The lure of the ‘tweaked’ plant. The one that we like because it is bigger, brighter and showier than the original. These ‘improvements’ showcase our home and impress our neighbours, but do they work for the others with whom we share our outdoors space? Bees, butterflies, birds and all creatures which have an ever-shrinking choice of places to call home and make a living in. And whose survival becomes ever more precarious as they try to cope with the stress of pollution, the vagaries of weather and decisions that take no account of their needs.
For some, the effort to find a host plant or enough food to feed their young has just been too hard. In Ontario, native bee species that were widespread are now a rarity. Native wildflowers that once brought colour to rural landscapes are disappearing as even the hedgerows that were their refuge are being grubbed up. The swallows that would line up on the hydro wires at this time of year in anticipation of migration are seldom seen.
Gardeners to the rescue! Be the refuge. A space, no matter how small, if planted to at least 70 per cent native plants, can become a community and contribute ecosystem benefits, and may even provide a vital link to ensure a species’ survival.
So much depends on the choices we make. Gardeners are recognizing this and native plants are newly fashionable. The trend has prompted growers to make the natives that much more alluring by selecting and breeding for the traits that will attract buyers, like variegated foliage, disease resistance or compactness. The result is a cultivar - or “nativar,” as they’ve been called. Do these plants provide the same services (hosting, nutrient content, accessibility of pollen and nectar) as the original “straight species” plant? There isn't a complete answer but in most cases, they don't.