Several years ago, one of the larger insecticide companies, I believe Ortho, ran a commercial for one of its new products. In this commercial, a homeowner wields his spray bottle of lethal insecticide as if he were Wyatt Earp ridding Tombstone of its hooligans. In the background, a score reminiscent of an old spaghetti western sets the mood, as fewer and fewer bug noises emanate from the owners yard until all falls silent. The final scene: our now satisfied homeowner standing tall amidst the solitude, when suddenly a cricket chirps, he reaches for his “revolver”, the cricket goes silent, seemingly in fear for its life. The homeowner smiles.
I’m sure on some level we can all relate to this homeowner, after all no one likes mosquitoes, gnats, black flies, and other various and sundry pests, yet I felt a disconnect with the message. I was confused (read: annoyed), that this “hero” would target a cricket, in his blanket approach to eradicating all insects from his property. I knew nature provided many beneficial insects, as well as pests, but I could never really express my concerns to anyone in a way that made sense to them.
“Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Doug Tallamy, has provided me with the answers I have been searching for. Published in 2007 by Timber Press, and already in its third printing in 2009, Mr. Tallamy’s book explores native plant communities, and the insect populations that have evolved in relationship to them. We learn through Mr. Tallamy’s research that over time insects develop relationships with plants, based on the chemical makeup of the plant’s tissue. Some insects develop exclusive relationships, such as the Monarch Butterfly and Milkweed, while other insects have evolved to feed on and reproduce with various species of plants. An interesting point made in this book is that our native insect populations will gather nourishments from alien plant material, generally in the form of nectar, as adults, but do not reproduce on alien plant material. They have not developed the ability to process the secondary chemical compounds in alien species, therefore younger stages of native insects, cannot feed on aliens. As native plant populations disappear from our backyards, and as invasive species continue to overrun our natural areas, we are left with healthy adult populations of native insects, but fewer places for them to reproduce. All the wonderful plants brought back to our gardens from all over the world, prized by collectors, garden clubs and hybridizers, are unavailable as a source of nutrition, to the larval stages of our native insect populations.
So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Who wouldn’t want fewer bugs around? That is a question best answered by reading “Brining Nature Home”. Insects play an important role in the health of our ecosystems, and declining populations will have devastating effects on these fragile communities. Leaning about these complex relationships is something I highly recommend to any gardener who cares about our environment. “Bringing Home Nature” is an important tool to be used towards the reestablishment of out native ecosystems. No longer acceptable to simply turn our back on nature as we garden, we now have the power to affect positive change on a “grass roots” level, and Mr. Tallamy’s book is a great place to learn how.
Oh, as for our Earp-like hero referenced above; the natural answer to our bug problem, is to allow and even promote insect populations. That’s right, and as they grow, so will the predators of those populations grow, until balance is restored, and nature keeps everything in check.
See you out in the Garden,