Last week I gave a lecture to the Charleston Horticultural Society about nonnative invasive plants and the impact they have on habitats in our area. The feedback was very good- most attendees were not aware that when invasive plants are allowed to "naturalize" and escape from our gardens that it harms the established ecosystem.
It's a complicated issue because you can't talk about invasive plants without then addressing the need for more native plants in our gardens.
One that should be used more is Inkberry, Ilex glabra. This native evergreen holly is an excellent alternative to Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata) and Japanese Boxwood (Buxus microphylla)in the landscape. Indigenous from Nova Scotia to Florida, this plant is found in coastal plains and pine forests and is well-adapted to wet soils.
In the animal world, Inkberry can be considered a "superfood." According to an article in American Nurseryman (March 2010), the fruit are eaten by birds and mammals in the spring- including wild turkey and quail. Thirty-four species of moth and butterfly larvae are able to forage the leaves. In turn, these caterpillars become an important food source for many of our songbirds.
In addition to supporting birds, mammals and herbivorous insects, Inkberry is an important nectar and pollen source for honeybees. The nectar that is collected from Inkberry contains high levels of a particular enzyme that prevents the honey from crystallizing. A prominent botanist and beekeeper from the 1920's, John H. Lovell, referred to Inkberry as "the most valuable honey plant" (Root and Root, The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture).
Incidentally, due to development, Ilex glabra is becoming more scarce, particularly in the Northeast. As we inhabit larger areas of the United States, our gardens become the natural habitat for birds, insects and other animals; We can no longer pretend that our personal landscapes are not part of the bigger picture. Incorporating great plants like Inkberry into our gardens can help sustain our native fauna.
For more information about this great native shrub, check out the article by Emma Van de Water and Dr. Tomasz Anisko ("An Adaptable Shrub for a Changing Environment) in this month's American Nurseryman.