Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded

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With the accelerating pace of development and subsequent habitat destruction, the pressures on wildlife populations are greater than ever. But there is a surprisingly important and relatively simple step toward reversing this alarming trend: Everyone with access to a patch of earth can make a significant contribution to sustaining biodiversity.
There is an unbreakable link between native plant species and native wildlife. Most native insects cannot, or will not, eat alien plants. When native plant species disappear, the insects disappear, thus impoverishing the food source for birds and other animals. In many parts of the world, habitat destruction has been so extensive that local wildlife populations are in crisis and may be headed toward extinction. By planting natives, everyone can provide a welcoming environment for wildlife. This doesn’t need to entail a drastic overhaul of your yard or garden. The process can be gradual and can reflect both personal preferences and local sensitivities. Bringing Nature Home has sparked a national conversation about the link between healthy local ecosystems and human well-being, and the new paperback edition—with an expanded resource section and updated photos—will help broaden the movement. By acting on Douglas Tallamy’s practical recommendations, everyone can make a difference.

Customer Reviews:

  • Must read for any truly dedicated gardener.
    This book was eye-opening. Anyone who cares about gardening and the wider environment should read this book. Alien plants -- included beloved lilacs, peonies, Norway maples, etc -- are bad for North American environment. While having a specimen of these plants would be fine, but to the exclusion of native species, is causing many native animal species to look elsewhere for food and shelter. The author has detailed specific plant species that attract the insect species that attract the animals we all want to live and thrive in our gardens. PLEASE PLEASE read this book!!!...more info
  • This book makes me stop and think
    I heard Douglas Tallamy speak at the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference at Millersville University (PA) last June, and I've been waiting for his book to be published by Timber Press.

    I'm a gardener, and I don't want to grow only native plants. But this book makes me stop and think. Douglas Tallamy makes the best case for use of native plants I've read. I recommend it without reservation.

    Simply put, the book's message is this. All life on earth, except for some recently discovered, relatively rare forms that take energy from volcanic vents in the ocean floor, depend on energy from the sun that plants convert into food through photosynthesis. Most of that solar energy is made available to higher life forms through insects that eat plants. With the exception of a few direct herbivores such as cows, all other higher forms of life either eat insects (most birds) or eat other animals that eat insects (hawks eating sparrows), and so on up the food chain. The productivity of an environment, literally the weight of biomass produced in a given area, is directly related to the insect population, and the variety of wildlife - number of species of birds and so on - is also directly related to the numbers and varieties of insects living there.

    Research now clearly shows that native insect populations cannot be sustained by most alien plants. Our insects have co-evolved with native plants over millions of years, and most have highly specific preferences for certain plants as food. As Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, Tallamy has access to research that tells a disturbing story. With increasing urbanization and suburbanization, loss of large forest and natural areas to development, and transformation of a vast portion of the continent into ecologically sterile lawn, we can look forward to mass extinctions of insects, birds, and other forms of life that could surpass the mass extinctions caused by the great meteorite impacts long ago.

    Without the literally innumerable varieties of insects that constitute the first step in transfer of solar energy into life, massive losses of species will occur in the not too distant future. Many such extinctions are actually under way.

    Tallamy's statistics support his message. Native oaks, for example, support 517 lepidoptera species, willows, 456, birches, 413. In contrast, alien Clematis vitalba supports 40 species of herbivores in its homeland, but only 1 in North America. Another example, Phragmites australis supports 170 species in its homeland, but only 5 species on this continent. Unfortunately, insects can't evolve to adapt to alien species in time to save our threatened populations. Evolution takes place over millions of years. Although the Norway maple has been on the North American continent for going on 300 years, and has become the predominant shade tree here, it still has not become a productive part of our native ecosystem. Instead, it is rapidly displacing native species of maple.

    Tallamy urges readers to do what they can to eliminate invasive alien species, to use native plants, to replace sterile lawns, which consist of two or three alien grass species that support little more than Japanese beetle grubs, with sustaining native plant refuges. He urges those who live in suburbia to plant native shade trees, possibly groves, to plant natives along lot lines to begin reestablishing productive areas where insects can successfully reproduce and live, and where their predators can find security and cover.

    Tallamy writes with grace and humor. He makes it easy to follow his arguments, uses copious examples to relate his ideas to the natural world we all know, and uses down-to-earth anecdotes to illustrate his points clearly. The book, even with its many, for me, unpronounceable binomial Latin names for a multitude of insects, is an easy read. I finished it in two days, while busy with work and many other chores.

    Like most people, I have an aversion to what I consider ugly, even frightening insects. I find it much easier to look at pictures of pretty butterflies than spiders and sawflies, but I learned a lot about the insect world while reading this book and looking at its pictures. And now I have enough knowledge to want to learn more, and to better understand how the natural world of my garden works.

