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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - March 04, 2008

From: Swanzey, NH
Region: Northeast
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Importance of native plants for wildlife.
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I just read Donald Tellamy's new book,Bringing Nature Home. He documents how native plants provide more nourishment for wildlife than introduced plants. The definition of native plants that I use is plants growing here before European settlement. What other scientific studies prove the importance of planting native plants instead of introduced plants for the well-being of wildlife?

ANSWER:

I contacted Kelly Bender from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife) to ask for her input on your question. Here are her comments:

"The general consensus is that cultivated plants put their energy into producing the things we find valuable -- like fancy curled or variegated leaves or really big and exotically scented flowers. The energy for these big showy plant parts has to come from somewhere... and, since the nursery person doesn't evaluate nectar quality or seed
carbohydrate/protein concentrations, we expect that those qualities are sacrificed for the other characteristics that people value.

I don't know of any study that supports this thesis -- but that doesn't make it false."

I did a search on several academic bibliographic databases for published articles dealing with the nutritional benefits of native plants over introduced or alien plants and could not really find anything relevant to your question. There are studies and various publications that discuss what plants are being used as food and sometimes their nutritional value (e.g., White-tailed Deer Food Habits and Preferences in the Cross Timbers and Prairies Region of Texas), but not in contrast to introduced plant species.

Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, has an extensive bibliography (7 pages) of works supporting the premise of his book. I suggest you check out some of these for more detailed information supporting his thesis (e.g., Gordon, D. R. 1998. "Effects of Invasive, Non-indigenous Plant Species on Ecosystem Processes: Lessons from Florida." Ecological Applications 8:975-989). Many of these articles in journals are available at a university library or your local library might be able to obtain photocopies of them.

 

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