By Eleanor Johnson for the Land Conservation Sub-committee
“Plants are not optional on this planet. With few exceptions, neither we, nor anything else, can live without them.”
Douglas Tallamy, in his book, Bringing Nature Home, presents compelling arguments for the need to preserve our native plants, and the ecosystem that they sustain. He describes the many ways we humans have destroyed and disrupted our natural habitats, and warns that the future of our native species (plants, insects, birds) is in danger. But his message is clear and positive: we can slow the rate of extinction of species by learning to share our spaces with the plants and animals that are native to our North American region.
We, at Lathrop, are in the process of studying ways to preserve our valuable and varied land. Tallamy’s book is of great interest here, as we are beginning to create a plan to support the native plants, insects, and wildlife that exist in our communities. Most interesting to me was understanding how alien species of plants, shrubs, vines, and trees have invaded, and taken over, our green spaces. And while they may be ornamental or “bug-free”, these plants do not attract (feed) the native species that represent the life-sustaining ecosystem. In fact, our native species may be in danger of extinction in the face of some of the invading aliens.
Tallamy’s book has a lot of scientific information, and in the appendices he gives an exhaustive list of the plant species native to New England (and other regions). He rates them according to the variety of insects, bees, and butterflies they support, that in turn are important to our population of birds. He encourages us to cultivate those which support the greatest variety of species, because the richness of biodiversity holds the best hopes for the future.
Tallamy’s book is a call to action, and is ultimately hopeful. His compelling message is that it is not too late to turn the tide. The central, most critical, task at hand is to sustain our endangered native plants, thereby supporting the intricate web of life (insects, birds, and ultimately humans). Bringing the message home to our Lathrop communities, beginning with our personal garden spaces and then with the land around us, is instructive. I suspect we can find plenty of opportunities to create hospitable environments for native plants and trees. With thoughtful planning and the resources at hand we can introduce changes in the way we garden, and become good stewards of Lathrop’s fields, woodlands, and wetlands.
Bringing Nature Home is available in our libraries in Easthampton and Northampton. I encourage you to dip into it, and I think you’ll want to read most of it. It is highly readable, scientifically supported, with fascinating details. And throughout, Tallamy has included many beautiful photos of plants, trees, insects, butterflies, and birds.