Monday, May 23, 2011

Conversation Starter

Siberian Iris

These beauties have given us quite a show this season.  Seems the temperate spring has favored both the length of time of the display as well as the vibrant color.  When we stop to consider the huge numbers of plants which have spread, worldwide, and which give us so much pleasure, it's hard to condemn "non-native" species as somehow being a blight.  As a friend of mine observed the other day, "When someone says a plant they are giving me is invasive, I say bring 'em on!  At least it will grow!"  I couldn't agree more!

How many of our most treasured flowering plants are "imports?"  And where do we draw the line?  Loosestrife is targeted as an "unwanted" species now that it's worn out its welcome throughout the entire United States.  We are admonished not to plant it near streams, as it will quickly eclipse all other "native" plants.  The other day, MM was reading about Garlic Mustard, one of the fastest-spreading, unwanted plants in the U. S.  And, oh, dear!  I found two at the mailbox.

How do we know if it's an unwanted plant or not...until we try it!  A dear friend of mine has planted this unusual specimen in his yard in the Pacific Northwest, and I am thinking about doing the same here in West Virginia.

It's called a Gunnera.  It's a tropical plant, but one which adapts quite well to damp, cool climates and boggy circumstances, apparently not concerned about wet feet.  It's definitely a conversation starter!  But, I am wondering how many non-native oddities have been introduced that give us a good deal of pleasure--pleasure we now take for granted.  Who is the "decider" when it comes to outlawing plants with intriguing foliage, fascinating blooms and are beyond doubt, enjoyable curiosities?  

Should we feel guilty when it comes to "foreign" plants like the Siberian Iris, Dutch tulips, Asian Lilies, Oriental Poppies, Huecheras and all the other colorful, non-English-speaking flowers?  And who is the self-appointed judge of what is acceptable....or not?  Not to mention the question of when does a ban on a plant's being imported, begin? Before it's planted here?  Or after?  If the latter, how effective can "horse-has-left-the-barn" control be?  Or, maybe the main factor is our ability to control a plant's tendency to go wild.  Or maybe, this crazy plant eradication/control program is designed by Monsanto  ....hmmm.

Seed catalogs sell us "wildflower mixes."  We are offered the opportunity to enjoy Texas Blue Bonnets and Prairie Blanket Flowers...all across the country.  All manner of once-woodland wildflowers abound from sea to shining sea.  Any creeping acceptance of new species probably has a more to do with how pretty the plant is, how splashy,  rather than whether it will over-reach its original boundaries and ultimately be labeled a nuisance.

When was the last time a customs agent or a baggage inspector asked you if you were carrying any "non-native" plants in your luggage?  And, what if you had been, and had been caught, what was the punishment? 

In this age of globalization, it seems to me that the world has other more pressing concerns and that "importing" non-native plants is more akin to natural worldwide evolution--the globalization of the plant world.

It's my thinking that chasing down non-native species with a vengeance is a fool's errand.  But more than that, if we keep going at the present pace of environmental and species destruction, we'll be glad to have any plants at all!  Invasive?  Bring 'em on!

Let's label this post a "converation starter."  What's your opinion?  I'm curious what you think!


  1. Our customs are pretty hot on checking if you have any plant material and you are not allowed to bring in any seeds or other material that might grow. Not so much because of invasive plants but because of the plant pests and diseases that could be imported. Pest plants are generally those that cause some long term damage to the environment. Himalayan balsam is seen as a pest becuase it takes over river banks crowding out the normal vegitation. When it dies back completetly in the winter the bare river banks are then left vunerable to massive erosion. Japanese knot weed is a very invasive plant with roots that go down several metres and it can take years to get rid of the 6ft high plants. That is a notifiable pest plant. Farmers can be prosecuted for not dealing with Oxford ragwort, another imported garden escapee, as it is toxic to livestock especially when wilted. Escaped water hyacinth can also be aaproblem.

  2. Thanks so much for your very important and informed comment, Ruta. We have nearly all the plants you mentioned, with strictures you so rightly mention, too, as far as importation and transportation. However, enforcement is another matter, here in the U. S. when so many are concerned (at airports especially) about terrorism. I'm afraid that plant transport (other than marajuana) draws little fire. And the fact that you in North Devon and we in West Virginia both have Japanese Knotweed, Ragwort, and Water Hyacinths,speaks to my steadfast opinion that we are at a crossroads in the global explosion of such "pests" and that we will eventually, given current rates of irradication (practically speaking almost zero) see worldwide distribution of "pest" plants before long. Those countries such as U.K. who assiduously patrol and prosecute these plant crimes are few and far between, I think, when it comes to blossoms without borders. Again, Ruta, I greatly appreciate your comment here and it will undoubtedly spark others to think seriously about this situation. Glad you got some help around the yard while son and girlfriend were in for the weekend!! Your BBQ sounded so idyllic!


  3. When I think of invasive plants only one word comes to mind...KUDZU...the plant that ate the South.

  4. Elora -- this issue is too complex to write an answer to in a post comment. Off the top of my head each native plant deserves to be protected from foreign invasion. Beyond that we would need to spend a month or two discussing just this issue. -- barbara

  5. Currently battling the "Tree of Heaven" or "Paradise Tree" by turning it into fire wood. It grows very fast, gets very big and chokes out hardwoods by emitting some insidious something or other. The wood is soft and pourous, dries quickly and has little strength. I'm clearing them off my land to make room for fruit trees and perhaps some American chesnut. They are hateful things, sprout everywhere, and are thorny when very young.

  6. Gunnera envy!! Ours look like little more than slightly enlarged rhubarb!
    I was asked at customs a few weeks ago whether I was bringing plant material into the country - of course I said no, only to discover when I got home I had unwittingly imported the seeds of a 'non-native' into the country. Oooops.
    Yes I can understand the need to ban some non natives when they do threaten to take over a native habitat. Our government body The Department of Conservation (DOC) are tough on this one - in the tiny mountain village I lived in we were surrounded by national parkland and DOC seemed to have the power to remove from your garden whatever they deemed to be invasive (cotoneaster, pine etc). At one point we were even frowned upon for planting rhododendrons amongst the natives in our garden. Hard enough to nuture a few to a decent size and they are not likely to spread in these parts (I wish they would!).
    Ah, this topic gets me hot under the collar as it obviously does with a few others! Looking forward to reading what everyone else has to say :-)