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Pros and cons of planting "invasive species"

 
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I'm trying to gather more information on a few plants that sound useful for food but are considered a nuisance in my area. Curiously, I've almost never encountered these (to my knowledge), though I've lived in central/south central Minnesota my entire life. I'd harvest where they're already growing, but I don't even know of any places I can get my hands on them.
         
I know "invasive" can be a very inflammatory word, so I use it carefully to mean a species that is not merely non-native, but whose spread has done measurable harm to local ecology and/or agriculture. A bit like calling them "weeds"; many "weed" plants can be wonderful in their own right, but if they damage the crop on which you depend, I understand the frustration and need to control it.
         
The main plants I'm eyeing, which I am told are invasive - though none outright banned - by my local authorities, are:
         Caragana arborescens, Siberian pea shrub
         Elaeagnus umbellata, Autumn olive
         Cyperus esculentus, Chufa or tiger nut

Does anyone have any experience to share as to using these plants or fighting them? Pros vs cons? Can they be grown responsibly? Is it possible to keep them isolated or otherwise controlled to stop their spread? I'm also interested in other, safer edible perennials or self-seeding annuals that will grow in our very hot summer, very cold winter climate. (Geographically zone 4, but I fear our land lies in a bit of a frost pocket that might bring it down to zone 3.) Thanks for any wisdom you might send my way!
 
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I deal with a completely different climate and haven't dealt with these plants.  Using the search featured under the menu I'm the top left corner of the forum does turn up some discussion about this issue.

https://permies.com/t/85316 this one seems to be relevant if you're looking at the potential for combining a nitrogen fixer and a crop.


https://permies.com/t/164831/Making-peace-invasives this one has people discussing pro and cons of invasive species and a variety of ways to respond to them.

I see several other good prospects just searching under invasive plants.  If you want to search by individual plant I'm sure there's many more.  Unfortunately I am out of time today.  I hope you find your answers.
 
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I can only offer my personal perspective: I have been fighting with invasive species all my life. It is not pretty, they are destructive, and eradication is impossible -- only control. Basically, I have spent endless hours trying to clean up somebody else's mess, instead of cultivating food etc. I think it is a very dicey decision to deliberately plant invasive species, and have a hard time seeing how this could be an ethical choice. My 2c.
 
pollinator
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My suggestion is to research each plant and learn about how it can ruin an environment.  My personal examples are at my old house near Las Vegas, Nevada the wind blew in grass clippings from a Bermuda grass lawn.  Bermuda grass took over a good portion of the lawn, grows completely different than Fescue or other normal types of lawns, and from what I researched pretty much impossible to eliminate once it sprouts roots.  Through no fault of my own my lawn was ruined because someone else planted a very invasive lawn in their yard.  The other is at my current location.  Foxtail Barley (Hordeum jubatum L.) and Goat's-Head (Tribulus terrestris).  These are both kind of native but also both are very invasive.  I have tried to stop them and remove them in the past with the best effort being to scatter wood chips over any exposed dirt to limit their growth but our local garbage dump stopped the program of providing free wood chips to the community so I no longer have the wood chips to limit weed growth.  Due to our chickens and ducks I wont use poison on the property so now my fight is manual labor against two aggressive invasive species.  

Yes, Foxtail grass grows well and looks great for a few weeks but those darn spike like seeds dig into everything from socks to jeans to cloth shoes and anything that is not leather or hard rubber and spreads everywhere and they poke and hurt everywhere you come in contact with them.  Trying to get rid of them will be this years goal, or I will die trying.  Either way I win because I wont have to deal with the pain of them stabbing me and scratching me everywhere from the knees down.

My point, just because something grows well and may have a purpose doesn't mean it is ideal for you or your area.  Read as much as you can, read about trying to eradicate it once it is established, read about the benefits, and read about the downfalls of having it in your area.  Ultimately it is your choice, but is it really something you are willing to deal with forever?
 
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You have been given some great advice.

