It’s British Science Week all this week, and I am celebrating here on Soph talks science by sharing with you the winners of my first ever science writing competition. I had so, so many amazing entries in all the categories, and I really struggled to pick just one winner in each category, but I got there in the end after many hours of deliberation.
Today I wanted to share with you the winning entry in Category 4 for authors aged 19+ not working in STEM. Congratulations to DK from the USA. They have written this piece about native plants.
Make sure to give this post a read and show your support to DK by giving it a like.
Hey You! Let Me Tell You About Native Plants!
By D.K. Cissel
I’ve always loved telling everyone around me about cool stuff I learned about nature, and showing me if I had the chance. It’s been a very long time since I was a preschooler waving around the flat, dried toad I found in the middle of the street, or the elementary school student telling everyone within earshot how bacteria made their feet stinky. (I was not, as you may imagine, a popular kid.)
My tact and presentation have improved over the years, but my enthusiasm is more buoyant than ever. As a nature nerd turned citizen scientist, I’ve found plenty of ways to channel my love of the natural world, through educational tours, community-level classes, and my webcomic, What You Need To Know About Nature [http://wyntkan.com]. There are lots of topics that I enjoy sharing with other people, but my favourite is probably the importance of native plants. Sure, animals get more attention, but plants are relevant to just about every environmental quandary out there!
Take bees, for example. Everyone wants to save the bees. Some people even realise that it’s not just the introduced European honey bees that are at risk, but numerous native pollinators and other insects as well. One of the best ways to help all of them is to plant a garden full of native plants. While our nurseries are full of flowers from around the world, and those will certainly provide bees with nectar and pollen, caterpillars and other native larvae can’t eat the leaves of most of them, so native plants offer food sources for all life stages of these important insects. They’ll also help attract native predatory insects that keep invasive pest species in check. And you’ll likely see an increase in songbirds and other wildlife, too. So planting natives instead of introduced species will get you a lot more ecological bang for your buck.
But wait, there’s more! It’s estimated that one of the biggest problems the planet faces in the next century is a lack of clean, fresh water. Obviously we need to stop throwing pollutants into our waterways, but we also have to consider our water use, especially in deserts and other areas with limited precipitation. Grass lawns are huge water hogs, and also require lots of fertilisers and other chemicals that can pollute nearby waterways. If you want to cut your water bill down, plant natives! They’re used to the amount of water your area gets, so they won’t demand as much (though this does vary by species and region.) They’re already adapted to your local climate and soil conditions, which means they’ll be easier to maintain once established. And you don’t have to mow them, either.
How about that biggest of ecological bugaboos, climate change? Well, we’ve got native plants for that, too. Studies show that planting trees in suitable areas, like land that was once forested, can capture a significant amount of the carbon currently contributing to the global warming trend. Forested land also has lower temperatures than unforested land as a general rule, particularly when compared to heavily paved areas like cities. You want to plant native trees, because they have a better chance of reaching maturity if they aren’t having to compete with a bunch of aggressive invasives. And other living beings will have a better chance of surviving climate change if the native trees they rely on are growing in great numbers. It’s not the one and only solution for this massive problem, but it’s a significant one.
These are just some of the ways I get other people interested in native plants. The gardeners are usually the easiest, because they’re already big plant geeks, and who doesn’t love an excuse to go buy more plants? Environmentalists are usually an easy sell, too, and often they’re already part of the choir, though it’s fun to get into some of the more nuanced discussions about the benefits of native plants. But my favourite technique is through teaching nature identification skills. You’d be amazed how many people love getting to be that person who can point at a plant while at a park or on a hike and say “I know what that is!” And you get extra smarty-pants points if you can tell others which ones are native and which ones aren’t!
Bio: D.K. Cissel is the artist and writer behind What You Need To Know About Nature, a nature-themed webcomic created with traditional media. They enjoy environmental education and citizen science, long hikes in the woods, and discovering hope wherever it may be found. They are always shocked at how much time they spend stuck to a computer in spite of being an outdoorsy type. Their work may be found at http://www.wyntkan.com.
Congratulations again to DK who is our penultimate Soph talks science competition winner this year!
You can check out our other competition winners here:
What more do you want to know about native plants?
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