Beyond Begonias: Native and Medicinal Plants for Vashon
Island Businesses

Beyond Begonias: Native and Medicinal Plants for Vashon

By Diane Emerson and Michael Laurie, Dragonfly Nursery

Growing up in the Midwest, I (Diane) found it amazing that Monarch butterflies would lay their eggs on only one plant – milkweed. I thought that was the exception for butterflies. As it turns out, research indicates that 90% of butterflies and moths are like Monarchs – they will only lay their eggs on one specific NATIVE plant.

These native plants are not only important to the butterflies and moths that depend on them – the very best food for raising songbird babies are nice, fat caterpillars. And birds need a lot of them. Recent research found that, during the 16 days between hatching and fledging, a clutch of chickadee chicks will eat more than 9,000 caterpillars. Even hummingbirds raise their chicks on caterpillars. The connection is clear: More native plants = more caterpillars = more songbirds.

Why can’t most caterpillars just eat any plant? Our native plants evolved together over millennia with the fungal networks, insects, birds, fish, invertebrates, and mammals that depend on them. Caterpillars depend on native plants for their very survival.

Since learning how important native plants are to butterflies and birds (and more), I’ve started composting the non-native plants in my part of our nursery. Not selling them at a discount, not giving them away. Composting them. Now I specialize in native plants, and learn more every week about their beauty, benefits, and how to grow them.

I (Michael) am focused on growing and selling medicinal and culinary plants. I have been growing culinary plants in Western Washington for over 40 years and medicinal plants on Vashon for over 25 years. I have taken many classes, read many books, and attended a number of conferences on medicinal plants. Through having grown over 100 species of medicinal plants on Vashon for so long, I have learned which ones are easier to grow here, and which conditions most of them like the best.

I have long thought that it makes sense for everyone to grow at least a few plants that can help them with their health issues, or common health concerns. Like arnica to help with sore muscles, valerian to help with falling asleep, osha to help with congestion and fighting viruses, and licorice for a wide range of things.

Feel free to come by our booth at the Saturday Farmers Market to see our wide selection of culinary and medicinal plants, and to talk about them with us.

June 6, 2023

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diane and michael