Here are some threads on those that might help you or others decide to plant or not to plant:

https://permies.com/t/45238/Siberian-Pea-Tree-aka-Caragana

https://permies.com/t/162705/permaculture-projects/Testing-edibility-Caragana-Arborescens-Siberian

https://permies.com/t/169046/thoughts-Autumn-Olive

https://permies.com/t/50346/Autumn-olive

https://permies.com/t/60450/Tiger-nuts-Cyperus-esculentus-growing

https://permies.com/t/86909/Chufa-Misadventure-AKA-Nutsedge

https://permies.com/t/37212/invasive-chufa
 
Anne Miller
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C. Lee Greentree wrote:      
I know "invasive" can be a very inflammatory word, so I use it carefully to mean a species that is not merely non-native, but whose spread has done measurable harm to local ecology and/or agriculture. A bit like calling them "weeds"; many "weed" plants can be wonderful in their own right, but if they damage the crop on which you depend, I understand the frustration and need to control it.          



As you can see from my signature:

Invasive plants are Earth's way of insisting we notice her medicines. Stephen Herrod Buhner



Stephen Herrod Buhner and I both understand the usefulness of invasives.

The important thing to understand is how the plants are going to react to your location and growing conditions.

I like this suggestion:

Michael said, "My suggestion is to research each plant and learn about how it can ruin an environment.


 
master pollinator
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I plant Autumn Olive and Pea shrub in about the same climate as yours.  I don't find them invasive.  Pea Shrub doesn't even thrive here, let alone spread.  My experience only of course.
 
steward
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I'm usually against planting anything that could be a problem for me or those who follow.  Sure I could plant a patch of garlic mustard in my garden as a yummy herb.  But if it gets away, the forests in my area will be converted to garlic mustard deserts.  Sure I may have the best intentions of controlling it and keeping it where it is.  But what if I have to suddenly move or I get sick or otherwise have to leave the property?  The next person living here won't know what it is and it will be off to the races.

Most of the time there are alternatives to that wonderful "invasive" plant that would still suit your needs.  Please choose those instead.

Mother nature has enough to deal with.  Plants naturally move very slowly around the planet so she can adjust over time.  Jumping them a thousand years away from where they currently live (on her timeline) doesn't seem helpful to me.
 
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We have lots of invasives in our garden. Every now and then, a newcomer tell us how crazy we are to have this or that plant, be very careful about it!! Oh, mint! That will go everywhere... Raspberries? They will claim everything in sight!! Oh my, nettles! You really are crazy...
But so far, none of these invasives have really got into the environment.
So now I say, Yes, please, bring me more invasives, I want to see at least one of them thriving so I can use it for consistent mulch or whatever.
Bermuda grass is only a problem the first year in tilled garden beds. Second year, normal grasses overgrow it.
The old gardener here was crazy about fighting bermuda grass... so much effort. I think it is useless trying to eradicate it. We have our garden between the city and the hills, so there are lawns nearby. It's a war we cannot win. So now we are trying to figure out how bermuda grass can help us.
 
pollinator
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I have lots of caragana on my property and I keep trying to get autumn olive to take. Nothing is invasive on my property because nothing grows well. :P

Matter of perspective I suppose.
 
Mike Haasl
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I think there's a spectrum of invasiveness that also needs to be taken into consideration.  There are plants that are very invasive and spread readily in southern WI that barely can eek out a living up where I live.  So I'd probably be willing to grow it here, knowing it won't spread in my conditions.  But that's still a risk.

Maybe another way of thinking about it...  Are invasive insects ok to import?  Or animals?  Maybe some wild pigs would be nice for my area so that there would be more bacon running around.  Or some emerald ash borer to provide more food for my chickens.  Or tasty rabbits for people in Australia.  We immediately recognize the risk of spread with animals that aren't balanced to the environment they're placed in.  So why are we so quick to say that plants are ok to spread when we don't truly understand the impacts of those decisions.

I'm just urging caution....

 
Trace Oswald
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Mike Haasl wrote:I think there's a spectrum of invasiveness that also needs to be taken into consideration.  There are plants that are very invasive and spread readily in southern WI that barely can eek out a living up where I live.  So I'd probably be willing to grow it here, knowing it won't spread in my conditions.  But that's still a risk.

Maybe another way of thinking about it...  Are invasive insects ok to import?  Or animals?  Maybe some wild pigs would be nice for my area so that there would be more bacon running around.  Or some emerald ash borer to provide more food for my chickens.  Or tasty rabbits for people in Australia.  We immediately recognize the risk of spread with animals that aren't balanced to the environment they're placed in.  So why are we so quick to say that plants are ok to spread when we don't truly understand the impacts of those decisions.

