Doug Tallamy is a professor and chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He has been called the “guru of the habitat gardening movement”. His message is that humans have disrupted their environment to the point of massive extinction of many plants, animals, birds and insects. This will have a tremendously negative impact on the health of humans. We must now think in terms of restoring our ecosystem in our gardens for our own health and well being. Doug Tallamy wants to teach us how to accomplish that.
- The U.S. population is now over 300 million people and has doubled since many of us were kids.
- Development of land continues at a pace of 2 million acres a year.
- We have over 4 million miles of roads.
- We love lawns, and have planted over 62,500 square miles or 40 million acres of lawn.
- We have planted over 3400 alien plant species that have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S. and that’s expected to double in the next 5 years.
- We have taken 54% of the lower 48 states and turned it into cities and suburbs, and 41% into planned agricultural endeavor. 95% of our nature is now unnatural.
What does this all mean?
It means that the ecosystem within which humans live, and which is essential to us, is dying. The ecosystems that support us are run by biodiversity. Biodiversity generates our oxygen and clean water, creates topsoil out of rock, buffers extreme weather, and recycles all the garbage we create every day, just to name a few tasks.
- As a result of the facts listed above, over 40% of Delaware’s plant species are rare or extinct.
- 41% of Delaware’s forest birds no longer nest in that state.
- Over 800 plant and animal species are rare, threatened or endangered in Pennsylvania and 150 have disappeared entirely.
- Songbirds have been in decline since the 1960s and their population is down 40%.
“Species are lost at the same proportion with which a habitat is reduced in size.”
What can we do?
Fortunately, with some focus and effort, we can give our local and native animals, birds and insects what they need to thrive on our properties. How? By planting NATIVE PLANTS. All animals get their health and energy from either eating plants or eating something that has eaten plants. You remember that ol’ food chain from school? It’s an ecosystem and plants are at one end of it.
Stop planting ornamental landscape plants from China or Europe and instead plant equally as beautiful native plants that will help our insects survive. Why can’t our native insects eat non-native plants? Plants species protect themselves with nasty tasting leaves, and only the insects that have shared an evolutionary history with that plant can eat them. Oak trees attract 532 species of caterpillars, which are nutritious bird food. The native flowering dogwood tree supports 117 species of moths and butterflies. We’re planting hundreds of thousands of acres with goldenraintree from China instead of dogwoods and oak trees, and our caterpillars, moths and butterflies can’t eat those leaves and cannot survive. Then the birds, spiders, reptiles and rodents are hungry, and…you get the picture.
All our gardens have a function, a role to play in the larger ecological landscape. We can reduce the size of our lawns, plant the borders of our properties with native trees and include native ground covers in our gardens.
The bottom line:
Plants have a more important function than looking decorative in our gardens. Let plants do their work in their native ecosystem and we will all be happier and healthier.
Doug Tallamy is a very entertaining as well as informative speaker. If you have a chance to go hear him do so.
His website, Bringing Nature Home, has lots of great information on it about native planting.
To attract butterflies and moths in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region read this chart.
For a comprehensive list of what to plant see the back of his The Living Landscape book described below.
I love his book The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden for $28.26. It has a wonderful appendix with many, many plants listed with the insects each will attract. Stay away from the plants that hardly attract any!
Also, Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy is $15.10. pix
Check out a You Tube lecture by Doug Tallamy.