    I doubt I'll be able to eliminate plants of foreign origin from my garden, but I'll try to keep a much better balance of natives to aliens (mostly natives), and practice more sustainable gardening in the future. And I'll certainly work to try to convince others to reduce lawn size and incorporate native plants into their landscapes.
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  • Easy, wonderful and mind blowing...
    I actually had the pleasure of hearing the author on this subject in Cleveland. I was blown away. He shows this really easy way of making a difference without having to spend more money or having lots of land or even go out of your way. Tallamy is very passionate without being a fanatic and fantastically entertaining and easy to understand. He shows connections and solutions in such a way that you will be surprised you never saw them before. You can read his book front to back or leave it out on the coffee table. It works either way. You will definitely look at insects and plants in a very different manner after reading `Bringing nature home'. I have given it to many friends (with and without big yards) already and keep ordering more copies... ...more info
  • Great book to create a native garden for your area
    Book is a great asset for anyone wanting to utilize plants which are native to where you live--so naturally they fare better. Most of our Master Gardeners in our area have purchased this reference book
    Also--as usual--Amazon is efficient for handling ppurchases with speedy delivery....more info
  • An inspiring read
    I was so inspired by this book that I bought a copy for my sister, who is soon moving to a 5-acre property. I will refer to the book often when I plant anything on my own quarter-acre yard. Whatever your property size, you can be part of the solution by choosing native plants.
    You will find more detailed reference works out there regarding which plants to choose, but this book is plenty enough to get you started. It really held my interest. Who knew that it can be a good thing to have native insects munching on your plants?...more info
  • One of the most important gardening/environmental books
    Along with one of the prior reviewers, I too heard Doug Tallamy speak at the Millersville Native Plant Conference. When he said he was writing a book due out in the Fall of 2007, I put it on my iCal to check to see when it was published - It was a long wait, but it was worth it!

    I have bookshelves of gardening books, but this is one of those very few that has done more than just provide useful information. It has profoundly influenced my understanding of how my yard can help create a healthy planet - not only can, but must.

    The other books on my "short list": Noah's Garden by Sara Stein, Planting Noah's Garden by Sara Stein, and Insects and Gardens by Eric Grissell. Although Grissell has a blind spot with respect to the role of native plants, his was the first book that helped me appreciate the role of insects, and I'd still recommend it. ...more info
  • A book for every gardener
    As a Virginia Master Gardener and a Certified Virginia Master Naturalist, I thought that this book makes one of the best cases I have read for planting native plants instead of the "pest free", over-used plants stocked by most nurseries. It should be a "must read" for all gardeners and provides a number of excellent native plant alternatives in its appendices. These appendices are keyed to each section of the country, identifying plants that will do well there. ...more info
  • More, please!
    I agree entirely with all the favorable reviews of this book and recommend it highly. Looking at plants from an insect-and-bird-eye view puts them in a new perspective.

    I have just gone around my own small garden and have tried to identify the continents-of-origin of most of the perennials in it so that I can choose which to replace. It is shocking how many are not native. Since Dr. Tallamy's recommendations only cover the Mid-Atlantic states, not those farther north, what we need here in New England is information about suitable native plants for our area. If anyone can fill this gap, it will be most appreciated. ...more info
  • Bringing Nature Home - A MUST READ for Bird Lovers
    Bringing Nature Home is a veritable cookbook for making your yard more attractive and useful to native birds by growing the plants and food they need. If you love birds, read this book and learn how you can help restore our declining bird populations. The information is also extremely useful guidance for public land managers, landscapers, and ecologists trying to create or restore natural landscapes and native communities. In addition to an overview of the worrisome state of native wildlife in the U.S. due to habitat loss, invasive species, excessive night lighting, and an ever-expanding human population, the author provides specific natural history information available nowhere else. The book is a fun and fascinating read thanks to Doug Tallamy's vast knowledge and good sense of humor. ...more info
  • Love Birds? Invite Them Into Your Yard.
    Douglas Tallamy was captivated early by the natural world. In his engaging new book, Bringing Nature Home, Tallamy writes of spending his summer days exploring the "wild" places near his home in New Jersey. There, he also discovered the devastating effects of development when a bulldozer buried tiny toads he had watched develop from tadpoles in a polliwog pond. Our hearts go out to the nine-year-old child as he works valiantly, but futilely, to save the little creatures from being buried alive.
    When he grew up, the boy who had tried to rescue toads studied the natural world, ultimately becoming Professor and Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. In the process, he discovered the extent of loss resulting from wide scale development and agricultural activities. And that is the subject of his book. But Bringing Nature Home is not another gloom and doom tome on what we humans have wrought. Instead, this engaging and highly readable book tells us how we can all be involved in turning back environmental loss in a way that will bring that wild world right into our own back yards by simply trading non-native ornamental plantings for native ones.
    Bringing Nature Home is very well documented (with a bibliography longer than your arm) and full of beautiful and fascinating photos. It includes many of Tallamy's own personal landscaping experiences as well as numerous suggestions on plant choices for the rest of us.
    Like Ted Williams in Wild Moments and Scott Weidensaul in Return to Wild America, Tallamy remains optimistic about the future of America's wildlife. But unlike Williams and Weidensaul, both of whom wrote eloquently about why we should connect with and want to save our natural world, the good professor's book is a prescription on how we can all work to make that happen.
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    This is a first-rate popular work by a mature researcher. Tallamy's arguments for using native plants in suburban gardens are convincing, often eloquent (esp. in chaps. 3 and 4). He argues that native bugs can only eat plants that they share an evolutionary history with. Our bugs just can't eat plants which have evolved in other parts of the world (i.e. alien plants). Furthermore, our birds don't feed their young on plants but can only feed their young on bugs. (This is true even if adult birds can survive on plant food alone--e.g. berries from native and alien plants alike). So bugs are necessary for bird reproduction. Therefore, as the number and diversity of native plants diminish so do the number and diversity of bugs, and, therefore, so do the number of birds since bugs are less and less available for bird reproduction. So far as reproductive nutrition is concerned, alien plants are as useful as a parking lot. Since so far as making bugs available for food, alien plants have no ecological function. What's worse, there is very little in our native ecosystem to inhibit the spread of many of these alien plants--except us!

