Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't Pull That Dandelion

Gardening with Intent means leaving in plants that you might regard as weeds if they provide food for other species. It also means nurturing plants that may not be traditionally beautiful but are important providers of native habitat and food.

How many dandelions have you pulled out in disgust?

Dandelions are native to North America and they are nutritious for animals and people.

Our yard has limited sun; few dandelions can make a go of it. When one sprouted up at the base of the block wall in the front, I was happy. The desert tortoise has just really started to eat after its winter torpor. Dandelion greens are filled with vitamins and they help stimulate the digestive system.

Nikki regards dandelion as a spring tonic.


Native heuchera or coral bells send up stalks of small flowers in spring.

The flowers are stunning on a minute level, but their tiny size makes them less desirable to many people. Hummingbirds, however, favor these tasty native blooms. This month I’ve added to my patch of heuchera and I plan to add more in the fall. I’d like to plant them in the backyard as well, but the tortoises love them too much.

The Catalina cherry and holly cherry are in bloom. They can’t compare to azaleas or camellias for beauty, but little white flowers attract small insect pollinators: flower flies and hover flies. These small insects, as well as gnats, are import items on the menu for western fence lizards and nesting female hummingbirds.

People always ask me why there are so many hummingbirds nesting in my yard. I honestly think the reason is that the hungry mothers need ready access to protein–small flying insects. The holly cherry trees attract native insects and provide the perfect location for building a nest. Two of the three successful hummingbird nests this spring have been in holly cherry shrubs.

In late summer the holly cherry will produce a small acidic fruit eaten by a variety of birds.

Look at the plants in your living space with a new eye. Which plants attract the most native insects? Which plants have the most spider webs? These are the plants that are participating in the local food web. Rethink pulling up all those dandelions. Try letting an area of your space be a “weed” patch. Dandelion and thistle seed are important food for small birds like goldfinches.

The word “paradise” comes from the idea of an enclosed garden. But a true paradise isn’t brightly colored flowers and grass in a sterile environment, living plants and animals interacting with each other, a reflection of the natural world, that is a true paradise.

1 comment:

Douglas E Welch said...

Great post, Keri! Glad to see the tortoises like the dandelions. Maybe we could start a company like the goat farmers who hire themselves out to clear weeds. (LAUGH)

True Tortoise Lawn Service!

I think I may have a hummingbird net this year. I keep seeing activity around this one tree. I haven't found the next yet, but I will keep looking. It is in the ficus tree, I think, which is pretty dense so hard to spot such things.