Updated: Jan 15
Posted on the Friends of Iroquois NWR Dec 2020
Dr. Doug Tallamy has written a number of books on native plant gardening. Bringing Nature Home (2007. 2009, The Living Landscape with Rick Darke (2014), Nature’s Best Hope (2020), Beauty and the Beast (2020), and, Tallamy’s latest, The Nature Of Oaks (2021). For me Doug Tallamy is an inspiration for restoration and conservation.
In the year of 2020 Dr. Tallamy presented, in a number of live zoom dates, his latest focus in creating as much native habitat as possible. The idea: build a national park that would span the country by mobilizing citizens with yards to create native habitat. Tallamy believes that if everyone cut their lawn in half by planting native species local to their community it would create 20 million acres of habitat (for perspective, Iroquois NWR is just around 11,000 acres). It is a powerful message in that placing the ability to create habitat in our hands it bypasses gridlock and inaction.
We all have the ability to do something for our local ecosystem.
Tallamy suggests that we plant “keystone plants.” Those plants are so critical to birds and insects that if they were lost it would create a domino effect moving us closer to mass extinction. The key to the “keystone” is caterpillars. Caterpillars are critical to life for many birds and insects. Butterflies must lay enough eggs to feed all the birds and insects that need them for survival and allow enough to survive to become adults in order to lay more eggs for more caterpillars. Only 5% of native plants support 75% of caterpillars that so much relies on. If you want your greatest impact you need to plant ecologically beneficial plants in your yard. What plants are keystone species? Native oaks, cherries, willows, birches, poplars, and maples for trees and goldenrods, asters, sunflowers, nightshade, strawberry, and smartweed for perennials. This doesn’t mean that other plants are not important – they are but these have the biggest impact in the ecosystem.
Of course, keystone species work well except when we have the lights on. Light pollution confuses birds, insects and mammals. Light is how species migrate and understand their world. By turning night into day many species become confused and this interferes with their ability to hunt, mate and survive. Research demonstrates that light pollution kills bugs.
Develop landscapes that allow caterpillars to complete their life cycle. Caterpillars transform into butterflies but in order to do that many must survive the winter. Mourning cloak, viceroy and spicebush butterflies need the protection of leaf litter to survive the winter. By raking the leaves in the fall people reduce available protection for many species native to the northeast. To develop landscapes that allow caterpillars to complete their life cycle you need to avoid the use of pesticides, leave the leaves on the ground in the fall and create a Layered landscape of tall trees, understory trees and plants that grow low to the ground.
I hope you’ll join me and be a part of this national movement of creating habitat and learning how to coexist with wildlife. Please make space for wildlife in your yard!