Native Plant Initiative GNO Feature

The Native Plant Initiative of GNO Fixed up Our Lighthouse Garden, So We Thought We Tell You More About Them.

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Just a glilmpse of the wonderful work that the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans did, revamping our garden at the Lighthouse. They planted several native plants and labeled most of garden. Come on by the New Canal Lighthouse to see the entire garden and get to know some native plants!

The Greater New Orleans Native Plant Initiative is a quickly growing group of plant enthusiasts who care about the impact they make on local biodiversity. Led by Tammany Baumgarten and Nell Howard, the organization hopes to inspire responsible gardening among New Orleanians.


What is "responsible gardening"?


President of NPI, Tammany Baumgarten, believes that responsible gardening aims to cause no ecological harm and ideally improves the surrounding environment.


Why is it important to garden responsibly?

The plants we use to decorate our yards affect the creatures that feed on them. Over countless generations, bugs and birds have coevolved with plants growing in their region. At times, coevolution has made a relationship so unique, that the survival of an insect has become inextricably linked to a single plant species. The relationship between the scarlet-bodied wasp moth and climbing hemp weed is a local example of this.

Climbing hempweed is part of the Asteraceae, one of the largest flowering families. It's remarkable that among the thousands of species within that family, the scarlet-bodied wasp moth may have chosen only two aster species to use as caterpillars, climbing hemp weed (Mikania scandens, LA native) and Florida Keys Hempvine (Mikania cordifolia.)

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On the left is a scarlet-bodied wasp moth in its caterpillar stage and on the right is a mature scarlet-bodied wasp moth.


In other cases, there may be several plant species that an insect is adapted to, but other factors make certain species a better choice. Monarch butterflies, the iconic migrating pollinators, depend on milkweeds to fuel their journey. Louisiana alone has more than 15 native species of milkweed, but many gardens in New Orleans use non-native tropical milkweed to attract monarchs. The tropical milkweed is great for feeding butterflies well into the cold months because, unlike the native milkweeds, it does not die back. Many scientists have suggested that although this side effect seems positive, it may really be doing more harm than good.

 

The persistence of tropical milkweed through the winter encourages monarchs to stay and pass up migration. As a result, sick monarchs, who would not typically survive the migration, remain and continue to pass on disease throughout the population. The deadly protozoan parasite known as OE has become more prevalent due to this effect. Tammany Baumgarten suggests that New Orleanians plant native milkweeds, such as Asclepias perennis, to promote monarch health.

 

The New Orleans Native Plant Initiative urges gardeners to consider the consequences their choices can make on the biodiversity of our urban environments. You can catch them at the City Park Spring Garden Show on April 6th and 7th or on their website at https://www.npi-gno.org/

Thanks to Zack Lemman of the Insectarium for additional information.

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