I'm just urging caution....



Or honey bees to the US for pollination and honey.  Oh, wait...  
 
Anne Miller
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C. Lee Greentree wrote:          
The main plants I'm eyeing, which I am told are invasive - though none outright banned - by my local authorities, are:
         Caragana arborescens, Siberian pea shrub
         Elaeagnus umbellata, Autumn olive
         Cyperus esculentus, Chufa or tiger nut



I have a suggestion, the OP only wanted to talk about three plants.

The OP profile says Central MN so that is where I am looking.

Siberian Pea Shrub

It can compete with native shrubs in forest and savanna environments and overtake grassland areas and convert them to shrublands.



The good news is that there are alternatives that can be planted:

Smooth juneberry (Amelanchier laevis)
   Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
   Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
   Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)
   Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)
   American hazelnut (Corylus Americana)



https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/woody/siberianpeashrub.html

Elaeagnus umbellata, Autumn olive

Autumn olive can spread in a wide range of habitats including forest edges, meadows, open woods, pastures, riverbanks, roadsides, and disturbed areas. It has nitrogen-fixing root nodules that change soil chemistry and allow it to survive in poor soils.



Alternatives:

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
   Smooth juneberry (Amelanchier laevis)
   Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)
   Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
   Pussy willow (Salix discolor)



https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/autumn-olive.html

Cyperus esculentus, Chufa or tiger nut

C. esculentus is cultivated for its edible tubers, called earth almonds or tiger nuts (due to the stripes on their tubers and their hard shell), as a snack food and for the preparation of horchata de chufa, a sweet, milk-like beverage.



Cyperus esculentus can be found wild, as a weed, or as a crop. It is an invasive species outside its native range,



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyperus_esculentus

I hope the OP will let us know what was decided on these plants or the alternatives.
 
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I have planted many Caragana arborescens in the Helena Valley as well as I inherited a few old, large specimens. We are drier than you in Wisconsin but same zone (4b). It is not invasive here. It does thrive with a bit of attention at the start, and has shown strong growth most years. It is a favorite of bumblebees. The only place I’ve seen it volunteer is beneath a Caragana hedge. Most people in the west, in my experience would not consider it invasive.
I have tried
Autumn olive has had moderate success here. Most of my original plantings a decade ago died in the first three years. The survivors tend to die back after cold winters . My guess is the low winter humidity is a factor in survival as well as our low “average” precipitation. I know people farther east of you feel that autumn olive is invasive but that climate is wetter and and warmer than here. Caveat emptor.
 
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I have one Siberian Pea shrub, I let it go to seed and have seen maybe one seedling.
I have no concern about it invading the forested hills that surround me, given that most of the existing greenery consists of non-native invasive honeysuckle.
I chose the peashrub over Autumn Olive and other nitrogen fixers.
The reports on how palatable Autumn Olives  are, are mixed.
There are many perennials with delicious berries,but few edible perennial cold hardy legumes.

The chufa I would plant in containers,  with a loose soil, to make harvesting easier and to prevent spread.
 
C. Lee Greentree
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Thanks for all the thoughtful responses; you've given me a lot to chew on! Trust when I say that I am the type to mull over things for quite some time before actually doing them, even for less serious endeavors than this.

For those curious, I am leaning heavily towards "no" on all three counts, though it pains me because they sound so promising on pfaf and lots of permie literature here and elsewhere. It's frustrating, but I wanted to say I do know the pain of dealing with invasives. Our property is thick with Siberian elm, non-native bush honeysuckle, and garlic mustard. Parks and nature reserves in the surrounding area are choked by buckthorn. We may already have the dreaded jumping worms. The three I asked about sound more desirable in comparison, I suppose. But I can't justify the risk of being the bad guy in any future story.

To further explain each temptation:

The pea shrub appealed to me as a perennial alternative to annual beans, with the protein and oil source giving a potential for greater food value than most fruit trees or shrubs. I sometimes think flippantly that the only reason they're not here is that the other baddies beat them to it. Anyway, tentative verdict is that it seems safer to just not muddle things further.

My first knowledge of autumn olive came from foraging blogs. I've even seen named cultivars sold on nursery websites, purported to bear sweet, tasty fruit. That's what I would have wanted them for: a hardy, self-sufficient fruit crop, with nitrogen fixing as a bonus. I'm thinking seaberries might answer both purposes with less moral dilemma.

