As I write, snow is falling steadily here in Minneapolis, and I couldn’t be happier! If you’ve followed Orange Marmalade for any length of time you are well aware that I love snow. Besides that, my trees and shrubs are all safely tucked into the ground now, ready to be both watered and insulated by some hefty snowfalls if we can get them this winter. Bring it on!
Yes, all the hot days of yanking out buckthorn and nasty invasives are done for 2020, and I am more than happy to lay my tools down for this next season. It felt mighty good to chip up the mountains of branches I’d gathered, start laying a winding pathway through the restoration area, and then, the first week-end of October, plant about 120 baby trees and shrubs. Hooray!! My deepest thanks to my son and brother who dug all those holes, my daughters for helping me plant, and my husband for engineering tree tubes and cages to protect these guys for the first number of years.
One of my unknowns going into this project was how many different species I should be planting. The advice I received is that more diversity would be better as long as I could learn to recognize the plants enough to know what to protect and what to uproot. That’s easier when they’re in flower, but when the woods are a mass of leafy sprouts in springtime, it’s not as straightforward. Thus I am working hard at plant identification!
Our planting list this fall was: Red Oak, Burr Oak, Northern Pin Oak, American Linden, Hackberry, Pin Cherry, Pagoda Dogwood, Mountain Ash, American Plum, Saskatoon Serviceberry, Nannyberry, Chokecherry, Elderberry, American Black Currant, Buttonbush, three varieties of Sumac, Red Osier Dogwood, and Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle. I am enthralled with every one! Next fall we’ll add hundreds of woodland wildflowers to augment the beauty and biodiversity of the area.
(Once they bear fruit, it will be a veritable feast for the eyes and for wildlife! Top three: buttonbush, serviceberry, pin cherry. Bottom row: plum, elderberry, nannyberry, mountain ash)
Biodiversity refers to the staggering array of life forms on Earth, millions and millions of species, unfathomable numbers of individuals, each of which contributes in profound ways to the well-being of the others. Each habitat is best suited to particular communities which collaborate together in an intricate dance. Plants, pollinated by insects, form seeds distributed by birds, meanwhile breathing in carbon dioxide and sunshine and breathing out oxygen — fascinating, complex, mutually beneficial services. John Muir famously wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Intricate interconnections in the diverse natural world, the surprising roles played by everything from microscopic bacteria to towering trees, produce a resilient world, one in which Earth’s creatures are provided with what they need to survive and thrive. Greater biodiversity creates greater resilience.
The very intricacy which balances and sustains our biosphere, however, means that it can go seriously out of whack when key elements are damaged. Currently, the loss of biodiversity on Earth is happening at an alarming rate with consequences none of us likes to contemplate. The loss of pollinating insects and the impact on food supplies, the obliteration of rainforests with their pharmacopeia of lifesaving medicinal plants, the destruction of microorganisms that play critical roles we don’t fully understand yet — all this and more means protection of biodiversity is a critical task for humans around the globe. Major foes of biodiversity include habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and pollution.
That’s all very daunting, but we mustn’t lose heart. Even my tiny little restoration project will improve the health of wildlife, soil, groundwater, surface water, and air quality in my neighborhood as I remove invasives and improve the habitat with rich, native plant diversity. Good begets good, I think, and our small efforts can become contagious. Even an apartment balcony can become a small pollinator oasis in the city. I have heard from some of you who are about to launch restoration projects on farmsteads and in yards. You are such an encouragement to me!
This will be my last yard update until next spring when I return to the tasks of booting out invasives, watering native plants, and preparing for a big batch of wildflowers. Until then, here are some great books to help you and your kids delve more into the miraculous mechanisms of ecosystems and the importance of biodiversity:
Living Treasure: Saving Earth’s Threatened Biodiversity
written by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Irene Brady
published in 1991 by Morrow Junior Books
There are not many children’s books specifically addressing biodiversity, but this little gem from 30 years ago is fantastic. In his introduction, Pringle says, “The mass extinction now under way has been a quiet crisis because many people do not understand the value of what is being lost for all time.” In succeeding chapters, he clearly lays out why even little-known species are living treasures, how such diversity came about, what riches are being lost to humankind, and what we must do about it. It’s not a flashy book, and has an outdated look to it, but it’s a brilliant treatment of this subject and would make a top choice read-along with ages 8 and up.
