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the dark side of native plant enthusiasm  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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Over the last few decades I have met a lot of very lovely people that are freaky enthusiastic about native plants. And as much as they seem to powerfully advocate a positive thing, I must confess that I have now been down this road so many times that that when I encounter somebody advocating native plants, my stomach twists into a knot. I will often choose to change the subject in an effort to keep the conversation friendly.

When I first heard of arguments about native plants, I could not comprehend how there could possibly be anything to argue over. What's wrong with native plants? It turns out that the problem has nothing to do with advocating for native plants, but in advocating against all other plants - not just for oneself, but for all people.

I think that the argument for native plants (or, more accurately, against non-native plants) is that there used to be all these different spots with interesting stuff growing. And with international travel and trade, seeds have been introduced from all over the world such that all places everywhere are losing their botanic distinctiveness. All places everywhere(*) are becoming more homogeneous: the same things are growing everywhere(*). The corollary to that is that a lot of species that used to do well here are being crowded out by species that do even better here. (* = when I say "everywhere" I mean to say all of the similar spots are ending up with all the same things globally. And I could expand for a few dozen pages on improving the accuracy of this statement, but I'm going to leave that for some other day.)


Native to When?

It is my impression that here in Montana, a plant is considered "native" if it was growing here before white people showed up. Although there were some white people popping in around 1743, it seems that we draw the line at 1804, when Lewis and Clark came through.

Native Americans moved a lot of seeds around before white folks got here with their seeds. But I'm willing to let this go when selecting the official native plant date.

I suppose the passion for native plants could be a sort of guilt thing: white people brought a bunch of seed here, and those plants are overwhelming the plants that were already here such that the cool plants that were here before could go extinct without a bit of intervention. So a lot of folks want to repair the problems caused by their ancestors.

So a date is selected. Everything before that date is "native" and things that showed up after that date are "non-native". Crisp and clear.

Of course, there were plants that showed up before 1743 that were invasive and a nuisance. A great example is the douglas fir tree. White people looooove the douglas fir tree. It's great for building stuff we like to build. The folks that were living here before 1743 didn't care for it. The would burn it out. It kept trying to take over land that was currently growing food. Oh, sure, they found uses for it. But they also worked to get rid of it in spaces where it was a bother. (there is a bit of comedy when non-native people advocate killing the non-natives)

So maybe there have been some people that think that the date for "native" should have been before the douglas fir tree showed up.

Here is one of my all time least popular videos which happens to be about the problems with native conifers:





Natural Succession

At one point in time there were no douglas fir trees. And then they showed up and sorta wiped out lots of other species of cool stuff. And now they are labeled "native". No white people involved.

There are similar stories for nearly all plants. Species come and species go. Survival of the fittest. Granted, human beings with their fancy boats and explorer boots came along, this whole process was dramatically accelerated. But for the moment I want to do a bit of a mental exercise: I want to embrace the spirit of the native plants movement and look at what plants are here in 2014 that would have made it here even if the whole white-people-acceleration thing didn't happen. After all, this whole succession thing is happening all the time. Birds and other critters help a lot. And it would seem that native american people do some too. And wind?

While we are putting a lot of effort in hating and killing plants just because they were not here by the 1804 deadline, it seems like the decent thing to do is to add plants to that list that would have made it here by now without all this white people influence.

Maybe half the plants that are currently being sprayed because they are non-native would get a note from Science saying "Please don't kill dandelion anymore, we decided that they would have made it here by now due to wind and birds. So we added it to the "native" list. Thanks!"



A Diet of Native plants

I've met some people that are so passionate about native plants that they insist that anything that is non-native should be removed. When I try to ask what percentage of their diet is from native plants .... well, it takes a while to get a clear answer, but so far the answer appears to be, nearly universally, less than 1%.

I would like to suggest that people living in town with a quarter of an acre, plant a permaculture food system. native plant people tend to take that same piece of land and plant 100% native species. Which is fine. The problem I have is when they get angry at other folks for not doing the same.

I like to think that if people nurture a permaculture food system on their quarter of an acre, they might, some day, be able to grow half of the food they eat. I think that this might save two acres of farm land that would otherwise need to grow stuff to feed them. That two acres could be left as wild land which, hopefully, will include a lot of native plants.

Here is a video I made of Toby Hemenway talking about native plants - and my favorite part is when he makes this point:





The Pow Wow Grounds in Elmo, Montana

I was invited to the Pow Wow Grounds in Elmo, Montana to give permaculture advice. While giving my advice they told me that they had received advice from a native plants person - the suggestion was, of course, all native plants. I told them that that would certainly be interesting. I told them that the cost for all native plants would be about 1.1 million dollars to set up and $200,000 per year to maintain.

I then proposed that they do permaculture on most of the property and have a small area that would be established and maintained as "common plants growing in this area in 1804."

I went on to point out that when mullein came to the area, the native americans found 17 different uses for this plant. I would think that for all the plants that arrive through the centuries, native americans found uses and found a way to live with the changes. It would seem that native americans embrace all of nature and do not exercise a bigotry based on some arbitrary date.

My philosophy appeared to be well embraced.

Here is my rather popular video about mullein:





noxious weeds

The concept of the "noxious weed" started with the idea of plants that could be toxic to farm animals. Animals know to avoid these plants, but if you fence an animal in and they run out of good food, they will experiment with whatever plants are left. So as long as your animals have plenty of food, there is little value in removing "noxious weeds".

