Having a wildlife yard is not just about the pleasure of watching wildlife; it is more about the satisfaction of knowing you
are providing food and shelter. We have the native wax myrtle tree in five places in our front yard. When we moved in three
years ago, the next door neighbor told me to cut them back to hedges or we would forever be losing branches in every wind.
Because I wanted a natural yard, I didn't follow his advice. We have lost branches, particularly in the hurricanes two years
ago. The largest branch in one small grove of wax myrtle split, but we left it and even piled the other large branches behind
it for a sort of natural brush pile. There was a lot of cleanup to do with 80-some trees, so we just didn't get back to it;
and then some bunnies moved in. By the way, we have never put branches, leaves, or any kind of yard waste out for garbage
pickup. All of it is an asset in a natural setting.
This natural brush pile of wax myrtle branches has bothered me from time to time, for it is far from manicured, even
messy. But every time I pulled a few straggling branches away, I felt I was caving in to onlooker pressure rather than really
providing for wildlife. I planted the native aster vine, which will eventually cover the fallen branches with flowers. Several
huge pokeberries have grown among the wax myrtle branches, as well as lantana (yes, the hybrid); and the wax myrtle has spread
out to a slightly larger grove. We mow up to it and around this area, but the grass has also grown a foot tall or so among
the branches, so the bunnies have their nesting spots. It would be great if there were mice but I haven't seen any.
This morning I had another confirmation of the wisdom of snags and brush piles. Pokeberry is a great wildlife plant;
the leaves are eaten as well as the numerous berries. It becomes a quite ugly plant, however, once the berries dry out. It
falls over and dies back, then new sprouts come up from the base. This morning in the wax myrtle grove, I watched two mockingbirds
perched on the still strong dead branches and picking off the pokeberries. I've seen this before and was happy to find that
they like the dried fruit as much as the fresh. I haven't seen them eat from the pokeberries lying on the ground. It is the
safe and easy access of the propped-up dead pokeberry plants among the dead wax myrtle branches-all surrounded by new growth
and teeming with insect, bird and mammal life.
The challenge is to make this area also beautiful. The beauty will come if we manage the resources in our yards with life
in mind rather than decoration.
Latin: Phytolacca americana