Native plants, such as these at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Native plants, such as these at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Photos provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House


Conservationist says restoring nature starts at home

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published August 25, 2020

 Conservationist Doug Tallamy, author of the book “Nature’s Best Hope,” says adding native plant species to the yard is critical to maintaining needed insect and bird populations.

Conservationist Doug Tallamy, author of the book “Nature’s Best Hope,” says adding native plant species to the yard is critical to maintaining needed insect and bird populations.

Photo provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

METRO DETROIT — Addressing global damage to nature seems overwhelming, but author and researcher Doug Tallamy says that even small changes in your yard can make a difference.

Tallamy, author of the book “Nature’s Best Hope,” shared some of the simple steps that people can take during a talk via Zoom videoconferencing Aug. 11, organized by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.

Spoiler alert: “You are nature’s best hope,” Tallamy said.

According to a 2019 study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, since 1970, North America has lost roughly 3 billion birds, or almost one in three. Insect populations are also in jeopardy, and insects pollinate plants and feed other creatures in the food chain. Tallamy said it’s not enough for conservation to take place only on public land; 85.5% of the United States east of the Mississippi River is privately owned.

“Living with nature is not an option,” Tallamy said. “We absolutely have to find ways for nature to thrive (among us).”

That means bringing back native trees and plant species, at least in part of the yard. Tallamy said this can, and has, been done successfully in even small gardens. He said homeowners and business property owners can include up to 30% nonnative plants in their landscaping “and still have a viable bird population.”

“In terms of sustaining the food web … nothing is more important than caterpillars,” Tallamy said.

Caterpillars transfer more energy from plants to animals than any other plant-eater, and they’re a vital source of nutrition that birds use to feed their young, he said.

Homeowners might love lush lawns, but Tallamy said a lawn is “a dead zone” ecologically.

“I’m not suggesting that you get rid of your lawn,” Tallamy said. “I’m saying we should have less of it.”

The results can be beautiful and easy to maintain.

“Native plants, by their nature, more readily acclimate to our southeast Michigan climate and environment; they grow better and are more hardy than nonnative ornamentals,” Alaine Bush, an advanced master gardener from Grosse Pointe City, said in an email interview. “They truly are easy care plants, once established. Native plants are also more nutritious for wildlife than non-natives.”

Tallamy said weeds have gotten a bad rap.

“When most people hear the words ‘native plants,’ they immediately think of weedy, out-of-control, wild garden areas,” Bush said. “While some natives do live up to this reputation, there are many natives that are ‘well behaved.’ These plants do not spread rapidly, nor do their seeds disperse throughout the landscape to take over the garden. Read plant tags when purchasing or speak with the vendor for information on which plants will perform well without becoming too aggressive. Over the years, I have grown natives in many gardens. They can be mixed in amongst other perennials and shrubs.”

Some of Bush’s recommendations include bee balm, great lobelia, common milkweed and cardinal flower.

“When planting natives, or any flowering perennials, keep in mind that most pollinators are nearsighted,” Bush said. “Plant several of the same plant together to make it easier for pollinators to spot the blossoms from above. Also, plant natives and other nectar and larvae host perennials with bloom times to provide nutrition from early spring into late fall.”

Tallamy said people can even create a formal garden using native plants, because “formality is a function of the design.”

“Which plant is best for your property will depend on site conditions such as shading, drainage, soil type, as well as your personal preference for appearance,” David Lowenstein, a consumer horticulture educator with the Michigan State University Extension Center in Macomb County, said in an email interview. “Some plants such as joe pye weed can grow over 10 feet in height, while other native plants such as purple coneflowers are only a few feet tall. Butterfly weed, blazing star and goldenrod are a couple examples of wildflowers attractive to pollinators and caterpillars. Native shrubs are another excellent option for the gardener who wants a more robust plant without a tall tree, and a few good choices include arrowwood viburnum and buttonbush. Including plants that bloom at different times in summer will help provide habitat and resources for a greater number of caterpillars and butterflies.”

It was fitting that the Ford House hosted Tallamy’s talk.

“Environmental sustainability and supporting pollinators is very important to us at Ford House,” Sarah Kornacki, Ford House communications and media specialist, said by email. “We work with beekeepers to care for six hives on the estate. Our landscaping team has added many native and pollinator-friendly plants and flowers, including milkweed for monarch butterflies.”

New buildings are more energy efficient and feature bird-safe glass to prevent collisions and casualties, and there are bioswales to naturally filter stormwater runoff, Kornacki continued.

For more about native plants and a tool that identifies the best plants for your soil and light conditions, visit canr.msu.edu/nativeplants. For a list of regional native plants, enter your ZIP code into the National Wildlife Federation website: nwf.org/nativeplantfinder.