The term "noxious weeds" was adopted by the government and expanded to include any plant that somebody found annoying. Even native plants. Usually it is plants that do better than the planted monocrop. The theory is that if you claim that plant is threatening your crops, you can make the plant illegal. Then you obliterate it, and force your neighbors to obliterate it and then it won't be a problem anymore. In theory. Some seeds will wait in the soil for a hundred years before germinating.

Lots and lots of people have added their favorite pet peeve plants to the list.

I once read a list of plants that were a mix of "noxious weeds" and other plants that are legally required to be eliminated. As I read the list I recognized nearly half of the plants as extremely beneficial permaculture plants.



the herbicide tie-in

Herbicides are generally recognized as the best way to get rid of unwanted plants. So a lot of native plant organizations receive a lot of love (in the forum of actual dollars) from herbicide companies.

Weed boards also get a lot of support from herbicide companies.

The laws against weeds are often lobbied for by herbicide companies.

Granted there are excpetions - but as a general rule of thumb, this is the case. Google it.

I know that whenever I hear of a native plant organization, my first thought is "funded by herbicide companies" or "lipstick on an herbicide company". Same for weed boards - just looking for an excuse to spray some product. The weird thing is that a lot of these organizations are non profit organizations.

Love the earth by poisoning it.



the never ending battle

Getting rid of the non-native plants is a huge task. Billions of dollars? Trillions? And it isn't something that you would just do one time. It would be something where it would be a massive task and then it would take that much again every ten years to maintain it. It will never end. But as long as the war wages on, herbicide companies will keep making money.


one person managing 20,000 acres vs. 2000 people managing ten acres

I've heard that the majestic russian olive tree is no longer allowed to be sold in montana. There is concern that it is displacing native plants. My impression is that it is growing in places that are nearly devoid of any plant life and it basically creates an oasis so other plants (including natives) can get started.

I have talked to three plant experts who are certain that it is good to put russian olive on the noxious list, but I never did understand what they said was the downside - other than "it is not a native plant." I talked to six other plant experts and they seemed to also be confused.

But my thinking goes like this: It is a tree. If you don't like it, a chainsaw will fix your problem.

This makes me think that there are some people that are powerful advocates of native plants *AND* they own 20,000 acres *AND* they have paid some enormous amount of money to cut down the russian olives (because they are not native) and the russian olive trees come back. So, naturally, they want to make sure there are no russian olive trees growing within a hundred miles so that they might possibly be able to reduce their non-native-tree-cutting-budget.

After all, if you are one person with ten acres and you don't like russian olive trees, you can cut them down pretty quickly. You can use the wood for firewood, or to make a hugelkultur for other plants.

So if a person has ten acres, and they like russian olive trees, why is it that they are not allowed to buy a russian olive tree? It is an excellent permaculture tree. The only thing I can think of is this whole thing about owning 20,000 acres and advocating native plants only.


plant bigotry

With all due respect to Godwin's Law: I read something suggesting that the native vs. non-native distinction is a type of bigotry, complete with links to Nazi and arian stuff. Or racism in general. "Natives only" sounds a bit lie "whites only".

I think folks should have the right to be as bigoted as they like. The thing that gets weird for me is when the government requires bigotry.



Myth: Native plants are better suited to your area

If this were true, why do we have any concern over non-native plants threatening native plants?



Summary

Most native plants are awesome!

Most non-native plants are awesome!

Some native plants are icky.

Some non-native plants are icky.

When I hear people advocating native plants because they are native, I wonder if they are employed by herbicide companies, or if they have bought in to the spin generated by herbicide companies. Either way, it is a bit of a bummer.

I hope that all gardeners and farmers everywhere grow lots of stuff they think is cool. And I hope that one group of farmers/gardeners does not try to impede the joy of other farmers/gardeners.




 
Amedean Messan
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Nice writeup.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22183
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
Dan Boone
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What about people like me who have a slight preference for native plants?

The one argument for nurturing native plants that you gesture towards but (unless I missed it) didn't put in contention is that as we humans accelerate the spread of all kinds of plants, the aggressively competitive ones from far away get a lot of help from us in out-competing the natives that never faced that particular set of competitive pressures before. If biodiversity is a good thing -- and I think it is, if only because plants going extinct have a risk of taking undiscovered beneficial properties with them -- then making some room for natives and protecting them by disadvantaging non-natives is something that there's value in.

I also think there can sometimes be local ecosystem values to the natives that are not provided by an equivalent non-native. So having lots of native plants may mean you get more local songbirds or a better flock of butterflies or a healthier predator-prey balance or whatever. Yes, in certain cases the non-native will provide awesome ecosystem values too. But it's a case of us having to do the skull sweat to figure out if this is so, whereas with locals we can be pretty sure evolution has already done that for us.

All that leaves me liking native plants and preferencing them when it is convenient. And thinking twice or three times before I introduce a non-native that's likely to spread rapidly.

But I agree that zealotry in this -- as in virtually all matters -- is unattractive. I wouldn't dream of telling my neighbor what he can plant; if it becomes a problem for me, I have a machete and I can get goats. I don't have 20,000 acres and have little sympathy for the problems of those who do. (Odd notions of stewardship drift into my philosophical view of land ownership; if you "have" too much to manage, it's unclear to me whether you "own" it in any real sense, no matter what it may say in the book down at the county clerk's office.)
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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No option for agree with some points and disagree with others?

