Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

“FREQUENT INSECT PROBLEMS” — A Good or Bad Trait for Native Trees in Our Yards?

With growing recognition of how important insects are in the food chain especially for birds, it has gotten me to thinking about how often we reject the idea of planting any native species in our yards that is designated susceptible to frequent insect problems.   Since insects provide critical protein for birds and are essential  to their babies’ survival, maybe a complete reversal of this kind of thinking is in order.  A tree that suffers from insect damage becomes a desirable planting for the yard.

Most of our more objectionable insect “pests” are great bird food.  Chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, hummingbirds and tufted titmice eat aphids.  Nuthatches and woodpeckers eat borers.  Cardinals, wrens, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and tufted titmice eat bagworms and webworms.  Chickadees and tufted titmice eat scale insects.   The list of bird food is a long one, including many types of caterpillars and beetles, stinkbugs, moths, lawn grubs, whiteflies, ants, plant lice, millipedes, weevils, and wasps.  Yum!

Yet we seem to have a split mentality in how we feel about this great food supply.  When I was looking for a listing of insects that attack the Eastern Poplar, I found a great quote by Michael Dirr in his handbook of woody plants.  ”If anyone plants poplars, they deserve the disasters which automatically ensue.”  Maybe that should be enough to discourage me from this line of thought? Perhaps part of the problem is that tree species that are susceptible to many insect problems often tend to be susceptible to disease problems?  I still think it is an intriguing idea, and it should be true that “the more bugs you have, the more birds you have.”

If I had the space left in my yard, I think it would be a fascinating experiment to set aside a portion of my yard and only plant native tree species labeled “susceptible to many insect problems.” Can’t you just see it…a tree grove of “lower class, misfits”!  It certainly challenges the stereotype.  I love it!

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3 responses to ““FREQUENT INSECT PROBLEMS” — A Good or Bad Trait for Native Trees in Our Yards?

  1. Lucy Scanlon December 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Some plants we reject for other reasons than disease or insect attack! Poison Ivy makes a large and delicious crop of berries that the birds love. But I work diligently to be sure its presence in my yard is minimal or nonexistent. I do have one wildlife-rescue friend who leaves the vines in her big pines (on the edge of her yard) just so the berries will be there for the birds, but I’m not willing to do that.

    • joystewart January 14, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      You are right that there are reasons to reject native plants. Your friend with the poison ivy has more guts than I do! I give her credit. There are 2 native plants I pull whenever I see them–poison ivy and wild blackberry (I tried leaving that go and learned the hard way that I don’t want it).

  2. Vicki Bogan December 21, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    I really enjoy this site

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