“Bringing Nature Home” changed my life

Well, ok, not my whole life, but certainly the part that I spend gardening, which is close to 15% of my life in the summer.

Bringing Nature Home, Douglas TallamyEverything that Douglas Tallamy says makes so much sense that it amazes me I didn’t know this stuff until I read this book:

1. Insects that are native to an ecosystem have evolved to eat only plants native to that ecosystem
2. Baby birds eat insects. Even normally seed-eating birds need a large insect population to support their young.
3. So, if there are fewer native plants around, there are fewer native insects, and fewer birds.
4. Suburban gardeners have a responsibility to rebuild the native ecosystem which the suburb has displaced.

Tallamy makes these points quickly, then spends a chapter on how to make a garden of native plants look attractive and formal so you don’t irritate your neighbors. The bulk of the book is descriptions of insects native to the eastern U.S. and the plants they live on, accompanied by attractive color photographs. I’ve identified the little red bugs on my coneflowers as the nymph stage of Red Milkweed Beetles.

Something is eating my Joe Pye Weed

For the last few years I’ve grown some native prairie plants because they are drought-tolerant and don’t require any attention. But I’ve also been planting various exotic ornamental species that are drought-tolerant, and it never occurred to me that they are just wasting space in my garden. Nothing can eat them, so they’re not in the food chain. I never thought about the insect part of the ecosystem, and how important it is to provide food and shelter for the insects that other local fauna depend on.

From now on only native plants and vegetables are allowed in my garden. And when I see that something is eating my perennials, instead of being irritated I’ll be happy that a tiny bit of the ecosystem is working as it should.

2 thoughts on ““Bringing Nature Home” changed my life

  1. edwindow

    A year after your post, I have just stumbled on the book. You said it best: why weren’t these things obvious to us? Here’s my post about it, with a focus on the landscaping decisions that recreation resource planners are called on to make: http://heritagestrategy.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/a-new-philosophy-of-landscaping/

    If backyard decisions are important, the big public lands decisions can be huge. Some states still plant alien flowers, and even invasives, along hundreds of miles of interstates. Many city parks have almost nothing but aliens. This book came not a minute too soon.

  2. Ian Menkins

    It is interesting that much of the message in Fahrenheit 451 that you mention elsewhere in your blog seems to have been lost. Fanatical environmentalism in some circles of society is creating a kind of new eco-religion which is having the effect of persecuting exotic plants and the people who like to grow them. Often the persecution is justified, but humans being humans, they are starting to take the whole thing too far. Many exotic plants also serve a vital role in filling niches in new highly disturbed human environments. I recently saw a patch of a prickly exotic weed destroyed for no reason other than that it was “non-native”. The problem was that an endangered species of native bird had built its nests inside these prickly exotics. They had to build there in order to escape the cats that we humans had introduced! Also, the catterpillars of an uncommon native butterfly species had been feeding on the leaves.
    Many people want to turn back the clock and garden their entire nations with nothing other than native species, while persecuting, poisoning and destroying anything that dares to be “non-native”. This attitude is becoming very prevalent in today’s western society and is often somewhat misguided. It is in fact so much like the attitude portrayed in Fahrenheit 451 that it is rather unnerving. Instead of destroying books that a new regime has claimed are “bad” for us, the ideology of today is to destroy anything exotic. “Exotics are now bad for you and your environment dear Comrades!”
    Yet this “weed warrior” approach often neglects those people who care about exotic plants and enjoy cultivating them. People who love exotics are gradually becoming marginalized. Will they one day be forced to hide their beloved plants away for fear of prosecution or confiscation by humourless authorities?
    Human beings are often slow to learn from the mistakes of history. Our choices and attitudes relating to plants often reflect on wider attitudes prevalent in society.


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