For instance: Very much agree with the "when" were they native bit. The last ice age in your area? When dinosaurs roamed the earth? When your area was underwater? The fact is that seeds travel by many means - air, water, animals and people. Some ways are faster than others.

Gotta "thumbs down" your comment on non-profits. Yeah - we get it - you don't like non-profits. But what about the for-profits that are producing the herbicides? And, after all, are not all types of business entities elements of our economic ecosystem?

Also, I think some non-native plants DO stress the environments that they are imported to. Take the lettuce fields of Yuma, Arizona. Yuma produces lettuce for most of the USA in the wintertime. If you go there, you will see miles upon miles of irrigated farmland growing this non-native plant. Yuma averages 3 inches of rain a year. Therefore one must import non-native water to continue to grow this non-native plant. Water is imported from the Colorado river. The Colorado river now no longer reaches the Bay of California but dries up before then. By importing this water along a system of canals for many miles, we also make the water more brackish (salty) through evaporation - which in turn salts our desert soils even more.

In summary, I like the article. I think I don't like request to vote on this post as it seems like it might squelch active discussion.
 
Ann Torrence
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And pick your dates carefully. The Spanish brought peaches to Florida decades before the English settlers arrived in Virginia. The English thought peaches were native there because the trees had already spread so prolifically up the eastern seaboard.
 
Amedean Messan
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It's a great article to repeat myself. I have some ideas I would like to suggest to you Paul and the community when I have time to make a presentation to articulate my point. Nice read indeed!
 
Akiva Silver
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For years I found the native plant debate bizarre. I thought who cares if a plant is native or not, all that matters is it's ecological function and benefit to people and wildlife. However, last year I read a book called Bringing Nature Home. It is an extremely biased pro-native plant book, but it clearly outlines the main reason that native plants are important, ... Insects. It is important to have natives because insects here have adapted to feed on them. Native trees support tremendously diverse insect populations, while most exotic plants support dismally low populations, if not zero. Think about seeing bug holes in maple leaves versus autumn olive leaves.
One good example is the phragmites reed. It is native to Europe and central Asia, there it is fed on by 170 species of insects. Here in N. America it is only fed on by 5 species. Or we can look at the ornamental zelkova trees widely planted in cities now, that supports zero species of lepidoptera while native oaks in the northeast support 341 species of lepidoptera.
I think it goes without saying that insect diversity is a big part of a healthy food web.

I definitely agree that judging plants solely on their country of origin is ridiculous, and of course we need to grow lots of good food. Almost all of the plants I grow, I do so because of the food, timber, or medicine they will provide. I think it is important to make sure that there are some native plants mixed into our landscapes. They don't need to be the primary focus, but so long as there are relatively healthy populations of them, we can help maintain healthy populations of lepidoptera and other insects.
 
leila hamaya
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agreed with everything you have said here, well said. i love it when someone articulates something thats only half baked in my mind and hard to explain, especially in the face of opposition. and interesting connections you make about the touchy subjects involved in race, diasporia, immigration and the collective guilt and shame that can be associated with it. i have also thought of the irony of the non native people arguing against non native plants, and how much healing and understanding needs to happen before these issues fade. also a very good point about the native americans quickly finding uses and value for the new plants that arrived with the settlements.

and i dont like to get to negative about it, but it could be argued - what about the fact that people of every color may well be the most invasive species of all time!!?? well ok not ALL people, but enough. i would rather emphasize that we could be a symbiotic and positive element in the ecosystem, instead many people live in a parasitical relationship with the greater bioshpere. although i dont like to point that out because i am not wanting to shame anyone, its pretty undeniably obvious if you look at it plainly. theres certainly no one advocating we go out and spray the most offensive invasive humans with some kind of people-icide !!! the old cliche about the pot calling the kettle black would fit here!


theres a very imbalanced assumption that one can know enough to speak for animals, insects and nature itself. its a bit presumptuous to think that you alone know what is good for nature, or what animals and insects want, or even that this should be one's proper role. i dont think even a large group of well informed people should be trying to perpetuate that assumption, or that this is something that people should attempt to figure out and dictate for everything else. i do think we should try to be careful about introducing certain things, though.

some of us may have better ideas than most about being aligned with nature, but still its a pretty slippery slope there i think.....this is something i have fumbled with trying to explain to many activists, or other more fanatical sorts of people...these kinds of ideas are really difficult to communicate to someone who thinks they have got it all down, and in the face of these kinds of ideologies. there can be some pretty manipulative types of traps when trying to speak with people who get fanatical about anything, its certainly not just this issue. i would guess there are many native plant enthusiast who are not fanatical about it, and are not opposed to people growing other useful/beneficial plants that arent natives. ?


 
leila hamaya
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heres some stuff i have recently come across that illustrates how this goes..i have been researching this plant a little and came across many articles like this.
seems to be a hot topic around internetsland, and in peoples minds, that somehow contrary to butterflies love of it, buddleia has been decided as something BAD for butterflies..... this one in particular is based on the writings of the book mentioned above:

http://www.rodalenews.com/butterfly-bush-bad

another:
http://insects.about.com/od/butterfliesmoths/qt/substitutes-for-butterfly-bush.htm

i actually like this plant (buddleia). it is beautiful, fragrant, drought tolerant, perennial, easy to grow without water or fertilizer, and nice and tall. butterflies, bees, other insects and some birds feed on it. there arent a lot of ornamentals that i like at all, but for these reasons i like this plant.

