Pollinators Group Shares Native Plants, Pesticide Insights With Garden Club
Holly Kocet and Mary Wilson, of Protect Our Pollinators (POP), gave a special presentation to roughly 30 members of the Town and Country Garden Club at the Newtown Senior Center on September 8. The talk took place during the club’s first meeting of the new season and was free to the public to enjoy.
Kocet and Wilson were given half an hour to present their individual topics. Kocet focused on the importance of native plants, while Wilson covered the impact of pesticides.
Kocet started off by defining a native plant as “a plant that lives or grows naturally in a particular region without direct or indirect human intervention.”
Benefits of having native plantings include native trees being more efficient at sequestering carbon than non-native species, native plants being essential for healthy ecosystems and all living things, and forest trees being critical for combating climate change.
They also promote a healthy watershed, because, as Kocet noted, “Native plants filter pollutants, stabilize banks, and provide food for macroinvertebrates that in turn feed fish and other aquatic species.”
One of the biggest advantages to having native plants is that they support wildlife and insects — especially pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, and bees.
Kocet sourced information from the Connecticut Audubon Society that detailed, “Native plants provide food and shelter for 10-15 times more species of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife than non-native plants.”
She highlighted that all butterfly species require a specific host plant for their caterpillars and to lay their eggs. For example, common buckeye larva eat snapdragon, turtlehead, monkey flower, and plantain; the painted lady likes pussytoes; spring azure larva feeds on wild cherry, meadowsweet, NJ tea, and viburnum; and spicebush swallowtail go for sassafrass, spicebush, and tulip trees.
Kocet also shared some alarming information about the decline of many pollinators due to habitat loss and land fragmentation (development), pesticides, flowerless landscapes, exotic species, disease, invasive species, light pollution, and climate change.
As a result, there is a significant decline in American bat species, fireflies are disappearing, Monarch butterfly populations are down 95% in the last two decades, and five Connecticut bee species are considered threatened or of special concern.
To help bees specifically, she showcased a list of native plantings that support bees that included the perennials golden star, coreopsis, beardtongue, trout lily, boneset, dotted mint, joe-pye weed, wild strawberry, wild geranium, sneezeweed, sunflower, goldenrod, and asters; hawthorne, flowering dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood, cherry, plum, Easter redbud, and willow trees; and shrubby cinquefoil, inkberry, winterberry, blueberry, cranberry, beach plum, rhododendron, azalea, American holly, willow, red-twig dogwood, leatherleaf, mountain laurel, and Virginia rose shrubs.
Kocet took time to discuss the downside of non-native plants and how they are introduced either intentionally or accidentally. Agricultural crops, naturalized plants, ornamental plants, and invasive plants are all considered non-native plants.
She ended her presentation by sharing, “What we do can make all the difference.”
Wilson’s slideshow began with her explaining how “pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, etc., [are] all designed to kill.”
She reported that more than one billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the United States. People typically use them for tick, grub, weed, and poison ivy control.
Wilson explained that using them is ultimately a never-ending cycle, since they often cure a problem in the short-term.
“Many pest plants develop resistance to a particular pesticide, creating the need for stronger or combination products,” she noted.
She explained that pesticides can do damage and harm other organisms in addition to the intended target, such as pollinators, insects (including beneficial insects), birds, humans (especially children), pets, water resources, other plants, and the soil bacteria.
Even though all pesticides sold or distributed must be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the data they receive is submitted by the manufacturer.
“Most testing results are supplied by the manufacturer!” Wilson’s slideshow revealed.
Additionally, inactive ingredients do not have to be identified on the label.
She cautioned, “Do not assume that if a product is approved, it is safe.”
Wilson shined light on the deception of products by discussing the Eco-Might Pro, which is advertised as an organic weed killer and was recently approved for use in Connecticut.
“The list of ingredients looks to be non-toxic and safe enough… but the state of California found Eco-Might to contain hazardous chemicals including glyphosate, bifentrhin, permthrin, cypermethrin, and carbaryl, and issued a ‘stop use notice,’” she explained.
Wilson said there are alternatives to using pesticides: having beneficial insects for biological controls, manually doing tasks like pulling weeds, as well as using nontoxic baits, traps, and lures and nontoxic substances.
Another way to avoid using toxins is to rethink having lawns of monoculture grass that do not help the ecosystem. Instead, switch to reducing the size of the lawn by adding meadows and native plants.
“Americans use huge amounts of water to grow grass, harm the environment by fertilizing it, and spend about $30 billion on lawn care every year,” Wilson shared.
Unfortunately, lawn chemicals have the ability to wash into streams, lakes, and groundwater, as well as get tracked into homes and cars.
Wilson encourages people to try mowing their yards less frequently and/or leaving some parts not mowed, to tolerate flowering weeds, to go organic, and to keep some autumn leaves for overwintering pollinating insects. People can even turn their yards into pollinator pathways, a pesticide-free place that creates a safe habitat for pollinators.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.