    Tallamy does not leave us hanging with just a lot of bad news. To the contrary, he offers a plan for beginning recovery in which the suburban gardener plays the central role. He celebrates the role each suburban gardener can have in restoring the habitat of native plant and animal ecosystems right in each gardener's own yard. He gave me a real excitement about creating and observing a wonderous, healthy biodiversity just outside my backdoor, a diversity much more interesting than I could ever achieve with alien plants. His hope is that this excitement could become widespread among gardeners such that suburbia and nature could reconcile.

    The few times Tallamy touches upon the issue of how best to achieve this reconciliation so far as policy, he is careful not to call for any government involvement but rather to encourage grassroots action. Now I guess in general we don't want the state telling us what and what not to plant. But if his arguments are sound, some state funded education might be in order. The state has already seen fit to spend money encouraging us to plant trees, this book seems to make a fine argument that the state has an interest in encouraging us to plant certain kinds of trees an not others. Also Tallamy seems more tenative than I would be over policy regarding future importation of aliens.

    But in general I think this is a great book. Indeed I've just finished it and I may be still too much in its thrall. But I put it in the rare league of two with Ricke Darke'sThe American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest. It is a masterful work expressing, like Darke's, what might be called the new Emersonian spirit in American gardening. It really helps us become oriented toward how to cooperate with and be a part of nature in the 21st century. I suppose it goes without saying that I regard it as essential reading for every contemporary suburban gardener....more info
  • Great book and very informative

    I thought this book was great, and now I'm "sold" on only using native plants in my garden. And for those who say that not all alien plants are bad, and that this book doesn't tell the whole story or whatever, I would retort "well why NOT use native plants only?" To me there's something more "right" about using plants that are native to the very land you are on.

    The back of the book contains a terrific appendix that lists good native plants to grow by U.S. region. I was very disappointed however that there was no index for the Northeast region(which is where I live)......more info
  • Bringing Nature Home
    Well written and timely. Describes how to make a difference in the health of the natural world in your local area that directly impacts the health of the planet. Bravo!...more info
  • A must read for gardeners
    I received this book for my birthday, started to skim it and could not put it down. The book makes the best case for growing native plants in our gardens I have ever read. Who ever knew that bugs could not eat leaves from non-native plants,for the most part! And that because their food source is dwindling (due to invasive alien plants and urban development)there is a huge effect all the way up the food chain starting with birds. As a member of a local garden club, I cannot wait to share the knowledge from this book with our members and it will now be on the gift list for all my gardening friends. If we all do a little, we can make a very big difference. Excellent book and extremely well written....more info
  • This is the right book at the right time
    This book makes a convincing case, and a call to action, for preserving biological diversity in the U.S. by shifting our home gardening practices to include native plants. The author provides useful and easy-to-understand explanations and statistics to back up his thesis, and gives specific examples of plants that can be established to optimize biological diversity in large and small home landscapes. I can't recommend this book enough as a "toolbox" for individuals to use for bringing their own backyards back to life. Be prepared to dog-ear a lot of pages!...more info


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