Worm-Moms Serving Pizza? Teaching about the Importance of Native Plants
How would you explain the importance of native plants to children? Last month, while removing non-native plants along the shoreline in San Leandro Bay, four second grade girls prompted this very question. These young volunteers, quickly becoming masters of their current craft, were working with pick in hand, steadfast focus, and lots of enthusiasm. When I walked over to check in and praise their progress, they stopped to ask, “Why are native plants so important?”
I responded with my own question: “What do you like to eat for dinner?” Pizza, ice cream, broccoli were the first responses. I asked them, “What would it be like if your Mom or Dad brought you dirt instead?” Finding this question ridiculous, they giggled and responded with puzzled looks. I explained that since they wouldn’t be able to eat dirt, they would likely ask for real food instead. I continued that worms would have the same response if their worm-Mom served them pizza and not dirt. Worms are much more accustomed to finding the nutrients they need by consuming dirt because it’s part of their habitat. Worm-Mom helped these girls understand that having the type of food that one is used to eating is a pretty critical part of any habitat.
Shifting back to the native plant question, we sat on the ground next to flowering common yarrow and purple needle grass as I explained that most insects, like worms, are specialists. Almost 90% of insects have evolved to be specialists, only feeding on plants from one family. These insects are a critical protein source for many bird and animal species. So when native species habitat is taken over by only a few invasive species, insect diversity and abundance decreases, which impacts the food chain over time.
Thinking through the lens of their own dinner plates, the girls were able to understand the complex effects of non-edible food sources on native species and the importance of bringing native plants back onto the plate of our local ecosystem. Getting hungry for our own lunch, we finished removing the remaining weeds to give the new native seedlings a better chance to grow and thrive.
- Doug Serrill, Nursery Manager