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Went to a Doug Tallamy Talk

Posted: Sat Apr 24, 2010 6:35 pm
by applestar
I happened on an announcement for a lecture by Doug Tallamy of Bringing Nature Home at a nearby arboretum.

It was GREAT!! I've been inspired by his book for the last couple of years, and was re-inspired by his talk. In addition, I happened to get in line behind a couple of wonderful folks who were also in line to get their book signed. :() We started chatting, found we couldn't even get close to sharing all our mutual interests standing around, and ended up having lunch together. We were the last to leave the dining hall. Talked some more in the corridor, then had to stop on the way to the parking lot to chat even more. :() Lovely people :D

First of the Native Plant Sales in the area is tomorrow, too. 8) :rubbing hands together: :wink:

Posted: Sun Apr 25, 2010 8:10 am
by rainbowgardener
Wonderful... nice talk and making new friends, what a gift!

So tease me a little more, what's his basic message. How do we go about bringing nature home?

Would this be good for our next book club book?

Posted: Sun Apr 25, 2010 10:18 am
by MaineDesigner
I've read and enjoyed Bringing Nature Home but I have some reservations about Dr. Tallamy's arguments. You might want to also read Dr. Mark Davis's Invasion Biology as a counterweight. I don't entirely agree with Dr. Davis either but I think he provides a useful counter-perspective. I think too many of the natives only advocates are operating from a romantic rather than scientific perspective and are looking at ecosystems from a very human viewpoint, especially with regard to our view of time, rather than the deep time of nature.

For my part I don't knowingly use invasive plants and I try to remove some of the exotics (Rosa multiflora, Berberis thunbergii, Polygonum cuspidata, Aegopodium podagraria, Celastrus orbiculatus, Alliaria petiolata, ...) I run across (perhaps yielding to my own human, romantic notions). I'm happy to do natives only designs for clients that request them but most of my work is a mix of natives and exotics that give every appearance of being benign. I'm also absolutely hostile to some natives like Equisetum arvense in garden contexts.

I don't intend to suggest that I have any special insight into what is correct in the natives debate but I do want to argue that this is an area of ongoing research and debate (but please don't rush out and start planting Barberry willy-nilly).

Posted: Sun Apr 25, 2010 3:03 pm
by applestar
Well, I went to a native plant sale today, and could not help noticing exactly what he was talking about: Houses dotting the county roads, surrounded by huge expanses of closely cut lawn and some ornamental plantings hugging the structures. Very few areas of COMPLETE habitat -- Tall trees, medium trees, short trees and tall shrubs, short shrubs, and finally ground cover, and of course the flat expanses and roadways dividing the relatively miniscule habitats. I even saw several homes surrounded by trees underplanted with mowed grass that he was talking about. -- He joked that "our love affair with short grass" must be something in our evolutionary programming because "people who went out in tall grass didn't come back"... and showed a slide of a lion hiding in the grass.

Though I didn't look closely, the ornamentals seemed to be mostly of the commercial origin ("pest-free" imported species), and one of Dr. T's slides showed a 100% non-native professionally landscaped property within walking distance of his own house.

He and his students study number of lepidoptera in a given area, with obvious differences in the % population in native landscaped properties vs. non-native.

What is encouraging is that their data showed increasing number of native insect population within as short as 4 year's time.

He was careful to show chain-by-chain progression of the foodweb and how the much-maligned bugs eventually does equal direct impact to our own well-being. He also showed an ideal landscaping scenario by reversing the typical home landscaping so that rather than creating selected areas of garden beds and maintaining expanses of lawn in the empty remaining areas, creating selected areas of lawn and closely planting with COMPLETE habitats for the rest, whereby, adjoining properties can result in contiguous habitats that exceed the total area represented by nearly a dozen major National Parks.

He asked "How many of you woke up this morning and wondered if there'll be enough oxygen this afternoon." He was saying that the trees and plants generate oxygen, and I was rather excitedly thinking that my DD8 was saying the exact same thing only the day before -- "We need trees because trees help us breathe." She had also listed the other parts of the foodweb and why we need each element in the web because of the way they affect us directly. (I was so proud of her at that moment I actually missed some of Dr. T's lecture :oops:)

He also stressed the importance of carefully choosing each of the elements in the habitat -- e.g. Over 500 species of lepidoptera supported by a native oak tree vs. a little more than a dozen by some other native tree (I think this was Redbud).

