New England Is Losing Its Native Plants
June 25, 2019 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Researchers Say It’s Time To Stop And Smell The Wildflowers

Where have all the wild orchids gone?

A recent study finds that about one quarter of native New England wildflower species have been lost in the last 150 years. This means that purple-fringed orchids and pink lady slippers — once abundant in the region — are disappearing from some areas, often replaced by non-native species. Researchers worry that this loss of biodiversity may harm local ecosystems.

posted by poffin boffin (8 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Time to pull black wort again. I pull a few on my way to work every morning
posted by ocschwar at 11:04 AM on June 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Rural-ish Connecticut childhood here. I remember ladyslippers being thought of as rare when I was a child, in the 70s and 80s; but I remember being told the reason for that was people digging them up in an effort to transplant them into their own gardens. It was a tough plant to transplant and often didn't survive, so trying to "tame" it was always a doomed enterprise. ...At least that's the party line I got...

But definitely I remember ladyslippers being rare about 40 years ago, already.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on June 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

But definitely I remember ladyslippers being rare about 40 years ago, already.

If it's any consolation I've had two friends in this area post pictures of them within the last few days.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:22 AM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

But definitely I remember ladyslippers being rare about 40 years ago, already.
I also remembering hearing this 25 years ago in Western Mass. I did see tons of them out in the woods around Andover in the last couple of weeks.
posted by youthenrage at 2:09 PM on June 25, 2019

Some plants are rare because they only live in a rare niche. They may be abundant in a few spots but are really vulnerable if those are disturbed.
posted by Botanizer at 2:31 PM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

This article is pretty scary. So I am a Certified Native Plant Master for the state I live in (Colorado). And in one of the courses I took it was absolutely shocking how important native plants were to the local ecosystem, because if IIRC research has shown that 90% of all herbivorous insects specialize in one way or another, which means they specialize in native plants, often even just one or two, and aren't evolving fast enough to use invasive or introduced (alien) plants. Entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy has done some terrific research on the importance on native plants to the ecosystem (and wrote a great book, Bringing Nature Home) and his lab found that while a native tree like an oak may host hundreds of native species of moths and butterflies, an introduced tree like the Bradford pear (in Colorado) will have none. Zero. Zip. Follow that upwards: a chickadee requires literally thousands of caterpillars to raise a brood. A chickadee is going to have a lot more trouble doing that in an area where non-native species aren't really hosting any insect life. And upwards and on-wards. It truly does ripple through the ecosystem.

If you have a garden and would like to plant more native species in it for insects and bird life, the National Wildlife Federation has a website (in beta) in which you can type in your zip code and search for the best plants to support native organisms, particular pollinators/moths/butterflies, in your area. So for Colorado the best plants for pollinators are: Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Sunflower (Helianthus), Strawberry (Fragaria), Lupine (Lupinus), Sagebrush (Artemisia), Violets (Viola), and Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus). The best trees are oaks, willows, poplars (cottonwoods and aspens), chokecherries and plums, and pines.

And speaking of the NWF, I highly encourage anyone who is interested in creating a mini-wildlife habitat to do so and become a certified wildlife habitat! (And it's pollinator month, so you can get a discount for your cool sign if you get it now. How serendipitous!) Even if you just have a balcony and can't do everything it requires, you might be encouraged to provide a small bird bath and a single plant that's good for butterflies.
posted by barchan at 2:46 PM on June 25, 2019 [21 favorites]

This is a really timely article for me personally. I've lived in New England a large proportion of my life, and I've always been pretty terrible at identifying local trees and flowers.

In the last few months, for a number of various reasons, I've become more attuned to my surroundings. When it comes to identification, I've become enamored of the iNaturalist app and website. It's extremely good at identifying your observations and giving you incentive to document and learn more. (I've gotten a bit obsessed if I'm to be honest). As a direct result, I've found a few invasive species on my property and am taking the proper steps to get rid of them properly.
posted by jeremias at 6:59 PM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Flagged as fantastic, barchan. Thank you. I‘ll be quoting you when I talk to people about insect declines.

Been planting natives in my area (California) & praying (in my atheistic way) for my local insects.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:38 PM on June 27, 2019

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