Plant This Not That

Says the zebra swallowtail to the gardener, “Give me a hand.  Pawpaws and I grew up together, so plant pawpaws, not butterfly bush.  That way, I’ll get what I need.”

One of seven PawPaws planted at the park. Someday they will form a PawPaw patch, supporting lots of zebra swallowtails. (photo by Kathy Shollenberger)

This relationship between pollinators and plants has evolved over time.  It’s called coevolution, which happens when the existence of one species is tied to the existence of one or more other species.  They “go” together.  Another example of co-evolution in the park is milkweed; it’s the only plant that monarch butterflies can use as a host.  Many butterflies are specific to a host plant because of co-evolution.

Monarch caterpillars co-evolved with milkweed leaves.  (photo by Kathy Shollenberger)

Not all of the pollinator/plant relationships are that specific.  Some pollinators are generalists, but they have evolved with native plants, so that’s where they head.  Here’s an example.  Same Mount Rainier garden, two different shrubs, just a few feet away from each other.

Here’s the native button bush full of pollinators. . .

Photo by Kathy Shollenberger

And here’s the exotic hydrangea with not a single one.

Photo by Kathy Shollenberger

And coevolution happens between birds and plants as well.  A cedar waxwing might say to the gardener, “Give me a hand.  Serviceberry and I grew up here together, so plant Serviceberry. That way, I’ll get what I need.”  So the park has a Serviceberry, and so do many Mount Rainier streets.  Hopefully, we will see some cedar waxwings.

A recent Audubon article talks about why native berries are better for birds than non-natives:  Migratory Birds Like Native Berries Best


The Patterson Park Audubon Society gives you more “plant this not that” advice: Native Alternative to Common Ornamental Plants. 

Consider reading this book about co-evolution.  It’s an oldie, but goodie:
Pollan, Michael (2003). The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-eye View of the World. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-6300-6.

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