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Creating Living Landscapes: The Importance Of Native Plants With Doug Tallamy

A Summary of the Habitat Hero Presentation given by Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware Professor of Entomology, at the Denver Botanic Garden.

Groundbreaking research by Professor Tallamy and his students has brought to light the importance of native plants in the web of life. This is a complex subject, but Professor Tallamy is dedicated to sharing this information in a visually beautiful and easily understandable way. 

The Importance of Native Plants And The Role Insects Play

His research shows that native plants are integral food sources for plant eating insects in a way that non-native plants are not. These plant-eating insects are the foundation of the food web that supports song birds and all wildlife that share the land with us.

Specifically, due to the loss of natural habitats with diverse native plant populations, and the extensive planting of non-native trees and shrubs in our urban and suburban areas, songbird populations in the US have decreased by 50%, and more than 230 species of North American birds are at risk of extinction! When bell-weather creatures like songbirds are imperiled, we must take notice and do something to correct a dire situation. Fortunately, gardeners are in a position to lead the charge. 

Birds Need Bugs

96% of birds species rear their young on caterpillars - and baby birds need a lot of caterpillars. It takes an astounding 6,000-9,000 caterpillars for a pair of birds to feed one generation of chicks before they leave the nest. Imagine the responsibility of having to provide fresh caterpillars every three to five minutes, sun up to sun down, for weeks on end! 

Native tree species are especially important plants that are home to the caterpillars of butterflies and moths.Unfortunately, many non-native trees and shrubs commonly used in American landscapes are inedible to most caterpillars. Combine this with the fact that there are over 40,000,000 million acres of lawn in the US where there once was forest and prairie, and it’s easy to see that we have created a vast area of landscapes that are devoid of ecological value.

It’s also important that open our mindset about plants and insects. Bugs in the garden are not always bad - in fact, they’re often essential and beneficial! Remember, bugs are bird food. 

Plants and the specific insects that feed on them have evolved over thousands of years to co-exist. We must recognize and appreciate this intricate balance of nature. It’s important to be tolerant of the native and beneficial insects feeding on our landscape plants – not destroy precious insect, bird, and pollinator populations by indiscriminate pesticide use.

Are non-native plants bad?

No, they're not - but Professor Tallamy advocates that we need to use them in moderation and not to the exclusion of native plants. By including native plants in our yards and gardens, we can replenish the plant diversity that is so important to healthy insect populations - and we can have a beautiful landscape at the same time.


Sustainability Begins In Your Backyard

We as gardeners can take an active role in healing this damage to our environment, and help restore our precious song bird populations. Our job is to learn about the most productive native plants for pollinators and wildlife in our region - and include them in our gardens! We need to encourage our gardening friends to plant them too.. It's a collaborative effort that involves us all.

Thank you Prof. Tallamy for bringing this to our attention and keep doing the wonderful scientific research that will continue to point us all in the right direction.



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