If you’re interested in understanding the subject of native plants, this book is for you. Bringing Nature Home gives the reader a solid foundation by explaining in depth what native plants are and why they’re directly important to us. I recommend this book not only because it’s one of my favorites, but also because of its relevance and readability to people of all interest and gardening skill levels.
Tallamy, an entomologist and Pennsylvania resident, explains how fundamental native plants are to insect life: bees, beetles, butterflies, and so on. As these plants are removed and replaced by concrete, lawn, and nonnative plants, their food sources dwindle. This, of course, affects the rest of the food chain. One example of this is a Smithsonian study revealing a 1/3 reduction in songbird populations since the 1970s, nearly all of whom feed their babies exclusively insects.
As natural spaces become fragmented into tiny portions of their former selves, these plant ecosystems lose much of their function. This is why we see many disheartening headlines about species decline today.
Currently, about 15 percent of land east of the Mississippi River is publicly owned in parks, which means 85 percent of the land is privately owned. Because most is privately owned, Tallamy argues that solving today’s biodiversity’s crisis requires active participation from property owners. “There isn’t enough land left” for the parks to do all the work, he says.
Tallamy stresses a paradigm shift from “I’ll be here, and nature will be over there” which has long been our living mindset, to coexisting with nature instead. This starts by simply bringing native plants back into our landscapes.
The author opens the book with a couple paragraphs that largely summarize the contents of the book.
“Gardeners enjoy their hobby for many reasons: a love of plants and nature, the satisfaction that comes from beautifying home and community, the pleasures of creative effort, the desire to collect rare or unusual species, and the healthful benefits of exercise and outdoor air. For some people, like my wife and me, there is pleasure in just watching plants grow.
“But now, for the first time in its history, gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference. In this case, the “difference” will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.”
In addition to useful plant lists, the book provides great information and photos on native insects. As I’ve learned more about identifying insects, the more I’ve come to appreciate them and their presence. If you have the desire to learn, it will likely be the same with you too.
Tallamy is not entirely against using nonnative plants in the landscape. The problem isn’t simply the presence of nonnative plants, he says, but rather “the absence of native plants.” A landscape filled with native plants and a few nonnative plants can still be ecologically productive. That said, invasive plants such as Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) and Privet (Ligustrum spp.) must be off the table. These “ecological tumors”, he calls them, have an unnatural competitive advantage over most native plants. This results in significant damage to natural areas.
The author continues “For decades, many horticulture writers have been pleading for a fresh appreciation of our American flora, and for almost as long they have been largely (or entirely) ignored. For several reasons, however, the day of the native ornamental is drawing near.”
In my view, Bring Nature Home is the best starting point to learning about native plants. What’s especially exciting is how relevant the content is for us as fellow Pennsylvanians. The book’s message is applicable to homeowners, landscape contractors, and anyone who goes about planting plants – professionally or for pleasure. For those renting apartments, Tallamy suggests volunteering with a park or conservancy, most of which are understaffed.
Of all the gardening books I’ve read in the past 5 years, this is the one I recommend the most. Check it out! (Note that an updated edition was recently released with a new book cover).
For those who struggle to make time to read, download the audiobook or view this one-hour YouTube presentation here. (381) Doug Tallamy Zoom Lecture – 2/25/21 w/ Allegheny County Chapter of Izaak Walton League of America – YouTube