butterflies, do in fact, LOVE it!
the pictures they start off with the happy butterfly getting down with the plant are not helping making their point. they probably cant get a picture of some butterflies recoiling in horror at this supposedly "bad butterfly plant" because - THAT NEVER HAPPENS !
i suppose one could be swept up and convinced by their convincing tone of writing, sensationalist statements and half truths, but i found NO REASON to not plant it in these articles, not one i think is accurate or convincing.

one of the reasons stated is because supposedly "it doesnt really benefit butterflies", which seems completely inaccurate. do you really think they would flock to it if they didnt benefit from it? it almost suggests that the butterflies dont know what they are doing, these expert humans know better, and they dont know what they like. then a sentence later it says - it is a great nectar plant. well that pretty much negates the first statement?

and goes on to imply that you can ONLY plant either this (non native) or that (native), which is kinda absurd. how about plant butterfly bush AND milkweed? it is not an either/or kind of thing.
who plants just one thing only, to the exclusion of everything else? why not just argue for, and encourage, planting milkweed, or passionflower, without bringing buddleia into it at all?

the whole article is very slanted and makes really broad inaccurate generalizations, while putting up some figures and percentages that are really not knowable or substantiated. at least thats the way it comes across, maybe these ideas are more well founded than they seem.
it seems to presume to try to speak for the butterflies, as though these "experts" know what they want, while ignoring that butterflies flock to it and do actually benefit from it. i think if there was a way to communicate this to actual butterflies and they got a vote, they would vote for it being planted abundantly. =)

i shouldnt fall into that same trap here of presuming to know exactly what they want, or of being able to calculate all these amazingly complex factors that would go into figuring this out....but the flood of butterflies always around it seems pretty hard to argue against.

instead this writing manipulatively twists to make it seem that anyone who plants non natives, and butterfly bush in particular, are actually butterfly killers! it sounds absurd to say it like that, but the implications are there for sure.

actually this isnt the only article about this, so this is a suddenly hot issue, people keep parroting the same repeated ideas, experts chime in, and it keeps getting repeated like its the truth now. buddleia is on the oregon and washington invasive "noxious" plant list.

maybe i am missing something here but i dont see why. i am planning to plant some buddleia myself, and even upon reflection of this information, i feel totally ok with this decision and do not believe that buddleia deserves this bad rap.
anyway we already have tons of milk weed =) and the native plants around here are very robust and able to hold their own, i am not worried about them being overwhelmed/out competed. that many areas are so out of balance, that conditions are so human dominated and human centric that they have struggling/nonexistent native plants, are different issues with different causes and remedies. blaming only the "exotics" and "invasive" plants is much too fine a point to point the blame.

i think theres also a (hard to get at and address) issue of elitism and some weird cultural trends about plants , "purity" and values also underlying this....
 
siu-yu man
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thank you for putting this out there. this subject has been at the forefront of my thoughts & conversations for the past 6 months. unfortunately, most people I've been speaking with refuse to even consider the viewpoint that you put forth. and even more unfortunately, those people have official sounding titles like "Arborists" & "Foresters". one of them who claims he's a "permaculturist" even he tried to convince me of the benign aspects of glyphosate to control the japanese siltgrass, even though he claimed he would never use it because it's against his company's "ethical principles". i surmised that he said that because the clients of his lawn care business complain every fall when their lawn turns brown (siltgrass is an annual that dies back every year).

the autumn olive is usually the conversation stopper, especially when i mention that it's a nitrogen fixer. they don't care, it must be eliminated, even though if you observe the tree (shrub), it does not outcompete other seedlings that are growing there and in fact, stops growing berries and dies back once the canopy fills in.

even the dreaded multiflora (can't tell you how many times i've cursed that plant) has its benefits. i've found several red & white oak seedlings growing admist the thorns of a mature bush -- seedlings that would have otherwise been decimated by the deer. i've asked this question several times : even if we could wave a magic wand and all the "invasives" would instantly disappear, what would grow in its place that could survive the deer penetration? the only answer i get is to put up an 8 foot deer fence. of course, they don't say how that fence is going to paid for, other than to do a tree harvest (out of which they will get a 15% cut naturally).

all of this to say is that i begin to wonder how much of the stubbornness to consider both sides of the issue is driven by selfish ulterior economic motives. sorry to say this, but i can't help but thinking it. especially when the people with official sounding titles are the ones who the people with official sounding titles who write regulations of what you can and can not intentionally cultivate on your property listen to when writing those regulations.

(disclaimer: munching on some tasty dried autumn olives while writing this rant.)
 
Cris Bessette
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I say plant whatever you want, the Earth will take care of it or reject it, regardless of how we feel about it.


 
Akiva Silver
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Cris, let's not forget that we are a part of the earth. To just say, the earth will take care of it and not take any responsibility is an excuse from reality. You can definitely introduce plants that can cause great harm, just like the folks who brought chestnut blight here. Of course life will go on, but how it happens matters to many of us.
 
Cris Bessette
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Akiva Silver wrote:Cris, let's not forget that we are a part of the earth. To just say, the earth will take care of it and not take any responsibility is an excuse from reality. You can definitely introduce plants that can cause great harm, just like the folks who brought chestnut blight here. Of course life will go on, but how it happens matters to many of us.




Maybe I should tone that back some, I'm not saying plant poison ivy on the Kindergarten playground.

