Book Review – Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens

Everyone should read this book.

I first learned about Bringing Nature Home from Mary Ann King, owner of the Pine Ridge Gardens. Located in London, Arkansas, the Pine Ridge Gardens is a nursery that specializes in Arkansas native plants. I’ve been buying plants from Pine Ridge Gardens for the past several years. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say 99% of my native plants come from Mary Ann’s nursery.

Mary Ann has been my mentor when it comes to native plants. When I first met her, I didn’t know the difference between wildflowers and native plants. Mary Ann shook her head and said, “Kudzu is wild, but that doesn’t mean it’s native!” She told me to read Carl Hunter’s books on plants found in Arkansas. I did. She told me to pick up Douglas Tallamy’s book. I did.

In Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, Douglas Tallamy explains why gardeners must replace non-natives in their home gardens with native plants. According to Tallamy, who chairs the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, most native insect populations can only eat plants with which they share an evolutionary history. They can’t eat plants that evolved in other parts of the world, i.e., alien plants. Replacing native plants with alien plants causes native insect populations to diminish.

How does this affect the world? Most bird populations feed their young on insects, not plants. As the number and diversity of native plants diminish, so do the number and diversity of insects, and, thus, so do the number of birds since less and less insects are available for bird reproduction. The same goes for other insect-eating animals such as toads, frogs, and reptiles.

Since many predators rely on birds, toads, and other insect-eating animals for food, when we replace native plants with alien plants, we are threatening the ecosystem. And, Tallamy has the statistics to support his argument. Native oaks, for example, support 517 lepidoptera (moth and butterfly) species, willows, 456, birches, 413. In contrast, alien Clematis vitalba (Old man’s beard) supports 40 species of herbivores in its homeland but only 1 in North America. Another alien, Eucalyptus stellulata (Black Sally), supports 48 species in its homeland but only 1 on this continent. Both have been in North America for over 100 years, yet it would take tens of thousands, if not millions, of years for them to be able to support the same number of lepidoptera species as native oaks and willows.

Nevertheless, throughout suburbia, we humans have replaced native plants with alien ones. Tallamy notes that we have converted 32-40 million acres to lawns in this country. That’s a lot of acres for alien grasses with no biodiversity!

Fortunately, we can save the bugs, birds, toads, and frogs. Replace alien plants with native ones! We have 32-40 million acres where we can plant natives. According to Tallamy, that’s bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, and several other national parks combined. Imagine how many insects we may be able to feed with a space that big.

I absolutely loved Bringing Nature Home. I have been gardening with native plants for a while, but Tallamy’s book opened my eyes to the role of native plants in sustaining native insect populations. Eddy, who never quite shared my love for native plants but loves bugs, became a believer after he read the book. We both went to Fayetteville last month to hear Dr. Tallamy speak. His presentation was so amazing that it blew us away!

I rarely buy books, but I knew as soon as I read it that I had to get a copy of Bringing Nature Home. I waited until Dr. Tallamy came to Fayetteville to get a copy. Dr. Tallamy wrote on my copy, “Garden as if life depends on it!”

Read this book and garden as if life depends on it. Otherwise, we may see less and less bugs, birds, and frogs, and eventually less of us.

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