Monday, June 1, 2009

My Brain Has Turned To Kudzu

I am part of a living environment here at the farm. Its garden, yard, field, woods, wetland, and what else? Within it's boundaries are the gamut of plants, both native to this community and others brought in or moved in over the years. Some of those non-native plants are pretty aggressive, even invasive. Shudder to think of it, and invading species, an invasion! Defend the homeland! DEFEND!

It appeared to me that the reason we, the people, get so worked up about invasive plants, animals, and bugs is that it forces us to look into the mirror. When I look at spreading mounds of berberis, mats of lily of the valley, vining tangles of multiflora, I see myself. I see my people. Gardeners and farmers -the keepers of plants. But not only us, we are not solely to blame. I see the greater us. 

Is it so difficult to admit to ourselves that we keep such company? Should we disrespect ourselves by shunning those that are wont to associate with us? Maybe these plants follow us because they know the birds-of-a-feather rule. Maybe they know how invasive we have been, how aggressive we can be. Don't these plants just follow in our footsteps? Is it their fault, after all -we showed them the way.

We tacitly support the double standard. We can do it, but not the lowly plant or insect. Sorry, but spreading rapidly quite successfully is a human endeavor. We'll not have it from the likes of you! Globetrotting is our life, get your own!

To give the biosphere criers their day -they state what we all won't easily admit to ourselves. Our rapid, adaptive spread around the globe has created the stage for a tragedy. If a less diverse world is a worse world, if our spread has created vectors for the creatures that feed off of us, weaken us, then we can see the spreading plants, animals, insects that ravage our forests, fields, and gardens as a red flag of changing times. Doctor, how long do we have?

I'm curious. What native north american plants and animals have ravaged other continents? Surely it works both ways, doesn't it? Or is it the subconscious awareness of our own alien nature, our own non-native, invasive self that bubbles up to the surface when we worry about plant and insect invasion? What would the Tree of Heaven say -I learned it from you mankind, I learned it from you!

So what should we do? If I take out my garlic mustard and my neighbor doesn't, where are we? What are our goals when speaking of eradicating non-native plants? Should we keep preserves, areas kept completely clear of non-native species? What of adjoining properties? What of what we cannot see? What of things that reproduce and spread? How can we stop what is by very definition a successful species? How can we draw boundaries? Where are our last stands? What will we do to stop the invasion? Should we fly overhead dumping DDT on suburban neighborhoods like they did in my area in the 1950s to control Gypsy Moth? Should we send out armies of people pulling each and every thorny barberry shrub from the woods? Should we spray herbicides yearly on new non-native growth? Should we accept "collateral damage?"

I grow native plants in my garden for two primary reasons. One is that I like the way they look. The other is that I hate to water, I forget to water, the water is too precious. Water is very important. Weeds, also known as plants that followed us people all the way from somewhere in "Eurasia," grow in my garden too. I also grow plants bred for the garden (I tend toward those that tolerate drought) from parent plants around the world.  As I've posted before, what we call weeds seem to affect the garden and field (green or brown) or the cultivated spaces, and what we call invasives seem to affect ecosystems, bio-regions, or "natural" areas. However, they may be the same plants no matter what we call them. 

I am trying to come to a position on this that I feel comfortable with. To do so means to consider several components of the problem, twisting my reasoning around and around. I'm not there yet. Thoughts?


  1. Come join our discussion:

  2. Hey Frank,

    I went to a presentation by a guy who was studying bee populations in NYC. He mentioned that NYC has a larger variety of bees than any other equivalent amount of acreage in the US (I think), and that this variety included a large number of non-native species.

    Surprisingly enough, he went on to say that he advocated the preservation of these non-native specimens in their current locales. I was shocked and a little disturbed, as invasive insects seem to cause no end of problems from African Killer Bees on up.

    tim h

  3. How do you eliminate the non-natives? And why stop with bees?


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...