Would you like to attract more beautiful birds and wildlife to your landscape? At a recent presentation at the WI-ASLA Spring Conference, keynote speaker and Entomology Professor at the University of Delaware and author of the book Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy spoke about how a design mentality toward supporting species on the lower end of the food chain ultimately results in the attraction of desirable species on the higher end. In this case, he is referring to the various insect, moth and butterfly species he studies. These various species of bugs ultimately provide the food source that attract numerous birds. Professor Tallamy noted that it’s been understood over time that insects are highly specialized with regards to the type of plant on which they live, eat, and interact. The vast majority of insect species are adapted and attracted to a very select few types of plants. In many cases, bugs may only exist on one specific type of plant. The relationship between bugs and their host plants is the result of a slow evolution over time. Many of the plants that have been imported from other continents and sold for retail are relatively new to our landscape as compared to native species. Insects have not had time to adapt to those species yet.
To illustrate the point, Professor Talamy used the example of the native Oak versus the non-native Ginkgo trees. An Oak tree plays host to over 500 species of moths and butterflies. Not only do the majority of these species live solely in and around Oak trees, they also provide a vital food source to numerous desirable bird species. A mature Oak is a regular hub of bird activity with a naturally replenished, constant source of nourishment. A Ginkgo is also a beautiful tree that is commonly planted in the Midwest. It has distinct attractive leaves and great fall color. The difference is that while the Ginkgo is adapted to our midwestern climate and readily available at local nurseries, the species originated in Asia countries and was only brought here within the last two hundred years – a relatively small amount of time in terms of the evolution of insect species. In our landscape it only supports roughly 5 species of moths and butterflies. So while it is a viable option, and beautiful, you should not expect that by planting it you will be attracting wildlife to your landscape.
When planning a landscape with a goal of attractive wildlife, you will want to take this line of thinking into consideration. A more complete list of plants and the number of moth and butterfly species supported can be found here: