I attended the tour of Wild Ones Fox Valley Chapter member Jim LaLuzerne’s yard. He concluded by making this observation.
Have You Lost Your Cogs and Wheels?
“To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. But when all the cogs and wheels are gone what do you do?
There were well over one hundred distinct species of woody trees, shrubs, and vines in Wisconsin before farming and logging. When the land was cleared, many of those species were eliminated from the landscape. The diversity of plants that took thousands of years to accumulate was destroyed. A given cultivated plot of land, left on its own, would take hundreds or thousands of years to recover those lost species. And in many cases, those species may never recover, because some species are no longer in the area. (Of course, when the land was cleared, nearly all types of native vegetation were eliminated – not just the trees and shrubs – and they too need to be returned. I have introduced many scores of other native non-woody species.)*
Many species of insects are very host specific. The monarch butterfly, of course, is the classic example of this. There are innumerous other species of insects that require a specific host plant for part of their life cycle. And many of these interconnections are little known or understood. This interconnectivity between plants, insects, and other wildlife is impossible to fully understand. How can one know what combination of plants are best for any area?
I believe the solution can be simple and effective. Plant one of everything that might have been on the land and give it a fair chance to survive. Given the opportunity, most plants will reestablish themselves. I have been doing this on my property for forty-five years and currently have well over a hundred distinct species of native woody plants. Granted, it is not likely the proportion is correct, but they are all represented, and there is a chance that they provide for a source of material to spread to other areas.
As an illustration of what typically happens, I know of a development in Northeastern Wisconsin that was created twenty-one years ago. It was a 400-acre farm divided into two hundred two-acre lots. Homes have been built in the middle of each two-acre parcel, and each one has extensive landscaping with many trees that are now quite large. Each lot has about thirty-five varied species of trees and shrubs (many of these are non-native ornamental varieties), most of which are nicely laid out in a natural setting. But as you look at them, you realize that every lot has the same thirty-five species. What no doubt had many additional species before it became a farm, now represents only a small fraction of its former offering.
Jim LaLuzerne’s Philosophy
How do we return the cogs and wheels? If each lot owner planted one or two “forgotten” species on their property, much of the diversity from pre-farm/pre-logging could return. Of course, there is a need to coordinate so that each lot owner plants distinct species. But with a little coordination and cooperation it can be done. Each lot owner could select one or more from the list, leaving the rest of the list for the next participant. I have created a Forgotten Fifty list of fifty woody plants that are native to Wisconsin and are available through most nurseries or mail order. The list does not include many of the common trees that everyone thinks of. Most of these common trees are extremely important for wildlife, but they are overrepresented in most neighborhoods. Use this list as a starting point by adding to or subtracting from it, depending on the part of the state and your habitat.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It is not!” – Lorax
The Nature of Oaks
Wild Ones presents The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native” by Doug Tallamy. Please share the recorded presentation with your colleagues, friends, and family.
*Take a look at Jim LaLuzerne’s yard.