MaineDesigner, I'll certainly look into the other book you mentioned, and I'm not so hardcore that I would denounce annual food crops or even limited ornamental plantings for aesthetic as well as nostalgic enjoyment. But, personally, I hope professional folks like yourself would be equal to helping raise general awareness, to presenting clear choices, and helping to explain what they are choosing when you plant one as opposed to the other.

Ultimately though, like everything else that affects our lives, each of us, individually, must be willing to make the effort to learn the impact of our choices for ourselves as well as for our future generations, and not let someone else make the decisions for us.

Posted: Mon Apr 26, 2010 2:26 am
by tomf
Living in a totally natural surrounding with out lawns around your house can be dangerous. If a fire was to sweep through the woods it would burn your house down and if there was no exit it would burn you as well. Where I embrace nature I have my home clear of fire danger.

Posted: Mon Apr 26, 2010 7:05 am
by rainbowgardener
Everyone has to garden for where they are. Southern Californians, absolutely have to landscape with fire danger in mind. But they shouldn't be doing that kind of planting anyway, because forest is not what naturally grows there. AND they shouldn't be doing lawns either, because lawns in SCal eat up ungodly amounts of irrigation water. They should be xeriscaping. And xeriscaping designs are naturally fire retardant.

I wouldn't think fire would be a big danger in Oregon, any more than it is here in Ohio. Fire becomes a major danger when there is lots of brush that dries out. The big trees can burn if there's a big fire going on around them, but they aren't going to start it. So while having all levels of tree, shrub, ground cover in your landscape, you don't want to over-crowd it with brush/ shrubbery and you don't want to use brush that is going to dry out or leave much dry/dead stuff around.

AS - I take the point about choosing your plantings carefully, but don't you think (once you are doing only native plantings) diversity is key? Eg my hillside has a redbud as well as several oak trees (and maple trees, catalpa, etc). So I should get rid of the redbud, because oak trees are home to more species? I don't think so. Some of the dozen species that like the redbud, may be different than the 60 that like the oaks. (That's a hypothetical). So if you only have room for ONE tree, you should plant the oak. Otherwise, plant a diversity....

But I get it that he's not talking to me, since I'm already doing a lot of that. He's talking to the suburbanites, with the little foundation row of plants in front of their house and two acres of lawn.

Posted: Mon Apr 26, 2010 7:53 am
by applestar
Tom, I'm sorry but you already have what the book is talking about... in abundance! "Familiarity...." and all that, eh? I do take your point though. Again, research and really, really, knowing all the options, I think, is something everyone needs to do. I do encourage you to look into the topic though. Your situation is in some ways opposite of the slide Dr. T showed of the Manhattan Isl. -- no local natural resources (all shipped in), no local waste disposal (all shipped out -- "to NJ" he said, and got a laugh.). Well yours might be an "island" of nature, but what about everywhere else?

Absolutely diversity is the key, rainbowgardener. What you're doing is exactly the sort of planting Dr. Tallamy is advocating. Natural community of native plants that provides habitat for a wide variety of insects as well as the birds and animals that feed on them, and so on up the foodweb. If you haven't read the book yet, rainbowgardener, I think you'd like it a lot.

And yes, I think it *would* be a good book club subject. The topic is something of an eye-opener if you hadn't thought about it before, and is a good reminder of why you do it if you have and are. With all the persuasive arguments that I'm not good at presenting. It is absolutely chock full of photographs of "common" insects that you WOULD see if your property wasn't landscaped in the popular sterile manner.

What excites me... a lot... is that in the last two years, I've turned to this book time and time again after seeing a bug in MY garden with the thought "Oooh, I'm SURE I saw that bug in Bringing Nature Home." --- and I did! They include The Virginia creeper sphinx moth (my "Stealth Fighter" moth), the shiny drop of gold Tortoise beetle, Crowned slug caterpillar, as well as a False Crocus geometer moth that I was the first to report to the Butterflies and Moth of America website for my area of NJ. There are also a number of butterflies and moths as well as pest insect photos in the book as well.

On of the more interesting study results he reported is that naturally native landscaped gardens with no pesticide use show no worse pest predation as compared to conventionally landscaped and maintained gardens. Why? Because of the influx of natural biological control: Predatory insects and birds. And I can raise my hand and say, "YES! My garden is proof of it!" (not that I did :wink:)
So if you only have room for ONE tree, you should plant the oak. Otherwise, plant a diversity....

That's it. Exactly.
Another point that was made is that there is a minus-side to the horticultural industry creating named/patented cultivars of native plants to sell. They are propagated asexually, resulting in loss of genetic diversity. So I think that while its OK to plant the "pretty" cultivars for show, whenever you can, or for the less conspicuous areas of your property, it's better to obtain the species.

