Let It Be: Leave The Wildflowers Alone
Updated: Sep 24
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Few things signal the arrival of spring more than wildflowers. Meadows of blooming flowers that offer a rainbow of colors is a feast for the eyes. Nature has a way of combing colors and patterns in such a way that only she can dream up. For many this time of year offers an almost spiritual like awakening. For others the first wildflower walk of the season has become a ritual. There’s something so soothing and magnetic about wildflowers.
Growing up in the suburbs I loved playing in the meadows and my favorite flower was the Dandelion. I used to love to pick them as a child but as I grew up I learned why you should never pick wildflowers. The main reason to leave the flowers where they are is because they’re a micro ecosystem all their own. Look closely and you might see a spider’s sac of eggs attached to a leaf while ants and beetles forage for food on the flowers. Butterflies, moths, bees, and hummingbirds all come to the flowers for food while other birds munch on those that produce berries. In turn these insects feed the birds which in turn feed mammals like fox, coyote and bobcat. Wildflowers play a vital role in the cycle of life for many species that depend on them. Picking them removes their part of this cycle. Picking lots of them especially over time changes the landscape of the ecosystem and can permanently damage the habitat.
A Honey Bee on Mexican Clover
When people think about an endangered species they envision animals like Elephants, Tigers and Sharks. Plants and flowers don’t come to mind but they should, In 2002 a study was published in the journal Science by authors Nigel C. A. Pitman of Duke University and Peter M. Jørgensen of the Missouri Botanical Garden. As reported in Scientific American they discovered very disturbing findings It said the number of plant species threatened with extinction might be three times higher than previously thought and suggested between 22 - 47% of the world’s plants are now endangered of extinction. That is shocking news of a trend we don’t seem to be able to stop without drastic measures. Even worse this study is twenty years old things have gotten far worse.
A Bumble Bee hunts for nectar on Cassia which is also a host plant for several Sulphur Butterfly species
Though the total number of plants worldwide remains unknown, with estimates ranging from 310,000 to 422,000 species, the findings show that between 94,000 and 144,000 species are at risk of dying out. As reported in Science Daily in 2020 researchers from the University of Arizona studied recent extinctions from climate change and estimated the loss of plant and animal species by 2070, Their findings are even more startling as they predict that one in three species seems headed toward extinction.
A Clouded Sulphur Butterfly enjoys Railroad Vine
Another huge problem are the invasive non native plants often introduced into the ecosystem in the form of ornamentals for lawns. According to the California Invasive Plant Council they estimate the state spends $82 million each year removing them, factor in the whole country and the cost of non natives is staggering. Now factor in the cost of damage to crops and native plants and it can become crippling. Non natives don’t just compete with natives for space in the ecosystem they often take over and become a dominant species causing the decline and sometimes total collapse of the native species.
The amount of pesticides needed to keep the non native flowers alive in residential lawns boggles the mind. All these toxic chemicals kill many native insect and animal species that depend on these flowers and plants to survive. Runoff from storms push these chemicals into our waterways which slowly pollute not only the water but the soil around them which further erodes the ecosystem. Once the soil becomes saturated with these pesticides it becomes depleted of its natural nutrients. This makes it that much harder for the native plants to grow and survive.
Over the years this eventually leads to a food desert for the native wildlife that biologically isn’t equipped to live on the non native plants. As you walk down the street you can see gardens filled with flowers and no pollinators no birds. These are non natives that offer no allure to native wildlife who ignore them. Adding to the toxic brew are the pesticides sprayed which now make these plants poisonous. As the native wildlife either move to better feeding grounds or die off there is nothing left to pollinate the flowers and carry the seeds. Eventually you end up with just a chemical lawn filled with invasives. This is why so many native wildflowers are endangered or only found in small isolated pockets.
Now you see why it’s so important to not pick wildflowers and instead leave them where you found them unharmed. Even more important to only buy native organic non gmo plants and seeds. Forego the exotics and pesticides and instead have a healthy sustainable hardy ecosystem designed to thrive in its native habitat. This will attract a diverse group of insects and animals and provide much beauty and entertainment. You will also be helping to restore the ecosystem and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy these native wildflowers before they are all gone forever.
Buttonbush is a favorite of many pollinators. Here a Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly shares with a Delaware Skipper Butterfly
Scarab Beetle enjoys Spanish Needle
A show stopper is the Whitemouth Dayflower
Turkey Tangle Fogfruit makes for a hardy ground cover and tiny pollinators love it
Also published in Emagazine 10.24,21 https://emagazine.com/let-it-be-leave-the-wildflowers-alone/