding pollinator gardens, especially those to attract and host Monarch butterflies:
The overarching principle for all ecological restoration plantings (i.e., those involving the correct use of native plants in parks, waterways, and natural areas) is to “Do No Harm” to the native flora, communities, wildlife, and natural landscape that currently exists at a given site, as well as preventing future degradation by introducing inappropriate material. (Remember, this is how we got our Chestnut Blight, Dogwood Anthracnose, Woolly Adelgid, and scores of other serious pests and non-native invasive species.)
A native plant is one that occurs locally and naturally – without direct or indirect human intervention. Planting “native” plants outside their range or habitat into natural areas is a significant form of domino-effect degradation. Such practices are decidedly outside the principles of ecological restoration.
Limit soil and land disturbance as much as possible – to prevent weeds and invasives and to minimize the footprint of artificial landscapes.
The eastern U.S. is dominated by the Eastern Deciduous Forest and its diversity of forest communities. Consequently, it’s no surprise that most lepidopterans found in the east are dependent on the natural diversity of broadleaf woody species for the larval stage of their life cycles.
Adults nectar on the flowers of a myriad of tree, shrub, and wildflower species within this mosaic, but need forested areas to survive in perpetuity.
It is important to realize that we are not the midwest, prairie, or western states, or even historically a major “stronghold” of Monarchs for instance – and that the aim of pollinator gardens and such plantings should not be largely hosting just two species – Monarchs and milkweeds – as they are becoming with many well-intentioned school educational gardens, etc. We certainly don’t want to disproportionately – or unnaturally – produce plantings of milkweeds at the expense of the natural diversity of companion/associated plants that still exists in most areas. Doing so might cause situations where native plants become invasive in certain areas to the detriment of existing flora and wildlife that depend on those other plants for survival. As always, look to the natural landscape, site conditions, and flora nearest and most representative of a desired planting site and use those elements as the template or foundation for the plantings.
There is a diversity and abundance of flowering native plant material in and around urbanized areas for pollinators! We need to always ensure that conservation and quality stewardship of natural areas be the main priority, with quality native plant pollinator gardens and plantings an important supplement.
Co-Chairman, VNPS Registry Sites
Natural Resource Specialist, City of Alexandria