What I mean is use common sense, just because a plant isn't "native" , doesn't mean it is DANGEROUS.

As far as I remember, it is illegal to plant Kudzu in my state of Georgia, so I don't plant that, but
I have no problem with letting mimosa trees grow on my property because they are clearly beneficial in my environment.
(Whether or not somebody classified them as "invasive")

Regardless, I do believe that my original statement is true on one level: All plants are native to the Earth, "invasive" is a human concept,
the Earth will take care of itself IF we screw up, regardless if it is on a greater time scale than our human lifespans.




 
siu-yu man
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of course, we always should be thoughtful on what to introduce and where. as much as i would love to have a giant grove of running bamboo at my place like "crouching tiger, hidden dragon" (and could if i chose), and even if i could effectively manage it during my lifetime, that bamboo's gonna be there way after i'm gone, and i can't say for certain if someone after me is not going to let it get out of control and wreak havoc on the rest of the ecosystem.

think thrice (then think again), plant once.

this is exactly where i believe the argument goes askew into counterproductive land, where both sides harden into dogmatic positions. meanwhile, the discussion as to why those plants have appeared there in the first place gets lost in the thicket. why multiflora rose? why russian olive? why japanese knotweed? why tree of heaven? what are those plants telling us? aren't they a symptom of a deeper sickness that is going on?

as people who are passionate about that loose discipline called permaculture, perhaps we should be begin to be brave enough to start asking others those questions and take the thorns as they come.

the entire subject makes me so frustrated at times, i just wanna go plant some kudzu
(just kidding, for the record)
 
Cris Bessette
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There is actually a guy in the town where I live that makes a living out of making products from Kudzu, has for years.
Furniture, art, food, baskets,etc.
 
Sean Banks
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The thing about natives is that they support more Lepidoptera....this provides a lot of food for other organisms like songbirds. Other than that I do think if one is to be self sufficient it would help to incorporate non natives fruits/veggies to get the most out of a growing season.
 
Alder Burns
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So glad this topic has come up here! And it doesn't seem to have attracted the serious fanatics and haters that it has in other circles. I have encountered them more than once, and usually, when the discussion starts to get ugly, I'm tempted to tell folks to take a good long look in a mirror before condemning some plant as an "invasive exotic"!
A few loose ideas to throw in the pot:
- A careful look at the exotics common in most ecosystems will reveal that the majority of them are pioneer species, growing in the earlier stages of succession, spreading most aggressively on sites already stripped or otherwise disturbed. Most often they end up gradually replaced by, or cohabiting with natives as the ecosystem matures. There are comparatively few that are aggressive enough to penetrate and overwhelm significant portions of an intact native ecosystem. Control efforts, if they do happen, should focus on these few species.
- The problem is the solution. The best, easiest, and quickest way to control or even eradicate any exotic is to find a use for it. Preferably a profitable use! A related issue is that, especially compared to many Third World situations, there are far too few people, and their associated animals, in the rural landscape in North America. When I first started keeping goats in GA, suddenly I became aware of the whole suite of vigorous, often evergreen exotic shrubs and trees, which I'd previously ignored or even looked down upon as "invasives"...and they suddenly became my goat's most valuable winter browse! Bamboo, ligustrum, privet, honeysuckle, eleagnus, "red-tip", loropetalum..... Eventually I'd be going around behind strip mall parking lots when I went to town, and filling my car with clippings to take home to them!
- Take the long view. What about the megafauna extinctions? Should we turn elephants and camels and lions loose in American wildlands, so as to return the landscape to what it "should" be like from the perspective of tree genetics? Read Connie Barlow's "Ghosts of Evolution" and you will never look at the landscape the same again!
 
John Polk
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As Paul pointed out in the opening post to this thread, native to when?
A thousand years prior to the Inca civilization, there were trade routes established throughout the Americas.
Food/plants/seeds were a significant part of those trade routes.

Corn, wheat, tomatoes, peppers were never a natural part of the North American ecosystem until they had been imported from the south.
These modern day farmers who want the non-natives banned should look at themselves and wonder "How am I going to pay off the loans on the farm, and all of these John Deeres without corn, wheat and/or soy?"

In my opinion, natives should be planted on every parcel of land...but not to exclusivity.
Natives provide food and habitat for the Soil Food Web (SFW), as well as the pollinators, and other fauna.
I think that natives should be included in each of the 7 layers. They help assure a more balanced population to soil, flora, and fauna.

To those who insist on 'native-only', I think that they should closely examine the consequences of reverting to "Hunter/Gatherer" as a life style.
Without experimentation and trial, we would be living as we were a million years ago...not a 'walk in the park'.
They would not have the internet (or even a language) to express themselves.
 
David Livingston
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" Take the long view. What about the megafauna extinctions? Should we turn elephants and camels and lions loose in American wildlands, so as to return the landscape to what it "should" be like from the perspective of tree genetics? "

I will vote for that . Can we sell tickets to watch ?