I wanted the chufa as another of the rare protein and oil provider without much labor. I had even chosen a spot for it: a low-lying area near the house, which floods briefly in spring and gathers a puddle with every rainfall. It's even hemmed in on every side by the house and driveway. I thought that would control any rhizomatic spread, but reading about chufa's seed production... There are wetlands, lakes, and a major river nearby, so I just couldn't.

I just wanted to reiterate that I wouldn't take any risk to the ecosystem lightly. Perhaps on some level I simply wanted to be talked out of it, so thanks again.
 
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I ripped out my Autumn Olive and every sucker I can find after seeing it taking hold at 4000 ft+ in what would otherwise be pristine native forests.  Watch a few youtube videos on the attempts to control it if you have any doubts.  Birds spread the seed.  You can not control it.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Anne Miller wrote:I have a suggestion, the OP only wanted to talk about three plants.


Thanks Anne, excellent point. You're absolutely right.

Those of us who have been burned by invasives are pretty quick with the torches and pitchforks.

I had Caragana at my former property, in heavy clay soil. It was introduced many decades before to create hardy shelterbelts on the open prairie. While highly tolerant of extreme cold and drought, it certainly wasn't banned or considered invasive, and was easy enough to control. I always loved how the bumblebees went crazy for it in spring. Now that I am in a sand hill, I won't bring any over because I don't know how (or if) it will behave.
 
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In dealing with "invasives" , we should remember that all these plants have their place in the broad spectrum of what can be grown. We usually want to combat these invasions because they endanger *another* plant that *is* native, or that we just prefer. That is when there is a conflict.
Honeybees are an invasive species, so is clover but we would not want to eradicate them.
Another point is that the flora and fauna of the entire planet keeps changing/ evolving whether we want to or not.
Sometimes, we should fight to preserve a species, but if the climate or the soil becomes inhospitable to that species, it is a fight we are going to lose. [Mother Nature always wins: Agree with her now, it will save us so much time!] We need to be conscious of these changes and keep working *with* Nature rather than *against* it.
As my zone 4b warms up, it is possible that my delicious rhubarb will no longer grow well here. I hope to die before that happens, but that ball is in motion. Perhaps I will be able to grow Mount Rainier sweet cherries instead of the tiny wild ones we have here, that have big stones and hardly any flesh around them. I don't like them but I can make Kirsch out of them. Yum.
At that point, we should remember that if we look at it right, every problem is a solution in waiting.
Say that you have an animal like rabbits in Australia that multiply very quickly and causes a lot of damage. Could they be harvested for dog food or carnivores in zoos? Could their fur be useful?
Algae bloom on lakes: It can be dragged, composted and reapplied on crops after suitable time has passed to create rich biomass. On very sandy potato fields, it may become an asset, who knows?
Here, we have black locust: the seeds of this leguminous tree are impossible to harvest. These trees make networks of roots that can overtake an entire yard. Not 20 miles from here, my county is seeking to eradicate them, but across the street which is a different county, it is not against the law to grow them [just not recommended]. Some years, the honeybees visit them, and they give us a honey that is IMHO much better than clover honey: very clear, doesn't ever crystallize. It is fragrant and delicious.  
Down South, they have Kudzu, which, from what I was told, is impossible to get rid of: Even animals won't eat it or bed on it. It seems to have no use but to annoy the unfortunate folks who live near. Kudzu would be a great example of why we should fight to prevent invasives from taking over.
 
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just to devil’s advocate a little, goats delight in eating kudzu, and a good flour/starch can be isolated from the tubers. it’s definitely not something to just plant everywhere, but it’s not the unapproachable and useless plant it’s frequently given credit for being. and if we had a culture of relating to it as a good resource to manage and not just ‘the enemy’, i think the general consensus on it would change somewhat.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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greg mosser wrote:just to devil’s advocate a little, goats delight in eating kudzu, and a good flour/starch can be isolated from the tubers. it’s definitely not something to just plant everywhere, but it’s not the unapproachable and useless plant it’s frequently given credit for being. and if we had a culture of relating to it as a good resource to manage and not just ‘the enemy’, i think the general consensus on it would change somewhat.




