approaches, gardeners will be inundated with slick
advertisements promoting plants that may or may not live up to
their hype. We’ll see examples of picture-perfect annuals
pumped up with water soluble fertilizer. Finally, we’ll be
encouraged to show off our golf-course worthy lawns--free of
weeds and emerald green, after following a multi-step program to
eliminate every insect and weed.
There is a cost
to heeding to the admonitions of companies selling plants and
chemicals to enhance our landscapes and gardens, says Douglas W.
Tallamy. He has written an eye-opening book, Bringing Nature
Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber
Press, $17.95). Encouraging
gardeners to go native is nothing new. Native plants have been
promoted for their contributions to the landscape since Sara
Stein wrote Noah’s Garden almost 20 years ago.
book focuses on the importance of planting to sustain insects
critical to maintaining the food web. This is not
to say that gardeners should rip every non-native plant from
their gardens (imagine what you’d be left with), but to consider
plants that supply native insects with a viable food source.
Whether you have an established garden and you’re making choices
to complement ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea, or if you are starting
from scratch, introducing native species into the garden has
Sweet Bay Magnolia flower has a sweet
Photo: Mike Masiuk
reminds us that suburban sprawl, 4 million linear miles of
public roads and our obsession with sterile lawns have all
contributed to the reduction of habitat and loss of diversity
impacting native insect populations.
impact of habitat destruction, Mr. Tallamy also notes that
native insects prefer native plants over alien species. Insects
choose to eat the leaves of plants based on leaf chemistry.
Native insects do not readily adapt to the chemical mixes
contained within the leaves of introduced species.
specialists when it comes to choosing which plants to eat. Mr. Tallamy retells a story of caterpillars eating the leaves of a
black cherry tree. After consuming the lower leaves on the
tree, the caterpillars crawled over the leaves of a Japanese
honeysuckle vine wound around the tree trunk to get to cherry
leaves on the higher branches.
the impact of alien species on the biomass of native insects,
many of our imports have become invasive plants, including
autumn olive, kudzu, purple loosestrife, Japanese barberry and
Japanese knotweed. When alien plants prevail, diseases and
insects come with them and can cause collateral damage to
chestnut trees, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and
California oaks have all been ravaged by fungi which did not
affect their Asian counterparts yet destroyed our native trees.
Japanese beetles and the hemlock wooly adelgid are just two of
the insects let loose into our gardens after hitching rides on
imported nursery stock.
nail in the coffin for upsetting a thriving ecosystem is the
reliance on chemicals to create a beautiful garden. Mr. Tallamy
puts it very well:
“In an effort to create gardens free
of insect problems, most gardeners have used a
recipe perfect for cooking up insect outbreaks:
alien plants, lack of plant diversity and
insecticides. Would we not better achieve our goal
of a pest free garden if we employed nature herself
to look after things? We have spent the last
half-century proving beyond the shadow of a doubt
that a sterile garden does not work. It is a
high-input enterprise requiring more time and money
than most of us would like, or are able, to devote
suggest that gardens created from native plants are more stable
and self-regulating than gardens predicated on alien plants.
Striving for a suburban ecosystem complex enough to keep itself
thriving without micromanagement by the gardener is something to
native plants to your garden is as simple as doing a bit of
research. If you enjoy a wooded lot, resist the temptation to
cut down “trash trees” such as black cherry. The 456 species of
Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) supported by that tree, as
well as the birds that eat their larvae, will applaud you!
If you are debating which
tree to plant for shade and generations of your grandchildren to
enjoy, choose a white, red or scarlet oak, a favorite of 534
species. Pass on the rows of ‘Bradford’ pears at the big
box stores this spring. They grow fast, are cheap to
propagate (hence that great price) but their branches are so
prone to ice and wind damage that they’re a poor landscape
choice. Instead choose a species of our native
serviceberry. You’ll still have pretty white flowers in the
spring, followed by fruits that the birds relish, and lovely
fall color, too.
If you are
enjoying the ‘Knockout’ rose you purchased last year consider
underplanting it with alum root or coral bells (Heuchera
americana) or flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), native
perennials which will dress up the base of the rose better than
a sea of mulch.
these plants might require a bit of work, but native plant
specialists and nurseries may have them, or could order them for
you. Many native perennials can go head to head with delphinium
hybrids for beauty including: willowleaf bluestar (Amsonia
tabernaemontana), blue prairie indigo (Baptisia australis),
Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and goatsbeard (Aruncus
dioicus). These perennials are available at nurseries with a
broad selection of plants and won’t disappoint like the fancy
delphiniums that never reach perfection in our area and rarely
return for an encore performance.
There is an
excellent appendix in Mr. Tallamy’s book. Take a look at the
extensive list of choices appropriate for our region. Native
plants may have to make do without publicists, but they’re great
choices for your landscape.
as you walk around your garden and think to yourself, “I could
use something right here,” chose a native plant you won’t see in
every yard in the neighborhood. The birds and butterflies will
thank you for it!
Below is a
short list of native plants readily available at local
nurseries. Selected from the appendix of the book: Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native
Plants. Tallamy, Douglas W. (2007, expanded in 2009).
London/Portland: Timber Press.
sylvatica, black gum
arbutifolia, red chokeberry (moist sites)
occidentalis, buttonbush (moist sites)
virginicus, fringe tree
White Fringe Tree
alnifolia, sweet pepper bush
sericea, redtwig dogwood (moist sites)
virginiana, witch hazel
virginiana, sweetbay magnolia (moist sites)
viscosum, swamp azalea
corymbosum, highbush blueberry
nudum, smooth witherod
racemosa, black cohosh (dry sites)
gerardii, big bluestem
canadense, wild ginger
incarnata, swamp milkweed
filix-femina, lady fern
virginianum, green and gold
eximia, fringed bleeding heart (moist sites)
diphylla, twinleaf (moist sites)
procumbens, Allegheny spurge
commutatum, Solomon's seal (moist sites)
acrostichoides, Christmas fern
pinnata, pinnate prairie coneflower (dry sites)
cordifolia, eastern foamflower
Gardens & Flowers
Pickling the Harvest