Image of red-backed salamander by Michael Benard

What Do Wild Moms Need Most? Plants!

Image of raccoon family in tree
Photo by John Harrison

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

Image of leafcutter bee mom by Christy Stewart
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

Image of baby rabbits
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

Image of red-backed salamander by Michael Benard
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

Image of raccoon family by John Harrison
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

Image of American lady caterpillar on pussytoes
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

Image of bee on bluebells
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

Image of Carolina wren gathering insects
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

Image of baby deer by Sally Fekety
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)

13 thoughts on “What Do Wild Moms Need Most? Plants!”

  1. So many of us forget how our surrounding in peticular our lawns, flowers,(wild and intentional) trees and woods effect our wild neighbors. Many times because we don’t know hiw they are used. Thank you for enlightening and inspiring us to think more humanely. ❤️ Nicky Ratliff

  2. I feel my garden supplies everything needed for these wildlife including mother deer who eat EVERYTHING .by summers end. 🙄

  3. I only just discovered your blog, after discovering your book in one of Amazon’s book-promoting emails. Then someone told me of your blog after I posted your book on Facebook. So happy to find you! Our place is already a “monument to native biodiversity,” right up to the house, and teeming with wildlife, but I will very much enjoy reading about your like-minded way of doing things, as most people around here like to mow everything in sight. Fortunately we live at the end of a dead-end road. I’ve lived here for 45 years now and imported nearly every native plant that will grow here, and several thugs that battle for supremacy. We have many bird feeders and hundreds of birds coming and going right now, and other creatures who clean up what the birds drop. I try to keep as many dead and fallen trees as possible, though my husband has a wood-burning friend up the road who ends up with some of it. I see it as a community here – ALL of us, plant and animal, bird and insect!

    1. Hi Donna! I’m so glad you found my blog and so happy to connect with another kindred spirit! It sounds like you have a really beautiful spot of Iowa. Yes, it’s an amazing community of creatures, all just trying to survive and thrive. 🙂

  4. Focusing on mothers in different species and their shelter and foraging needs is a lovely way to encourage us to leave the leaves, allow dead trees and dead wood to provide shelter and food, and to plant native plants. I find adopting such an approach is not only more humane but more relaxing for us too as we live and let live and become more curious about the more natural and less cultivated world. So happy to have found your blog and I look forward to reading more. Thank you for your refreshing approach.

    1. Thank you again, Carol! The idea of nurturing wild families really speaks to me too — I included a chapter on it in a book I recently wrote because I think it is an area of habitat that people may not always consider. We don’t often see the young ones very much (though we did just last week have a fawn take cover for a couple of days under our deck in between nursing times with her mom! :)).

      1. What an honour to have a fawn finding sanctuary with you and lovely to witness, although it’s also good to think about all the unseen creatures that also find a safe haven without us needing to see them.

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