Thanks, Greg. We don't have this in Central Wisconsin, so I was going by what I always heard about this plant. Totally agree with you that invasives can be resources too, if we care to manage them.
Thanks for the correction. That is great! So goats like it. Perhaps local governments could pay goat farmers to have their goats munch on it?
I heard it is a vine. Does it only want to climb and smother stuff? or does it replant itself, like, say a pumpkin or squash vine?
And it is a tuber? another thing I didn't know.
When you say "good" flour, what do you mean? Can you make bread from it? Would pigs be interested? Kudzu fried chips, anyone? Does it have gluten or could it make only unleavened bread? perhaps pancakes? Please tell us more: "Inquiring minds want to know!"
See: Like I was saying, it is all in the way we approach the problem.
 
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Greg talks about culture that can appreciate it's uses. My understanding kudzu was originally brought here as a display at a worlds fair. China grew it as a valuable crop.harvested for forage and many other things. Their cold Winters and harvesting to use kept in check. Question .. anyone have experience with goji berry? I ordered 10 then read they can be invasive. So am afraid to plant.ade a mistake with rugosa rose decades ago when they were popular. Now Wisconsin DNR discourages them. They spread like crazy . Lots of seeds and root shoots. Hate to create another problem.
 
master pollinator
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Would pigs be interested?


...in kudzu?

I couldn't find a quick reference that lists them all, but pigs cattle and chickens are also able to eat it. While I don't have personal experience,  I can tell you that there is no kudzu in the beef cattle pastures.
 
Anne Miller
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I grew up seeing kudzu every summer when I stayed with my grandparents.

I never saw it in pastures.

Kudzu was mostly on abandoned properties.  It grew over houses and into trees. Though it stopped abruptly on properties next to the abandoned ones.

Now as an adult I never see it anywhere though I don't travel where it was a problem.

Even native plants can become a problem if left to just grow where it wants to grow.
 
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Elaeagnus species is nitrogen fixing. I plant Russian olive (Elaeagus angustifolia) here in zone 7 in Mojave Desert. There isn't enough water here for them to spread. So they aren't invading or taking over land. Invasive species can be beneficial in a controlled permaculture environment.
 
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C. Lee Greentree,

A lot of very good information has been thrown at you in this post,  but that won’t stop me from adding one more thought for you to ponder.  For me, Autumn Olive is a resource that I control (not eradicate) by harvesting,  I will try to explain, but first some context.

I live a fair distance from you at the southern tip of Illinois and our climate, especially winter, is substantially different so that piece of information may color my response to you.  On my 9 rolling acres surrounded by forests and pasture, Autumn Olive grows abundantly anywhere it can’t be mowed down when young.  I have a fence line I share with a neighbor that I have deliberately let grow wild and Autumn Olive dominates that living hedge.  

In all truthfulness,  I inherited that living fence when I bought the land, but the actual metal fence was taller then than the small shrubs that were growing beside at the time.  I just let the fence go wild with whatever was there at the time.  And I am glad I did.  My living fence is now 20’ tall, 10’-30’ wide at places and is a fantastic habitat for wildlife, especially birds and deer.

Autumn Olive is terribly invasive by me but I have learned to adapt to its presence and even appreciate it, though I would have no reason to actually intentionally plant it.  I make extensive use of wood chips so every 2-3 years my neighbor and I trim back a section of the hedge and feed the branches to a chipper to make mountains of wood chips that I use in my garden.  

With all the work it takes just to trim the living fence back a couple of feet, I simply can’t exhaust my supply of wood chips as that’s more than my neighbor and I can do in a season.  Basically I have an unlimited supply of wood chips that mostly come from Autumn Olive.  Actually I have a section of fence line that needs additional trimming now and my chip supply is starting to run low so it is time to trim again.

Long story short;  I would not plant Autumn Olive as it is so terribly invasive by me, but what Autumn Olive I do have I keep under control by using it as a resource.

For your sake, IF you do decide to plant Autumn Olive I would consider some type of management technique.

As an aside, I have family that live in MN, and I don’t remember Autumn Olive being a problem there, but that was in farming country where hedge rows were few and generally well-managed.  I can appreciate Autumn Olive, but I am stuck with it.  Ultimately only you can make the decision about whether to plant this or not .

Eric
 
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