We’ve all been reading about crisis after crisis: climate change, loss of biodiversity, extinctions. The news is alarming—and saddening. It’s also daunting.
I’ve previously written about endangered species and the importance of biodiversity (short for biological diversity), and about what we as individuals can do about climate change. The more I read and think about our current crises, the more I realize that gardeners already do so much regarding these issues. We just need to be more intentional about what we do—and share it!
Here is a list of ways that we can contribute to biodiversity:
• Plant for the birds: provide cover, water, and seed plants, like coneflowers.
• Add a butterfly garden. Plant local milkweeds for monarchs.
• Plant for other pollinators, too. Beebalm (Monarda spp) is just one of the species that is very attractive to pollinators. And remember to provide water!
• Provide hiding places for critters. Plant shrubs, add rocks, leave snags, or add a log or two in an area away from your house. (Rabbitbrush is aptly named: it provides great cover for cottontails and jackrabbits.)
• Remove invasives and plant more natives. The benefits are clear: native plants mean more native critters.
• Don’t use pesticides or herbicides.
• Collect your seed, for planting or sharing.
And for vegetable gardeners, plant heirlooms. Mother Earth News posts a number of reasons to plant them:
• They taste better. Many heirloom vegetables have been saved for decades and even centuries because they taste good.
• Heirloom vegetables are likely to be more nutritious than newer varieties.
• Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means you can save your own seed to replant from year to year.
• Heirlooms are less uniform, which means they often don’t ripen all at once.
• Heirloom open-pollinated vegetables are almost always less expensive than hybrids.
When you plant heirlooms, you are also contributing to genetic diversity. Monocultures (cultivation of just one species of plant or tree in an area) are almost always more susceptible to disease or adverse environmental conditions (think Ireland potato famine.) Genetic diversity serves as a way for populations to adapt to changing environments. The same plants from different locations have different genes; with more variation, it is more likely that some individuals in a population will possess the ability to adapt to environmental changes, like global warming or long-term drought.
At the Arboretum, we are involved in several different seed-collecting programs to preserve genetic diversity and benefit the landscape. We collect local milkweed seed and grow native milkweed plants; we then harvest the seed and share it with the federal and state agencies. The local genotypes are better suited to grow here and obviously benefit the western monarch butterfly. We also participate in a program called Seeds of Success (SOS), a national native seed collection program, led by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in partnership with a variety of federal agencies and non-federal organizations. SOS’s mission is to collect wildland native seed for research, development, germplasm conservation, and ecosystem restoration. Our research department is currently collecting varieties of buckwheat, muhly grass, yellow suncups, and white bursage that occur in Arizona.
If we all continue to do our part, we can help alleviate the biodiversity crisis: a biodiverse garden can help to heal our planet and preserve it for future generations.