America’s Lawn Obsession: Killing the Terrestrial Food Web

Letter to the editor: To encourage native plants and insects, let’s grow wildflowers instead of grass

Virtually 100 percent of the energy in any land-based food web is manufactured at the bottom of the energy pyramid by the primary producers through photosynthesis, the most vital biochemical process on Earth. The entire yearly energy budget of land ecosystems is manufactured here, and made available to the primary consumers.

But these two trophic levels have been virtually wiped out in suburban America.

To attain a 100 percent grass lawn, Americans have used herbicides to poison all primary producers: the native herbs that grasses compete with and that Americans now call “weeds.”

They have also nerve-poisoned all insects with insecticides that are lethal to all animals. Veterinarians advise owners of some dog breeds not to allow the dog to walk on any lawn.

As a former federal and state (in Maine and Florida) wildlife biologist, I find the sight of a perfect lawn deeply disheartening.

It represents the killing of all native wildflowers; all insects, including all butterflies, bees and lightning bugs, and our beloved American toad, along with all native songbirds, which must feed their nestlings a diet of over 90 percent insects. No insects, no songbirds!

Americans have become perverted by the turf industry. When I was a boy in Portland, I saw lightning bugs, toads and songbirds; I looked down at lawns and saw a variety of native herbaceous plants that were kept low, simply by mowing. They are gone.

It is time to ban the poisoning of our terrestrial food web. Lawn companies can transition to assisting people in converting lawns to wildflowers. Please join me by converting much of your lawn to native wildflowers and using no pesticides at all.

Robert King

Portland