Doug Tallamy: Native Plants Support Local Food Webs

Welcome to the next edition of the Ecosystem Gardening podcast series!

In this installment, I’m talking with Doug Tallamy, one of my Heroes of Ecosystem Gardening, and author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.

Dr. Tallamy is Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how these interactions determine the diversity of animal communities.

Listen now as Doug Tallamy shows us why native plants are so important for creating welcoming habitats for wildlife in our Ecosystem Gardens:

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Here’s the summary:

Our traditional view of gardening has been to treat plants as if they are merely ornaments and to ignore their ecological roles. Your garden is part of the greater landscape, and each of us is responsible for becoming a steward of our properties as a healthy contributor to the environment around us.

Native plants support local food webs. Invasive plants disrupt local food webs, and ornamental plants offer very little in the way of contributing to the local food web.

Some interesting facts:

  1. 30% of the plants in our natural areas are invasive plants. In fact there are over 3400 species of invasive plants in this country
  2. 92% of our suburban areas is lawn, which does not contribute to local food webs
  3. 79% of what is planted in our suburban areas is not locally native
  4. 600 square miles of lawn is added in this country every year

When asked about the claims that the new cultivar Dwarf Butterfly Bush “Blue Chip” Buddleia, Doug expressed his skepticism. He discussed how Bradford Pear was marketed in the same way, with claims of low seed set and sterility, but when this plant was cross-pollinated with other new cultivars, the plant became quite invasive, and now we have a horrible problem with Callery Pears invading natural areas.

The same claims were made for a supposedly sterile form of Purple Loosestrife, but when it is cross-pollinated, it reverts to being invasive, too. My vote, it’s not worth the risk!

Top two tips for contributing to the local food web in your Ecosystem Garden?

  1. Add more native plants, especially woody, structural plants which support a much higher level of biodiversity
  2. Reduce your lawn (remember that 92%?), and add more plants, the more the better

To make this easier, check out these resources based on Doug’s work:

Top 10 Woody Plants for Wildlife in your Ecosystem Garden

Top 10 Herbacious Plants for Wildlife in Your Ecosystem Garden

And if you haven’t yet read Bringing Nature Home, I highly recommend it!

Also, listen to my interview with Doug Tallamy about how invasive plants impact wildlife

Have you seen Doug Tallamy’s presentation about Gardening for Life? I’d love to hear what you thought.

Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.

© 2010 – 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. says

    Hi Carole, Doug is one of my heroes, too. He was a keynote speaker at our Florida Native Plant Society Conference, and my life has never been the same. He just illuminates the subject of food chain, interdependence, the role of insects and the importance of suburban land being planted with natives. I recommend his book in all my talks. I got to take him to the airport! I know he would laugh if he knew that was being used a bragging point. I think that Bringing Nature Home is truly a seminal work. Thanks so much for this post.

  2. Mary Keim says

    Very good interview on a fascinating subject. Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” has encouraged me to work harder at converting my yard to native plants. His emphasizing that native plants feed the insects that feed the birds is a good incentive to a bird lover to get more native plants.

  3. says

    Doug Tallamy is my eco-hero as well, ever since I heard him speak at a master gardener training about 4 years ago. I was already into native plants, but his talk put some pieces together that I hadn’t though about. Since then I’ve talked his work up whenever I get the chance, written book reviews, and was able to persuade the organization for which I work, the American Society of Landscape Architects, to invite him to present an education session at our annual conference. I’m so glad his work is becoming more widely known, but there is still a long ways to go!
    Rachel Shaw recently posted..All the leaves are down

    • Carole Brown says

      Rachel, sounds like you are doing your part to help spread Doug’s excellent message! My copy of his book is very fragile and falling apart now because I’ve read it so many times, and I keep referring to it when I write. The way the book is arranged makes the importance of native plants just so logical. It’s easy to see the connection with having more wildlife when you have more native plants.


