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Why Bring Nature Home?

Have you ever thought about why a butterfly or a moth goes where it goes? Where do they come from? Many of us have learned about Monarch Butterflies and their critical relationship with milkweed as a host plant, but what about the other types of butterflies and moths?

In his book, “Bring Nature Home,” Douglass Tallamy explains why native plants are so important to the food web to which we are all connected. His research centered around butterflies, moths and the plants that were critical as food (flowers) and as host plants for reproduction. All told there are often hundreds of species that rely on native plants.

The symbiotic relationship between butterfly and native plant is also true for many other native insects, birds, and animals. They do not thrive without the native plants with which they evolved. Furthermore, the food web all species rely on, including us, is weakened without native plants.

The challenge is that in today’s world of global commerce, modern horticulture trade, and promotion of pesticides, many of the native plants are outcompeted by invasive species and the beneficial native bugs are killed by pesticides.

Often, ecosystem suffer heavy losses when invasive species move into an area. Take the Emerald Ash Borer which recently decimated our region’s White and Green Ash Trees. Not only did it kill the trees but it also killed the host of the bugs, birds and mammals that relied on that particular one tree. According to Doug Tallamy’s research, there are 150 species of butterflies and moths alone that relied on the ash tree as a host plant. The American Elm and the American Chestnut each supported 213 and 125 species of butterflies and moths before they succumbed to foreign diseases.

Then there is the native Northern Spicebush. It is the only plant that the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly will use as a host plant for reproduction. Humans introduced invasive plants including, but not limited to, Privet, Japanese Barberry, Burning Bush, Honeysuckle, and Japanese Knotweed are severely limiting the ability of this woodland shrub and its ecosystem partners to survive.

So, what can you do? Buy and plant native. Ask that your local landscapers, parks, municipalities and institutions to plant native species as well. (Wheeling Streetscapes are currently being planned using mostly native plants.) Native hybrids of American Elm and the American Chestnut are available again. Plant native flowers on which native pollinators will feast. Then learn about the host plants that they use as well. Quit using pesticides. Live with nature instead of fighting it.

The imbalance in our ecosystem also happens when we remove top predators from the landscape like wolves and mountain lions. Therefore, the deer population devours native plants quicker than they can regenerate. Tree tubes and deer fencing have become essential for people to maintain native plants in deer infested areas. An affordable, good brand of fencing is the 7.5 foot Buck Stop Fence (buckstopfence.com) by the Eads Fence Company.

The ultimate benefit of bringing nature home is to you and your family. Study after study exhibit the healing aspects of nature. Hospital patients in rooms with views to nature heal faster than those without. Public housing with a natural respite has less crime than public housing without natural areas. Kids with ADHD do better after a nature walk than after taking drugs for ADHD. In a world where kids and adults alike are programed and distracted by technology and constant activity, we need to take a break and recharge. Where better to do so than in our own back yards, parks, cities, and public institutions?

Author Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods,” coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” which is now widely accepted as the term for poor health effects of a child’s detachment from unscripted play in nature. A time to daydream, explore, interact and create in the context of the natural world is essential.

So the next time you see a hole eaten into a leaf of an Oak Tree or, Spicebush, or other native plant, smile, knowing that nature is at peace and working as she always has for thousands of years. Perhaps you too will find peace in your observations.

Recommended Reading:

Tallamy, D. 2007. Bringing Nature Home. Timber Press.

Louv, R. 2005. Last Child in the Woods. Algonquin Books.

Landscape Architect Gabe Hays is a principal with WallacePancher Group. He has provided design and construction documents in 12 states, for site development projects including native landscapes, private gardens, historic properties, botanic gardens, resorts and parks.

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