Friday, May 07, 2021

Nonfiction Review: Nature's Best Hope

My neighborhood book group chose a book by a local author for April who seems to be garnering a lot of attention all over. He's written several popular books now, and the one we read was Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy, a professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at our own University of Delaware. We all enjoyed reading the book, and we had a lively discussion about incorporating his advice into our own yards and neighborhood.

Tallamy's primary message in this book is that saving the environment, restoring our ecosystems, and halting the alarming mass extinctions going on around the world starts in our own yards. He emphasizes the importance of planting native plants around our own homes. Wildlife is very, very specific. One type of bird only feeds one type of caterpillar to its babies, and that type of caterpillar only eats one type of leaves, which are, of course, native to the area. So, even if your yard looks lush, filled with beautiful ornamentals from all over the world, those trees, plants, and flowers are not productive, meaning they don't feed the local insects which then feed the local birds and other wildlife. Studies have counted how many caterpillars a single pair of birds must find each day in order to feed two or three baby birds in a single nest, and it is often in the neighborhood of 2000-3000! Tallamy and his graduate students did their own studies, comparing areas filled with invasive or non-native plants and natural areas filled with only native plants (which Tallamy said are getting harder to find). The results? Even when the areas had a greater overall mass of plants (biomass), the non-native areas had 68% fewer species of caterpillars, 91% fewer caterpillars, and 96% less (!) caterpillar biomass than in the native areas. That means no food for nesting birds. Another example you may have heard about is the well-publicized plight of the monarch butterflies, who only eat milkweed, which has been replaced by wide swaths of urban and suburban non-native plantings. Multiply one yard by all the yards on the migration path for the butterflies from north to south (and back), and if there are no milkweeds, then there is nothing for the monarchs to eat, hence their rapid and alarming reduction in numbers. Tallamy doesn't just describe the problems but outlines actions that every property owner can take, even if you have a tiny yard in a city. Tallamy suggests that rather than focusing conservation efforts only on public parks, we can each make our own Homegrown National Park, and all of those efforts put together can make a real difference. While each area has different native plants, he makes some general suggestions and provides resources for looking up your own area online.

Gorgeous full-color photos of birds

Tallamy also includes photos of insects and plant varieties

As you can probably tell, I was fascinated by this book. I already knew that native plants were important, so I didn't expect to learn much from this book, but Tallamy explains why they are so crucial. Those studies and data blew my mind. This was a great book for our local book group because we were able to apply what it said to our own yards and our joint neighborhood. Because Tallamy is a local author, many of his photos and examples refer to our area in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. (though he's done some work elsewhere and uses other examples, too). The book is filled with gorgeous full-colored photos of plants, insects, and birds. I learned so much, in fact, that I drove my husband crazy interrupting his reading each night to read him interesting facts, "Listen to this! Did you know ..." Just wait until he sees how many new plants I bought (that he'll have to help plant) from our local Native Plant Sale last week!

NOTE: While I enjoyed and learned a lot from 99% of Tallamy's book, there is one small part, in the Q&A section at the back, where he discusses Lyme disease. I was appalled to see how many factual errors he made in that section--that kind of misinformation is dangerous and following his advice could put you or your loved ones at risk. (Two examples are that he said you only need to watch for ticks a couple of months out of the year and that they don't attach to the scalp. With global warming, ticks are prevalent most of the year now in many climates, and they actually love the close darkness of scalps!) My son and I have both been battling Lyme disease and other tick infections for about 15 years now, and I am in many support groups with others with Lyme and have seen two excellent Lyme specialists. Take his advice on planting your yard, but for accurate information on Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, see the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. We never spend time outdoors (even in our own gardens) without wearing bug spray, and we check for ticks when we get indoors. I even use separate clothes (long pants and long socks) soaked in bug spray for gardening and change in our laundry room on the way back into the house. You can also check out my own article, 7 Things You Probably Don't Know About Lyme Disease

243 pages, Timber Press

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!     


Or you can order Nature's Best Hope from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I've been getting more native plants for my garden recently, hoping more butterflies and other insects will do well with them. And, of course, the plants do well.

  2. Hey, that's great, Helen! Doing your part :)