Have you heard of Doug Tallamy? He’s chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He’s visiting Maine this summer, lecturing as he moves up the coast, and recently he spoke here about the necessity of planting native trees and plants.
Why? What’s wrong with planting ornamental plants from Japan and China? Many of these are gorgeous. We are used to seeing bittersweet and honeysuckle and some of these plants now seem to dominate certain areas here in Maine.
Here’s what Doug Tallamy discovered: He found that our native insects coevolved along with our native plants. You might think most plants just sit there looking like they do, unable to protect themselves against bugs that eat their leaves and bore into their bark.
But most plants have evolved chemicals that try to keep native bugs away, yet despite this, the native insects have evolved along with these plants so that they can eat them.
And why is that good?
Our songbirds depend on these bugs – caterpillars especially – for a high calorie, incredibly nutritious food for their chicks. No caterpillars – no birds. And our birds are nature’s way of keeping everything in balance without poisons.
While our native species have lots of caterpillars for our songbirds – robins, wrens, finches, and chickadees for example – the oriental ornamentals have few or none.
By planting native species, you will be maintaining a healthy Maine ecology full of bird song, rather than one that is, in a sense, ecologically dead.