DAvid
 
siu-yu man
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cris : have always thought that creative uses of kudzu could not only revitalize the textile industry in the South (they used to make a silk-like fabric from it in Japan), but also provide a legitimate source of fuel (there's a guy in TN doing just that, but i forget his name).

alder : been thinking in the exact same manner. the species that's causing the most damage to the trees in my neck of the woods is the wild grape, a native.

also, there's a woman who's effectively eradicating ailanthus with minimal alleopathic response using oyster mushrooms:
http://www.oeffa.org/conference/files/Baran_Ailanthus_mushroom_2010_OEFFA.pdf
imho, that's permaculture right there.

on a tangent, how do you feed your goats the cuttings you bring home? do you just throw them in a pile or do you have a feeder that's lifted off the ground?

john: yes, agreed, natives should be an integral part of every layer. that's not necessarily the issue, rather the apparent dogmatic approach of many native plant enthusiasts to the point of killing everything in sight that's not native with poisons without even considering why they're there in the first place. and vilifying anyone who doesn't agree with that approach and seeks to find alternative solutions. the more i think about it, the more i agree with paul's hypothesis of the herbicide companies in the background stirring the pot to stimulate an aggressive fear-laden response latent within a certain group of the population. that's how ideologies are born, no?

deer overpopulation and their consequent destruction of native habitats is the missing variable in all of this methinks, but that might be a can of worms best left unopened for now.
 
Dayna Williams
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Alder Burns wrote:
- A careful look at the exotics common in most ecosystems will reveal that the majority of them are pioneer species, growing in the earlier stages of succession, spreading most aggressively on sites already stripped or otherwise disturbed. Most often they end up gradually replaced by, or cohabiting with natives as the ecosystem matures. There are comparatively few that are aggressive enough to penetrate and overwhelm significant portions of an intact native ecosystem. Control efforts, if they do happen, should focus on these few species.


siu-yu man wrote: meanwhile, the discussion as to why those plants have appeared there in the first place gets lost in the thicket. why multiflora rose? why russian olive? why japanese knotweed? why tree of heaven? what are those plants telling us? aren't they a symptom of a deeper sickness that is going on?


So is poor land management one of the main reasons annoying exotics are able to get established in the first place?
 
Alder Burns
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--si-yu man: Goats don't like to eat off the ground. I would make a basket of wide-mesh fencing, loose enough to get their noses or whole heads into, and put the clippings in there. I would go for long pieces 3-5 feet long and stand them up in the basket, so it sort of looks and acts like a shrub, and they can browse off it like that. They will pull a few out onto the ground but they get used to it after a while. I've also hung bundles of stuff upside down, so the tips are just clear of the ground, and they like them that way too. Both systems I had in the barn and outdoors.....and the fence mesh baskets double as hay feeders....
--dayna: I think what's going on is that humans inevitably cause disturbances in the ecosystem, and those disturbances create an opportunity for pioneers, native or exotic. Something else is happening in isolated places like distant islands, which were originally colonized by very few species, and developed unique ecosystems with less diversity and competition than on continents. When continental species get introduced, they find themselves in a kind of free-for-all where the natives don't have the background of competition, herbivore or carnivore resistance, to resist being overwhelmed. Numerous extinctions on islands have resulted....starting, as usual, with direct human overharvesting.
 
leila hamaya
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i totally agree on what everyone keeps repeating here - the real problem is that the land is so messed up in too many places, one of the symptoms is the "invasives". but thats not the root of the problem.

given all those niches where what once was a thriving an ecosystem is now nothing but bare ground or grasses, the invasives can take over. at least for a time, i agree with cris saying that eventually it all comes out in the wash, finds its own checks and balances.....though its sad that this is hundreds ---> thousands of years kind of process.... before it can go through its self healing process.

another reason i am ok with the idea of planting buddleia here - it is all too rare but i live in a vibrant functional forest, maybe not as grand as it once was, but still intact enough that it can hold it's own and would return to it's former state if given enough time.

the kind of forest thats so thick and tall, it makes you feel as insignificant as a bug while walking through it! am i weird that i like this feeling? idk, people seem to be stuck on this human domination trip, but i cant be the only one who appreciates this.

that is part of this discussion in my mind anyway, native only type fanatics are still falling into that line of thinking, that it should be up to humans to control the plants, to "save the planet", and to control other people to make it so....i can relate, for sure i go down similar thinking, or at least i used to....before realizing that really i should be hoping that the planet can save our sorry asses! you cant "save the world" , even as a huge group, but you can be a part (a very very small part) of its SELF HEALING, and in turn the planet will try to heal you as well.

anyway buddleia is a sun loving plant, it just couldnt take hold in a real forest because it would never get enough light to survive.
 
Len Ovens
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paul wheaton wrote:


I've met some people that are so passionate about native plants that they insist that anything that is non-native should be removed. When I try to ask what percentage of their diet is from native plants .... well, it takes a while to get a clear answer, but so far the answer appears to be, nearly universally, less than 1%.


This whole thing is something I had not thought of, that what we eat, forces someone else to plant certain things. I had given up on worrying about native vs. non-native plants just because what is or not is so hard to really pin down. Certainly if there are two trees that give nuts I like to eat, I might choose the native one.... filberts are easy to find, hazelnuts, not so much... in the hopes it will do better. But I am likely to plant other varieties as well. I think with any kind of permaculture, the people have to get used to a new diet anyway, so if there are native plants that can be used in a permaculture setting that will provide food (I am not in favour of eating native no matter how bad it tastes) I should. (I think that was one of your statements anyway)


I've heard that the majestic russian olive tree is no longer allowed to be sold in montana. There is concern that it is displacing native plants. My impression is that it is growing in places that are nearly devoid of any plant life and it basically creates an oasis so other plants (including natives) can get started.