  1. […] Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Your Garden, by Doug Tallamy–the ground-breaking book that sets the standard! Should be read by every homeowner, school board, business park owner, in fact anyone who is responsible for managing any piece of land at all. Tallamy lays out a very compelling argument as to why native plants are so crucial to the survival of wildlife and why our gardens are so vital in creating wildlife habitat. Listen to my interview with Doug Tallamy where he moves from why native plants are so important to how to best us…. […]

  2. […] The food web that we create in our habitat gardens is a cycle of life. The snakes eat the mice, the Robins eat the worms, the caterpillars munch on our plants, the Swallows eat mosquitoes and so do the bats. And the Coopers Hawks eat the pigeons. […]

  3. […] doesn’t make a plant desirable since, as a general matter, it is unlikely to be a functioning part of the local ecology in the way that native plants are. Thus, the plant is taking up space that could be occupied by a productive member of the ecology. […]

  4. […] The best reasoning I’ve ever heard for the value of native plants in our landscapes comes from Doug Tallamy, author or Bringing Nature Home. I recorded a wonderful interview with Doug where he explains how native plants support local food webs. […]

  5. […] Native plants support local food webs. We have the power to really help wildlife when we add more native plants to our gardens. Every state has a native plant society that can help you determine the most appropriate plants for your garden. And these wonderful people are a great resource, not only about the plants but also where you can find them close to you. […]

  6. […] Well, there must be tons of insects out there, right? Unfortunately there are not as many as you might think. You see native insects – the kinds that native birds prefer – are adapted to feeding on plants. Native plants. When gardeners and landscape designers choose non-native plants instead of native plants, the available foliage to support insects like juicy caterpillars is reduced. When there is less food for caterpillars, there will be fewer caterpillars and birds will produce fe…. […]

  7. […] single most important thing we can do to help wildlife is to add more native plants to our landscapes. I can’t think of any reason at all that saying “add more native plants” makes me […]

  8. […] Consider crape myrtle for instance – Lagerstroemia indica. This plant and all its relatives are native to areas outside of North America – southeast Asia, India, Australia. The native bugs in the United States look at this plant and keep moving because they are not adapted to eating the foliage of this plant. The more of it that we plant, the less food they have because each and every plant equals at least one less native plant for them. Surround it by a small sea of lawn and the problem is compounded because lawn grasses aren’t food for native bugs either. Add in a common landscape shrub like Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) and some exotic annuals like Catharanthus roseus (annual vinca) and your plastic garden is complete. Beautiful but literally “tasteless” as far as native insects are concerned. […]

  9. […] Yard? Insects are the phytoplankton of the non-aquatic world. They are the foundation of the entire foodweb for wildlife. Native plants play an equally important role in this foundation, providing the habitat, nectar and […]

  10. […] But there’s also no denying that many insect and animal species rely on very specific types of plants in order to breed and eat. We don’t yet understand all the connections between plants and wildlife, but one thing is clear: plants have evolved over time alongside the insect and animal populations that feed and reproduce on them, so planting a variety of plants native to your area is one of the simplest ways of helping out your loc…. […]

  11. […] a meadow is a way to replace the alien plant species that comprise your traditional lawn with plants that are native to your specific locality.  By doing so, it will become self-sustaining and flourish naturally, as native seeds are either […]

  12. […] Native plants are the best choice in your habitat garden for birds. Why? Because native plants and insects have co-evolved together over thousands of years, and most birds, no matter what they eat as adults need insects to feed their young. […]

  13. […] Doug Tallamy spoke recently to an enthusiastic crowd at a sold-out event held at Greenspring Garden, in Fairfax County, Virginia. Dr. Tallamy, speaking on the topic of creating curb appeal with native plants tackled a series of urban legends currently circulating about their use. He then delivered strategies for how to give natives greater inclusion in landscapes, and why we should. “Plants are more than decoration,“he exclaimed, “let’s recall that biodiversity runs the ecosystems that support us.” After some humorous anecdotes illustrating that plants from Asia and Europe do not support our local food webs, Tallamy presented a number of ways for us to think about incorporating native plants in the typical suburban yard; and yes, even  increasing its curb appeal. Also please note: no space too small to go unused! […]

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