Podcast on Natives with Doug Tallamy


Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, wants to change the way we landscape- radically. He’s a native plant buff and makes a scientific case for planting more natives in our gardens to preserve biodiversity.

This five-part podcast (it’s only about 45 minutes long all put together) presented some game-changing info that’s making me really re-think how I garden.

Some highlights:

Bugs are good. They pollinate, birds eat them, and much as some folks don’t like them, it’s not overstating things to say us humans would be in serious danger without them.

Bugs are also very picky. They can sense the chemical composition of plants with their legs, and when it comes time to reproduce, many bugs will simply die if they can’t find a plant with the exact chemical signature they are looking for.

If a bug wants to lay eggs on a milkweed and there are only roses around, many bugs will die without laying those eggs. They’ve evolved over a long period of time to have relationships with specific plants, and without those plants, the bugs don’t reproduce. No bugs – no pollination, no birds, no tasty peaches for us to eat.

This whole bit about the chemical signature was kind of game-changing for me. I thought the arguments for biodiversity were about preserving native plants, which I have sympathy for but seems less connected to what I plant in landscapes, since I’m not planting endangered wildflowers anyway, I’m planting shrubs for the most part.

Hearing that it’s about making sure bugs reproduce, so they can take their rightful place in the food chain and the ecosystem, made it a lot easier to understand what a difference it can make to plant even a few native plants in a garden otherwise barren of them.

The problem is that there’s a lack of information on which plants have the biggest impact, how native is native, and can cultivated varieties of natives (like the white variety of our native flowering currant) still have the same good effect on nature? We simply need more scientific data on it as a lot of the info out there is emotion- and speculation-based.

Tallamy’s book is important for the concepts and explanations, but his specific plant advice is based on east coast natives, I hear. I’m hoping to find a guide to help us out here on the west coast…

Anyway, I LOVE plants and I am such a ridiculous plant geek that I can’t imagine ever throwing my beloved non-native plants under the bus. But if by incorporating a few beautiful natives into appropriate spots in the garden, I can have a big impact on our ecosystem and food chain – well, it doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice. I mean, have you seen our California and Pacific Northwest natives? Some of them are hot!

I’m going to be reading more about this to try and pinpoint which plants in our areas have the biggest impact, and then figure out how to effectively landscape with natives in a way that’s gorgeous and still fits with our expectations of what a pretty garden looks like.

Do you have any tips for native plant learning, beyond Doug Tallamy’s book? Leave your book rec’s and website info in the comments below!

Further Reading/ Listening:

Timber Press’s Doug Tallamy Podcasts

New York Times Interview with Tallamy

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

Scott Hokunson’s Blue Heron Landscapes Blog: Review of Tallamy’s Book

Town Mouse and Country Mouse’s California Native Gardening Blog

10 responses to “Podcast on Natives with Doug Tallamy”

  1. Doug Tallamy is one of my heroes at Ecosystem Gardening and I refer to his work on a regular basis. In fact he served on my thesis committee when I wrote “Conservation Gardening and Sustainable Landscaping.”

    I love that you can apply his ideas, as you suggest, by simply adding more natives to your landscape. When there’s a hole to be filled in your garden, try to think of adding a native to that spot. The future health of wildlife is dependent on this.

    Thank you so much for spreading this important information.

    • Wow, Carole, to think you had such fine folks to bounce ideas off of when doing your thesis! Neat! I love your blog by the way and am so happy to have found it.

      Town Mouse, you rock – thanks for the book rec’s and the Urban Bee link. I’m glad the Urban Bee folk are being so inclusive! It makes me happy that as I embrace our natives I needn’t kick my other faves to the curb.

      Monica, I so agree…

      Debbie, yes, “garden as if life depended on it” – wow. That rocks!

      Christine – that’s what I’m afraid of!!

  2. Oh, that podcast sounds great! Thanks for the link (and for the link to our blog, of course).

    I usually suggest people start by reading some books about natives. We’ve reviewed quite a few of them between the two of us Mice. http://tmousecmouse.blogspot.com/search/label/Book%20review.

    The Berkeley Urban Bee Project has lots of good info, and they’ve done the studies to figure out which plants work here. http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/research_history.html

    And of course it would be wonderful if you could see one of the Native Garden tours this spring. There’s the Going Native Garden Tour (www.gngt.org) and the East Bay tour (http://bringingbackthenatives.net/) and a few others.

    And no one would expect that you give up your non-native plants, I would hope. The Berkely Bee folks actually said having some exotics gives you the best coverage (some pollen, some nectar year round).

  3. Gen,

    I listened to all of the podcasts several weeks ago and they were very interesting. I also saw Doug Tallamy speak in October and he was so inspirational. I brought along my dog-eared copy of Bringing Nature Home and he signed it. His tagline is ‘Garden as if life depended on it’. Puts it all into perspective doesn’t it?
    .-= Debbie´s last blog ..Wintery Wordless Wednesday =-.

  4. Doug Tallamy is delivering a message that has been long in the making. He is an entomo logist by education so has a focus on the bugs in our landscapes. I was fortunate to hear him speak at a Pesticide recertification in Maryland about 2 years ago. The food chain is something for us to think about. If we do not have the plants to support the insects who lay eggs in order to feed on….then there are less insects for higher organisms to feed upon like many of our native bird species. His message was told using the diminishing native bird species…and he made the direct correlation to the available plants in our ecosystem.
    Way to go Doug! You have many followers…

  5. […] garden, many people still have trouble finding room for them. Even when people understand the specific wildlife benefits that only native plants can bring, and want to use them in the garden, it can be hard to change a […]