The real need for Native Plantings: Doug Tallamy

When landscaping our residences, everywhere, including landscaping in North East Ohio, we should plant more naturally with more native plants. This important and urgent message is put across clearly by one of its strongest proponents, Doug Tallamy of The University of Delaware. His very interesting talk is captured in this video, and I highly recommend watching it. See if it strengthens or changes your view on the subject of natives.

The reasoning is powerful. We need biodiversity, the blend of plants, insect, and animals – for it is biodiversity that runs ecosystems. As landscape designers, we start the process by designing in the plants. Plants not only are the food source for the insect and birds, but also create soil, clean pollution, sequester carbon, moderate weather patterns, and allow us to eat sunlight.

Tallamy points out that plants, including natives, vary in the number of insects and birds that depend on them for food. He shows a very compelling listing of the plants in North America, and where they rate in such a list. The list goes from Oaks at the top, supporting over 500 species of birds, down to Dawn Redwoods at the bottom, favored by 0 birds.

On top of this accomplishment, Oaks are some of the longest lived plants in our area and have the capacity to live for 900 years. This means that they can sequester carbon from the atmosphere for a very long time. Doug maintains that if only every residence could have five oaks growing on it, it would go a long way in fighting the carbon pollution problem.

Natural ecosystems have been carved into continually dwindling islands. These scattered woodlots are too small to keep an ecosystem going, and tiny populations are facing local extinction. Instead of diverse woodlands the default of suburban America is the lawn. Dr. Tallamy has many factual numbers backing up his points – and this is the one that struck me. In America, the typical residential landscape is composed of 90% lawn. Of the remaining area, 80% of the plants are non native. This leaves little familiar food for many creatures that may depend upon it for survival.

This particular dependence has developed for years and years. Certain creatures had to develop an ability to digest a plant that was unpalatable to others, thus protecting themselves from predators. What happens when that necessary plant gets eradicated? Just look at the disappearing milkweed, and the disappearing Monarchs.

Tallamy is an entomologist and his appreciation of insects is profound. The presentation of caterpillars and birds that depend on those natives turns into a near rock concert paced depiction of a particular native plant, then the beautiful caterpillars that depend on that plant for its existence and then the beautiful bird that then depends that caterpillar for its existence. All of the photographs were taken by Tallamy in his own front yard. The presentation is compelling, tragically beautiful, and unforgettable. If you would like to read more deeply into this I recommend Doug Tallamy’s book ‘Bringing Nature Home,’ and his website

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