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Planting native plants for picky insects - does it work?

 
gardener
Posts: 2123
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
946
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Hey all,

If you follow my blog posts over on Wild Homesteading you likely know that I'm all for planting native plants. A big reason I do this is to support picky insects--these are insects like the monarch butterfly that rely on a specific type of plant for at least one part of their life cycle. Without that plant the picky insect can't survive.

It turns out roughly 90% of all plant eating insects fall into this picky category. Supporting these picky insects means an increase in overall diversity of life on my wild homestead. But the benefits go beyond just supporting the picky insects.

These picky insects are often food for many other critters like birds. By planting native plants you attract the picky insects which in turn support birds and other predators which means your land can support a larger amount of these predators. But these predators won't just eat the picky insects--they're also going to eat the generalist insects that eat your food crops.

From the perspective of growing food supporting picky insects is all about supporting more predators which in turn mean less garden pests.

But a big question is how well does this actually work? I've planted a lot of native plants in my hedgerows which run along the south side of my wild homestead. One type of native plant I planted is called cascara (Rhamnus purshinana)--cascara is a small tree (20-30 feet) that has medicinal uses and can grow in sun or shade making it great for a hedgerow. And it gets small berry sized fruits that wildlife love.

This year I started to notice some damage to the leaves of my cascara trees. When I went out at night I found a bunch of small green caterpillars (see attached pics) and after doing some research I discovered that these are the caterpillars for the tissue moth (Triphosa haesitata). The tissue moth is one of those picky insects--various sources state that it only uses cascara as a host plant for its caterpillars.

Seeing these caterpillars makes me really excited because it means that it is possible to attract picky insects by planting native plants after only a couple years of effort over a relatively small area of my wild homestead. I'm planning to plant more cascara overtime and other native trees and shrubs so hopefully the population of picky insects will just keep growing which in turn will mean more birds, predatory insects, and other wildlife. Which will all have the added benefit of more hungry mouths ready to eat the critters that go for my food crops!

Great to see these caterpillars and to know this strategy is working. I'm excited to keep monitoring and see what other picky insects show up!
tissue-moth-caterpillar-on-cascara-stem.jpg
Close up of a tissue moth caterpillar
Close up of a tissue moth caterpillar
tissue-moth-caterpillar-on-cascara.jpg
Bit harder to see but here is another view of the caterpillar
Bit harder to see but here is another view of the caterpillar
tissue-moth-caterpillar-and-leaf-damage.jpg
Some of the leaf damage and the caterpillar that has been doing the munching
Some of the leaf damage and the caterpillar that has been doing the munching
 
pollinator
Posts: 381
Location: Athens, GA Zone 8a
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Very cool, Daron. I'm following your lead. What's your go-to bug book?
 
Daron Williams
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Posts: 2123
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
946
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Diane Kistner wrote:Very cool, Daron. I'm following your lead. What's your go-to bug book?



Thanks! Learning to ID bugs is still new for me. At the moment I don't have a book that I use. I found out about the tissue moth by googling until I found a reference to it and cascara from the Victoria Natural History Society in Victoria, BC. That led me to other sites and pictures which was enough to confirm that what I saw was the caterpillar of the tissue moth. But I also use a phone app called iNaturalist. It's very good at making ID recommendations just from a picture. That often gives me a place to start when trying to ID a new bug. But bugs are hard--plants and larger wildlife are much easier but I'm slowly learning.
 
gardener
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Location: Zone 7b/8a Temperate Humid Subtropical, Eastern NC, US
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I've been amazed at the native beneficial wasps that seem to have arrived recently in my food forest due to the native plants growing there.

They vary in size from ones that are very tiny and just a few millimeters long, all the way up to the common wasp size. I've never seen such diversity in beneficial insects, it's been amazing! They seem to be solitary wasps and haven't been aggressive at all so far. A larger one even landed on one of the tools I had in my hand the other day, looked at me for a moment, then flew away. Another one flew into a spider web, and I thought it was a goner. Instead it grabbed the spider and flew away! I had never seen or heard of anything like this before, so I know I probably stood there with dropped jaw for a little while!    
 
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