Are you accusing politicians of having brains? This comes from the same place where an off grid home that uses lanterns for light must have outlets installed every 10 feet (or whatever) of wall length. There is a real problem with people making laws without real knowledge. There is also an effort on the part of some people to keep law makers from getting that knowledge. I think laws that can be shown to have been made on less than full knowledge should be made easy to overturn. In the case where it can be shown that a special interest group/business lobbied form that law, they should be responsible for the cost of the both making the bad law and repealing it. (this is probably a bad idea in the end as this could be used to ruin someone)


Myth: Native plants are better suited to your area

If this were true, why do we have any concern over non-native plants threatening native plants?


I like this statement.
 
nathan luedtke
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The proprietor of the JL Hudson Seedsman Catalog has great material on natives vs. exotics debate, and wrote a book on the subject. Also, the Hudson catalog is something that everyone should go get a copy of and order from. Like now. Go click that link and get a copy.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Hundreds of edible plants grow on this island. Only a few are native. All staples are non native. Camas and a few berries and herbs are about it. Native peoples got most of their food from the water. This area could never support a large population if we were limited to a few roots and berries.
 
Marianne Cicala
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OK - can't help but ask: If people are this crazy about "Natives Only" - are they I mean, if you're going to go full throttle.....GO FULL THROTTLE! If the answer is yes, I would respect that.
I'm 2nd generation American so as far as I'm concerned - if I plant it and it flourishes, it would have been native if given the chance.
 
Len Ovens
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Hundreds of edible plants grow on this island. Only a few are native. All staples are non native. Camas and a few berries and herbs are about it. Native peoples got most of their food from the water. This area could never support a large population if we were limited to a few roots and berries.


Of all the evergreen leaves, cedar while edible tastes the least nice, but the inner bark can be eaten. Oregon grapes are a bit tart, as are thimble berries, but both are usable if treated right. Hazelnuts are native to BC, but I don't know if they have lived on Vancouver Island natively. Eating what comes from the water might work if only people near enough to the water ate it instead of harvesting for the whole of North America. The whole idea of people directly obtaining their food rather than buying it (even the "natives" didn't do that) might make things work better.

If "native only" should be based on what part of it people can eat, then probably what we wear should also be based on what grows natively... no cotton grows here for example. cedar cloth is not the softest and the first nations people jumped on wool when it was introduced. (They used Salmon skin for shoes I hear) I don't know how long the deer would last if there were no cattle though.
 
Andrew Ray
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Jerusalem artichoke is one of 5 plants banned in Slovakia as invasive/noxious weed. I don't have the list at hand right now, and I wish I did, because the other four species that are banned I could not find any information about any sort of usefulness, and some spread easily by waterways or wind. But, AFAIK, Jerusalem artichoke only spreads by its tubers. And I guess it can easily fill a cultivated field, but its not going to spread much beyond that on its own!

According to the law, it is compulsory for a land-owner/user to eradicate any of these plants if he finds them on his property, or else pay a several thousand Euro fine!

I got my Jerusalem artichoke tubers to plant in my field from a policeman in the village, so fortunately respect for this absurd law is low. He has a field of them to feed the wild boars* he hunts.

Personally, I suspect some sort of agri-business conspiracy to keep Jerusalem artichoke out of Slovakia, but who knows...

* there really aren't any totally wild game animals in Slovakia-- the hunters grow wheat and stuff and feed them ridiculously throughout the winter.
 
Stevie Sun
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A little different to most of you im in the uk. There isnt really a set date for native over here, but you do hear people talking about native, naturalised and foreign species.

My personal feeling on the subject us that if a native will do the job I will use it. But diversity is more important.

Where I live all woods are plantations, and many of them less 100 years old. There is near me a beautiful walk up along a tight river valley/gorge which is plantation. Oak plantation mostly. Although not mature (being oak 60 years is young) because it is single species plantation the woodland floor is generally as dead as conifer plantation ive seen, although where the light gets through and there is a better plantation mix there is better diversity.

I tried to copy over a photo as example but my brain cant work out how to do that when I cant grab its url.
 
Bethanny Parker
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Gotta "thumbs down" your comment on non-profits. Yeah - we get it - you don't like non-profits. But what about the for-profits that are producing the herbicides? And, after all, are not all types of business entities elements of our economic ecosystem?


I didn't take his comment about non-profits to be disparaging to non-profits. It seemed like he was just pointing out the irony of so many so-called non-profit organizations appearing to have a very for-profit purpose: pushing the purchase and use of herbicides.
 
Victor Johanson
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nathan luedtke wrote:The proprietor of the JL Hudson Seedsman Catalog has great material on natives vs. exotics debate, and wrote a book on the subject. Also, the Hudson catalog is something that everyone should go get a copy of and order from. Like now. Go click that link and get a copy.


