Note: I read a library copy of the hardcover published in 2007. The link above is to a revised trade paperback edition, with an expanded resource section and updated photographs.
“Bringing Nature Home” thoroughly covers all aspects of how and why to use native plants in a home garden. The problem with alien plants is simple: they disrupt the food web by being inedible to insect herbivores. Insects have specialized gut bacteria and enzymes that neutralize (or even utilize) the defenses of their native plants. Some can only eat a single type of plant. When supplies of native plants are replaced by alien plants, the insects starve. This ripples through the food web, as most birds feed their nestlings insects, which have the highest dose of fat and protein and provide the best energy resource.
With no insects eating native plants, there are no insects for the birds to eat, resulting in fewer birds. The larval forms of many butterflies and moths need native plants for survival as well. Their adult form may be generalist enough to get pollen from nonnative species, but if their larval forms have no food, there will be no adults.
Tallamy provides a table towards the end of the book showing that even if an alien plant was introduced a couple hundred years ago, it still provides little or no food or resources to native insects. A few species might have made a transition to the new plant, but the native will host dozens more. In a few cases, an alien plant is close enough to a native that the insects can eat with no problem. But again, insects get more benefit from the native plant, and not all species hosted by the native can transition to the alien.
By reintroducing native plants into the home garden, we provide food for the insects and the birds that eat them. The chapter “What Should I Plant?” addresses this. Because this book is written for a national audience, the advice has to be very general. Tallamy focuses on trees of especial benefit to Lepidoptera because butterflies and moths are charismatic and attractive to people.
The original publication of this book in 2007 sparked a great conversation about gardening with natives. There is now a website, plantanative.com, that provides links to native plant societies, suggestions about what to plant, and more. Nowadays there are numerous books, organizations, and websites about using native plants. This interest was sparked in part by the earlier publication of “Bringing Nature Home.” There is still a long way to go, but progress is being made.
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