Earth Matters – Want to attract life, colour and wonder to your surroundings? – Cornwall Ontario – Monday March 8, 2010

Think about planting species of plants native to North America which thrive in our extremes of temperatures throughout the year, require little or no work to maintain, and attract a multitude of creatures which are an absolute joy to watch and share your space with, should you take the time to appreciate.  There are many plants to consider; all the ones which will be mentioned below are perennial plants which means they will resprout and grow year after year.  They each grow to about 2-3 feet high with very little work; will provide beauty to our eyes and sanctuary for a multitude of insects and birds.

I do not plant Milkweed however I do allow them to grow and mature in my flower beds wherever the wind and birds plant them because these are the only larva host plant for the Monarch Butterfly; a species at risk.

They have wonderful aromatic flowers when in bloom which attract many butterfly species as well as bees and hummingbirds. I have read that pillows were made from the seed pods of this plant and that if you apply the fluid from the stocks on warts, it aids in their removal.

Perhaps someone out there could confirm if this actually works.  Another species that share this host plant for life is the Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar.  This image was taken in our backyard flowerbed two years ago.

Both the Monarch and the Tussock Moth Caterpillar have bright colours to serve as a warning to birds to stay away.  Should a bird decide to swallow a caterpillar who has just dined on Milkweed it would normally expel the nasty tasting snack or the bird could find it has inadvertently ingested its last supper.  The Milkweed sap is toxic to birds.

Purple coneflowers are a common site in many flower beds as they are easy to grow, drought tolerant and provide flowers for much of the growing season.  These flowers provide many species with food and cover.  This flower and its seeds attract and nourish butterflies, hummingbirds and other small birds.

The obedient plant is another perennial favourite as it provides a multitude of blooms throughout the growing season and is frequented and appreciated by butterflies and hummingbirds.  Should you have a larger space consider a native species tree or bush which  provide nourishment and shelter to these species and more.  We have a Nan king Cherry bush (not sure if this is a native plant) which was planted about 6 years ago.  We could eat these tart cherries however they are quite small…so we do leave them for the birds.  The birds feast on them and it is the only time I have seen a Robin eat something other than a worm.  They eat the cherries pit and all.  A complete delight to watch.

A forest, tree, bush or plant can possibly be the only universe that a living being will experience throughout its life cycle.  Just think about that for moment.  That milkweed plant was the world for that little tiny Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar before it transformed into a moth.  That little furry orange and black caterpillar would not have existed without that milkweed plant.  A plant that the wind planted, that we let flourish out of respect for the creatures that needs it to live.

P.S.  Our local Nurseries have the selection and information to help you with your plant needs.  As always, your commentary about this column is welcome and appreciated.

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