What are you and your family having for dinner tonight? No matter which dishes are on the menu—squash, pizza, salad, pasta, or French fries—fruits and vegetables will inevitably be a part of it. Even diehard carnivores with a distaste for greens can’t avoid relying on the plant kingdom, however indirectly.
And whether you’re eating that food at a table or on the sofa, there’s a high possibility that dead trees were used in the construction of your furniture. It’s also likely that a strong wooden skeleton holds up the walls around you.
Our reliance on plants for food and shelter is indisputable, yet for some reason we forget that other animals share that dependency. Worse, we remove those plants from the landscape on a mass scale, taking away the vegetation that animals need for their nutrition and the fallen leaves and dead trees they use to build their homes.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, we can give the gift of habitat to wild moms by planting more live plants and leaving the naturally decaying plant matter in our gardens. Here are just a few of the mothers and babies we’ll be helping when we do that.
Mother bees craft fresh leaf pieces into baby blankets
Mother leafcutter bees use leaf pieces of grapevine, roses, and other plants to line nests in logs, tree snags, brick or other materials with small cavities. They spend up to three hours making each nest for a single egg, leaving behind pollen and nectar provisions for their future children. (Photo by Christy Stewart)
Mother rabbits hide baby bunnies among fallen leaves
Rabbit moms find cozy spots among decaying leaves to create camouflaged nests. They even pull out some of their own hair to line the bed for their newborns. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)
Beneath logs and leaves, mother salamanders guard eggs
Some salamander mothers, including this red-backed salamander, coil around their incubating eggs for weeks to protect them from predators and disease. Logs, leaves, and rocks provide both shelter and food sources, including insects, spiders, earthworms, centipedes, and other invertebrates. (Photo by Michael F. Benard)
Raccoon mothers uses trees cavities as nurseries
Holes in live trees or standing dead trees offer safe, warm places for raccoon mothers, squirrel mothers, bird mothers, and countless other wild moms to raise their young. (Photo by John Harrison)
Butterfly babies need host plants like we need spinach
Most plant-eating insects evolved to eat the leaves and occasionally the flowers of only certain plant species. We can help butterfly and moth caterpillars by planting their host plants; this little beauty will go on to become an American lady butterfly as long as she can dine on pussytoes, or plants in the Antennaria genus. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)
Mother bees make baby food from pollen and nectar
Mother bees make special food for their young out of pollen and nectar collected from flowers. This early spring bee, likely in the Habropoda genus, is gathering the goods from Virginia bluebells and storing them in her orange pollen baskets. Gardeners often overlook spring and fall plants, but it’s important to remember the creatures who depend on them for their very survival. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)
Mother birds make baby food from insects who eat plants
Most bird parents, like this Carolina wren, need spiders and insects to feed their young. They need so many, in fact, that even tiny chickadees gathers thousands of caterpillars to raise just one brood of chicks to the fledgling stage. This food supply would be severely diminished without the native plants that feed insects. (Photo by Nancy Lawson)
Plants protect young deer while moms go off to forage
Deer, rabbits, and bobcats are among the mammals who leave their young in vegetation while they look for food. Without a minivan to tote around the toddlers and teenagers, mammals must find protected places to put them. Plants provide that. Do a wild mom a favor for Mother’s Day, and plant a native tree, shrub, grass, vine or wildflower. You’re guaranteed to help somebody’s babies! (Photo by Sally Fekety)
Find more tips in my recent All Animals magazine column, “How to Make Your Yard Family-Friendly,” and check out my new book, The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife.
(Featured image by Michael F. Benard)