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Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens [Hardcover]

Douglas W. Tallamy , Rick Darke
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 6 2007
As development and subsequent habitat destruction accelerate, there are increasing pressures on wildlife populations. But there is an important and simple step toward reversing this alarming trend: Everyone with access to a patch of earth can make a significant contribution toward sustaining biodiversity.

There is an unbreakable link between native plant species and native wildlife — native insects cannot, or will not, eat alien plants. When native plants disappear, the insects disappear, impoverishing the food source for birds and other animals. In many parts of the world, habitat destruction has been so extensive that local wildlife is in crisis and may be headed toward extinction.

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.

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Tallamy takes an obvious observation—wildlife is threatened when suburban development encroaches on once wild lands—and weds it to a novel one: that beneficial insects are being deprived of essential food resources when suburban gardeners exclusively utilize nonnative plant material. Such an imbalance, Tallamy declares, can lead to a weakened food chain that will no longer be able to support birds and other animal life. Once embraced only by members of the counterculture, the idea of gardening with native plants has been landscape design's poor stepchild, thought to involve weeds and other plants too unattractive for pristine suburban enclaves. Not so, says Tallamy, who presents compelling arguments for aesthetically pleasing, ecologically healthy gardening. With nothing less than the future of North American biodiversity at stake, Tallamy imparts an encouraging message: it's not too late to save the ecosystem-sustaining matrix of insects and animals, and the solution is as easy as replacing alien plants with natives. Haggas, Carol

Review

"This book not only shows how important native plants are but also how easy they can be to incorporate into a landscape plan."

"This book aims to motivate parents and caregivers who are concerned about childrens' lack of connection to the outdoors."



"A fascinating study of the trees, shrubs, and vines that feed the insects, birds, and other animals in the suburban garden."

"We all know where resistance to natives, reliance on pesticides, and the cult of the lawn still reign supreme: suburban America. And suburban America is where Doug Tallamy aims the passionate arguments for natives and their accompanying wildlife." 

"This book will not only foster a love of the outdoors in all who read it, but also create a deeper understanding and appreciation of the intricate web of wildlife outside your door."

"In an area that is as open and wooded as ours, we may not be aware that there is more to the need for natives than concern about invasive species that upset an ecosystem. According to Tallamy, a balanced ecosystem needs more insects.  It is when the balance of the system is disrupted that problems arise."

"Tallamy's book is a call to arms.  There is not much ordinary citizens can do to create large new preserves.  But we can make better use of the small green spaces we have around our houses.  While the situation in the United States is quite serious, Tallamy offers options that anyone with a garden, even a postage-stamp-sized one like mine, can do to help."

"Tallamy makes such a compelling case for the importance of insects to birds that I’ve completely changed the way I garden.  From now on, insect attractors are my first choices."

"Tallamy illustrates well how gardeners have contributed greatly to tipping the environment off balance and how they are equally able to turn the trend … Plants and insects are integrally intertwined.  Understanding the beauty of these relationships deepens our appreciation of our gardens and the important role we play."

"[It] is the book that is going to change how gardening is conducted over the next century."

"Doug Tallamy's book is a gift. It's not the kind of gift wrapped with a pink ribbon and a tiny rose tucked into the bow. It's the kind of gift that shakes you to your core and sets you on the path of healing. Your garden. Your planet. One plant at a time. Open it."

He combines the passion which many of us have, with the science, and that’s a winning combination.

"An informative and engaging account of the ecological interactions between plants and wildlife, this fascinating handbook explains why exotic plants can hinder and confuse native creatures, from birds and bees to larger fauna." 

"The book evolved out of a set of principles. So the message is loud and clear: gardeners could slow the rate of extinction by planting natives in their yards. This simple revelation about the food web—and it is an intricate web, not a chain—is the driving force in Bringing Nature Home."

Bringing Nature Home opens our eyes to an environmental problem of staggering proportions. Fortunately, it also shows us how we can help.



You can look at this book as a manifesto explaining why we should favor native plants, but it’s much more than that. It’s a plan to sustain the endangered biodiversity and even more, it’s a plan to transform suburbia from an environmental liability to an environmental asset.



This updated and expanded edition … is a delight to read and a most needed resource."




"This book is not a rant on nature gardening, nor is it a typical garden design book, or a stuffy academic textbook. The author might be a professor … but he has written a book which is readable, scientific, fascinating, and highly digestible."

"This is the 'it' book in certain gardening circles. It's really struck a nerve."



"My book of choice of the year."



“Tallamy explains in beautiful prose the importance of native plants to our wildlife.”

Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You have a lawn? This book is for you! June 29 2011
Format:Paperback
Extremely interesting book, calmy and scientificaly explains the impacts of our gardening choices and methods. An insight on our impact on the environment!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read March 7 2014
By Jimmy D
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The themes are well researched and thought out and the vision is a slap to the forehead. Dr. Talamy writes in a straight forward, entertaining style. Even though I am from a cooler region than pennsylvania, the principles involved still translate the same.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book for a class I was taking, and found myself pleasantly surprised by its 'un-textbook' tone. Tallamy gives a readable, thoughtful voice to the ideology of natives in urban settings.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  160 reviews
236 of 239 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book makes me stop and think Dec 9 2007
By James Golden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
66 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GARDENING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY Jan. 11 2008
By Ian Eagleson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Birds? Invite Them Into Your Yard. Nov. 20 2007
By Kay Charter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing Nature Home - A MUST READ for Bird Lovers Dec 16 2007
By Native Plant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the right book at the right time Jan. 2 2008
By R. Simek - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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!
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