The concept to provide a habitat for wildlife is not new. But most people think of it as a wild, messy area with crawly creatures slithering through the unkempt areas in a backyard. But that is not what it is all about. Back in 1994, The Texas Wildscapes Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program was established to encourage landowners to create wildlife habitats in urban and suburban areas as they realized that with the development of more rural areas habitat fragmentation occurred and many organisms that depended on each other no longer were able to co-exist.
A wildscape is simply a landscape that provides the three essential elements, food, water, and shelter for native wildlife with the use of native plants. With small changes in the landscape, a welcome habitat and better ecosystem can be provided. Why natives?
Douglas W. Tallamy explains this very well in his book “Bringing Nature Home.” A concept that hit home when I read that most of the organisms that eat native plants are not able to eat alien plants. It takes a very long time for insects and specific plant species to evolve together. A great percentage of phytophagous insects, insects that eat plants, are considered specialists and only eat special kinds of plants.
A great example is the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor. It only eats plants in the genus Aristolochia, and even then, there are certain species in the genus that do not support the tiny caterpillars. In my garden the caterpillars appear to prefer A. fimbriata from Brazil over the native A. tomentosa with ticker and bigger leaves.
There are exceptions to the rule that insects only eat native plants. Insect specialists will eat non-native plants which chemical composition has the same characteristics as the native plants.
When planning your wildlife habitat, whether all or just a small portion of your backyard, consider what your goal is. Birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators or simply a diverse ecosystem.
For more information how to create a wildscape consider the following publications and books:
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy