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Letter: Native plants would help save water

February 05, 2014

Re: “Officials suggest customers limit water use,” Quick Hits, Jan. 30. Bravo for the Foothill Municipal Water District calling for conservation. However, asking people to irrigate every other day ignores the larger problem of the ornamental, water-thirsty landscapes throughout La Cañada. Drought is normal for California and we don’t have the water to waste on plants that feed neither people nor wildlife, particularly now that the State Water Project is cutting off allocations to public water agencies.

Drought and loss of biodiversity are two standout issues of our time. In our urban and suburban areas, landscaping with native plants is a solution for both issues. We need to retrofit our gardens: native plants use one-seventh the water of most non-natives and are the foundation of the food web. Native — not ornamental and not simply drought-tolerant — matters because 90% of all species of leaf-eating insects can eat only native plants. We need the food web and its ecosystem services (such as pollination, watershed protection and reforestation) for our own survival, but the food web is in tatters. U.S. bird populations are only 10 to 40% of what they were in 1970 and pollinator decreases are similar.

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Know why we rarely see butterflies anymore? Because the native forage plants needed by most caterpillars have been replaced by ornamental non-natives. No caterpillars, no birds. Want a higher yield for your vegetable garden and fruit trees? Plant natives nearby.

Native gardens are the equivalent of beauty and brains for making our urban and suburban spaces more resilient and sustainable. For more information about native gardens and gardening, check out www.nativeplantgardentour.org and www.theodorepayne.org.

Lisa Novick
La Cañada Flintridge

Editor's Note: The writer is the director of Outreach and K-12 Education for the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley.

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