Planet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity
by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Margot Thompson
published in 2013 by Kids Can Press
This excellent book explains the amazing diversity in our world, the complex interdependence of species, and the critical importance of biodiversity.
The author touches on healthy habitats, invasive species, overharvesting, climate change, as well as ways people are at work to safeguard biodiversity around the world. Clear and engaging. One of my top choices for ages 9 and up.
Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth
written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton
published in 2017 by Candlewick
The planet is full of millions of species of plants, birds, animals, and microbes, and every single one — including us — is part of a big, beautiful, complicated pattern.
When humans interfere with parts of the pattern, by polluting the air and oceans, taking too much from the sea, and cutting down too many forests, animals and plants begin to disappear. What sort of world would it be if it went from having many types of living things to having just one? Gorgeous and informative for ages 5 and up.
The Variety of Life
written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Lorna Scobie
first published in the UK; American edition 2018 by Sterling Children’s Books
This immensely appealing book calls us to notice, to know by name, and to cherish the multitude of species inhabiting the globe.
The pages are like a vibrant catalogue. All kinds of bears, mushrooms, parrots, sharks are presented in enticing, colorful illustrations along with snippets of text. A joy to share with ages 5 and up.
The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems
written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky
published in 2018 by Ten Speed Press
This is one of the best, jam-packed books about the planet you will find. With appealing illustration and design, Ignotofsky crams her pages with information on the multitude of ecosystems in the world, beginning with clear explanations of the basic ingredients — keystone species, classification systems, energy chains, microsystems — then moving from one continent to another, examining particular ecosystems at each stop.
Learn the fascinating particulars of places like the Congo Rainforest, the Atacama Desert, The Moorlands of the British Isles, and the Deep Ocean, as well as examining human impacts on nature and climate change. Brilliant for ages 8 thru adult.
The Best Caretakers
written by Eun-gyeong Gahng, illustrated by Ji-eun Jeon
orig. published in Korea; English edition 2016 by big & SMALL
For young children, ages 3-6, try this gentle book. Peek at a number of ecosystems — under the earth, in the forest, in a pond, even in the city — and discover the surprising plants and animals that function as their caretakers.
Just enough to spark curiosity and wonder.
Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem
by Patricia Newman
published in 2017 by Millbrook Press
Sea otters act as ocean gardeners for flowering seagrass. That seagrass, in turn, plays a critical role in protecting ocean shorelines from erosion and rough seas, acts as a nursery for richly-diverse marine life, provides food for a variety of birds, traps pesticide run-off from neighboring farms, and stores excess carbon, thus curbing impacts of climate change.
Discover how scientists made this discovery and how sea otters became ocean heroes in this fascinating, award-winning account for ages 8 and up. For younger readers, ages 5-8, try this simpler version of the same story:
If You Take Away the Otter
by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
published in 2020 by Candlewick
No Monkeys No Chocolate
written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong
published in 2013 by Charlesbridge
This engaging book shows us how cocoa trees depend on creatures you wouldn’t suspect! Step by step we discover that not only are sunlight and water important for a cocoa tree, but also midges, and lizards, and monkeys!
It’s a super introduction to the complexities of nature and the importance of each member of an ecosystem. Ages 7 and up.
Gone is Gone: Wildlife Under Threat, by Isabelle Groc
published in 2019 by Orca Book Publishers
There are a lot of books discussing extinction available for children. Even though that is not my primary topic today, certainly it is the dead end result of the kinds of things we’re thinking about — loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution. This book ties these pieces together by looking at how healthy ecosystems interact in ways that benefit us all, and discussing why and how habitats must be protected. Dozens of examples of threatened and endangered animals are presented along with the confluence of factors that have reduced their numbers, and methods being employed to save them from extinction.
It’s a straight-shooting account, and therefore not easy emotionally. Yet for kids ages 9 and up — it’s their future at stake. Many of them are already engaged and concerned, and knowledge is power! The book also introduces many inspirational models who have dedicated themselves to the healing of the damage. Additionally, there’s an excellent chapter covering what we can do to help species in our own backyards and how to join our efforts with others in order to have a broader impact.
Find gobs more titles about Nature Appreciation and Conservation in my list here.