Of course I have an example of one drawback to THAT which I'm running into right now.... I bought two species Ilex glabra (Inkberry) shrubs two years ago, loaded with berries. I later learned that I. glabra, like other Ilex's have male and female plants. Obviously both of mine were girls and they haven't fruited since. Last fall and just yesterday at a native plant sale, I tried to find male I. glabra. I was told in the fall that the nursery didn't have it at the plant sale but would have it back at their place of business (they sell named cultivars), and yesterday, that what they had (from a different nursery) were seed-propagated species and they don't label them male/female. Also the Master Gardener there looked it up and found that I. glabra *occasionally* have complete flowers on the same plant. Anyway, this will give me another excuse to go the Bowman's Hill native plant sale on Mothers Day weekend in search of a boy for my Inkberry girls. 8) :lol:

Posted: Mon Apr 26, 2010 12:47 pm
by tomf
I am seeing more yards become naturalized in the suburbs, in Oregon it is starting to become a new trend although it has a long ways to go. A naturalized yard does not mean a messy yard it just uses native plants. A lot of people are planting things that do not need so much water, as water becomes scarcer and expensive I expect this to become more popular. I feel the use of so many chemicals that run down street drains into the streams needs to change. When I lived in the suburbs I had a good amount of my ¾ acre lot naturalized and it was gorgeous.
We have a fire season every summer here in Oregon; the summers tend to be dry where the winters rain most of the time. On this side of the cascades the fire problem is not so bad but we can get them. A number of homes are lost as people build right in the forests. Fire suppression has been the rule and there is some build up in places and one has to protect them self’s from fire. In a class I took it was shown that if your trees are trimmed up and the brush is not thick fire would run along the ground and not climb the trees. I have done a lot of work at doing just that. In Oregon it is recommended you have a 50’ fire break between your house and big trees. Oregon has many climates from rain forest to desert. The Cascades make the rain fall on the west side of the mountains and the east side is dry there for prone to fire.
I use lots of native plants and when I make a road or a clearing I transplant the plants to a place where they will do some good. The deer and elk love the fact that I made the environment more diverse and are around quite often.

Posted: Mon Apr 26, 2010 1:06 pm
by applestar
Well, widen my perspective and show me the alternate point of view :idea:
That's right, we can't only be concerned about re-planting the already damaged and flattened areas. We absolutely also need to be knowledgeable about how to cause least amount of damage and to preserve existing natural habitats, while making the area safe and livable for humans.
Thanks! :wink:

Posted: Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:09 am
by Sage Hermit
What if instead of grass being what divides most of oour major highways we had strawberries and tomatoes there? would people still be inclined to toss out their trash from their car? Imagine that. instead of the chain gang picking up trash they would be picking fruits and veggies.

Posted: Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:33 am
by tomf
It always bewilders me that people can live in a beautiful place and throw trash out of their cars.

Posted: Wed Apr 28, 2010 6:30 am
by rainbowgardener
Sage Hermit wrote:What if instead of grass being what divides most of oour major highways we had strawberries and tomatoes there? would people still be inclined to toss out their trash from their car? Imagine that. instead of the chain gang picking up trash they would be picking fruits and veggies.
There are some trees and shrubs that can handle the pollution levels you find in a busy highway (the oleanders seem to do fine up miles and miles of I-5 in Calif). I expect strawberries and tomatoes would be killed by it; if they weren't no one could eat them because they would be so covered in car exhaust. In the meantime, I have a mental image of the road being littered with road kill of all the critters that tried to get to them.

Nice thought, but there are some environments that are too toxic to try naturalizing!

Trees are good at bioremediation of air pollution though (both by uptaking gases with transpiration and by deposition of particulates on the leaves). Planting trees along the medians would be a good thing. Maple, hackberry, ash, gingko, honeylocust, etc are reputed to withstand polluted conditions well ( ). But of course if the roads department were to do it, they would come along and plant mile after mile of one tree, like ash maybe, which would just be a feast for the emerald ash borer. You would need to plant a variety and alternate them. ... You see as soon as you you start thinking of the details, it gets complex and expensive. But doable if we had the knowledge and priorities to make it happen in a good way,

Here's a little article about benefits of urban trees:

"If every American family planted just one tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by one billion lbs annually. This is almost 5% of the amount that human activity pumps into the atmosphere each year"

!! I've planted 2 dozen so far, just since I've lived where I am now! 2 more sitting in pots right this minute, waiting for me to have time to plant them.