Tallamy on Caterpillars, Song Birds and Native Plants

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 11:04pm

Doug Tallamy Speaks about Native Plants

What a treat to hear Doug Tallamy talk last week. Doug is the author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.  He advocates very persuasively for native bio-diversity in our own yard and his talk featured lots of pictures of caterpillars.  Caterpillars, it turns out, tell us a lot about the health of our eco-system.  Each type of caterpillar needs a specific host plant and if you don't have that host plant, you won't have the caterpillar or its adult phase - butterfly or moth. And we need butterflies to pollinate, but more important we need a lot of caterpillars to feed song bird nestlings, small mammals, larger mammals, spiders and more. And we need a lot of different types of caterpillars because with ecological health is measured in bio-diversity.

Tallamy wants us to create native areas in our own yards.  We could focus on restoring natural areas in parks, but he points out that all the lawn in American equal many, many more acres than the National Parks, so they are a logical place to start to restore native plants.  If just half the lawns in American planted native plants, it would give us some 20 million acres of native space.  

One take away was just try a 12' by 12' native spot in your yard.  He counted caterpillars in 12 x 12 native gardens versus 12 x 12 gardens with no native plants.  It was shocking - the plots with native plants had 100s of caterpillars and the non-native 1 or 2.  This is because butterflies and moths only eat the native plants they evolved with.  He also spent a lot of time counting how many caterpillars birds need to feed their young - something like 6,000 for a little bird feeding three nestlings.  So, even a little native plot will go a long way to helping the food chain.

Some good resources for native plant lists and sales can be found on our website at 
at http://www.lfwa.org/bay-friendly-gardening  and http://www.lfwa.org/updates/are-you-attracting-butterflies-your-garden   

Also, Doug Tallamy's website - http://www.bringingnaturehome.net/ is an excellent source for bang-for-your-buck plant lists.

Doug Tallamy Talk at Chevy Chase Village Town Hall