Yes, David Theodoropoulos spoke at sepp holzer's workshop in California (which I attended because I won a ticket here--thanks Paul!) and was quite persuasive, so much so that I bought his book on the subject, "Invasion Biology--Critique of a Pseudoscience (which is unfortunately out of print now, although copies can still be found online). The link you provide - http://www.dtheo.org/NativesVs.Exotics.htm - has a decent overview. He is very effective at debunking most of the hysteria associated with "invasives," and at the workshop stated his strong belief that this issue is being used by the real invasives--government bureaucrats--to push corporate agendas at the expense of personal liberty. The Nazi connection is well documented in his book, along with the penchant of herbicide manufacturers to fund and promote chemical strategies for eradication. Now, instead of a "black list" of plants that are prohibited, it is being proposed to institute a "white list" of permitted plants, all else forbidden. Here in Alaska, the paranoia is full blown. Volunteers are recruited every summer to go around and pull bushels of "weeds" (like dandelion and bird vetch) in a futile attempt to keep the "invaders" at bay. It's surreal. As a seed merchant, he is well acquainted with the gaining momentum of this movement, and foresees a day when the "war on plants" will result in the same kind of results we see with the "war on [some people who do certain] drugs." Maybe the day's coming when the "weed police" will have SWAT teams descending on hapless permaculturists, herbicide sprayers in hand--if it's not already happening.

"Invasion Biology" is just a form of plant racism, no matter how it's dressed up.
 
Sean Henderson
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I like this topic, it is all a matter of perspective and how you look at it. I also get a wrench in my gut when people start talking about native plants. I like
that question that Paul and Toby posed," Native to when?". You could also ask ,"Native to where?" How far does a plant or seed travel until it is non native?
If I have dandelions in my yard and my neighbor does not and the wind blows seeds from my yard into a non-native habitat that is six feet away from their
native habitat. . . . well does that count as non-native? If you consider that the majority of plants have, as their highest purpose, the goal of moving into new
habitats. Look at how many ways plants have to move their seeds, wind, water, fur, boots, animal scat etc. Maybe "invade" is not the word, after all, "invade" is
what humans do and were personify plants. Perhaps "pioneer" is the right word. When I talk to native plant advocates I tell them that "plants Succeed" in every
definition of the word. They succeed by surviving in a new area and they succeed as in a sequence or procession of events. This bush creates shade that allows
this tree to grow, that trees leaves create a soil that allows the next plant in the procession to grow and makes the conditions right for the next plant etc. When I
was in Hawaii, the native plant society in Hawaii was all up in arms about Lantana. Sure people need their fight (i guess) but Hawaii sprang out of the ocean and is
an island surrounded by water. There is not a single native plant on the island. The whole purpose of plants is to go where they have not been.
Plants do not "invade", people invade. Plants Succeed.
 
D. Logan
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We seem to talk a lot about how various other plants are pushing out the valuable native varieties. I think more than any plant, we as humans have pushed the native species out. I remember a few 'at risk' plants from Ohio that grew in great numbers very close to my house. The key was that no one had gone in to disturb that area in decades. I think we like to have a scapegoat for what to blame on the loss of native species or a way to point to others and say 'not me'. In the end, our neatly mowed lawns do more damage than the average non-native species ever could.

A better measure than native vs nonnative would be invasive, but even that has been largely made into a useless term. Many species that adjust perfectly fine and live in harmony with other plants are called invasive, while some plants we actively force into monocultures are every bit as bad or worse for the environment than most invasive species could ever hope to be. One look at cornfields as far as the eye can see is enough to know that as ringing true I believe.

In reality, I think there are only a handful of truly invasive species of plant. Kudzu in warm climates. Bush Honeysuckle. Some varieties of bamboo. In each case, they have some advantage that allows them to create a monoculture. Manmade or natural, a monoculture is pretty universally reviled by most permaculture enthusiasts. I'd really like to see that be the bar set for deciding if a plant should be somewhere or not. Of course, that would mean most of modern ag would fit under my definition of invasive.

Regardless, I think native species are good to have, but at the same time I also think that as long as you don't have a particular plant trying to force a monoculture, then my experience says most plants can get along just fine with one another regardless of their time/place of origin.
 
Len Ovens
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Victor Johanson wrote: Now, instead of a "black list" of plants that are prohibited, it is being proposed to institute a "white list" of permitted plants, all else forbidden.


That is just plain scary. It seems there is an agenda to wipe out life in general. It would be easy to just assign a profit motive, but I am starting to wonder. put this together with the whole anti-biotic industry. It seems as if we are headed for a sterile planet.... for a close up view of what that looks like visit the moon... some of the pictures should be enough. Any white list will be missing some plants that are actually native and may also be required for some of the white listed plants to thrive. Or, to put things another way, other things "man" has already done may already have made it so that the white listed plants can only survive with imported plants in the same space. Some of these things that "man" has done include killing off predators either directly or through decreased habitat or through removing their food source. Also weeding out native "weeds" that imported weeds have replaced. Also nature tries to maintain balance. There are plants that grow only when conditions are just right, such as disturbed earth, change of nutrients in the soil, etc. There will be seeds in the soil almost anywhere that have been waiting for many years for the conditions to be "right"... these would be uncatalogued native plants.

The more you know, the more you know you don't know. Most people don't know that much.
 
Rosa Nutkana
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Q:

What's the only thing more annoying than people who have gravely ravaged landscapes for financial or other personal gain complaining about the pioneer species that recolonize them?

A:

Somewhat well-meaning but woefully under-educated government agencies introducing other "non-native" species to eradicate it!

Here, on the Southern Oregon Coast, we have gorse. It was introduced to Bandon by its founder, Lord Bennet, in the late 1800's. I heard he thought it was an attractive landscape/hedge plant. It definitely makes a great hedge if you want impenetrable fortress of thorny thicket that will be impossible to maintain as just a hedge. Apparently, amongst other undesirable traits, gorse is extremely flammable and reacts to water when ablaze like a grease fire. No bueno. So, Bandon burned down...twice. In Bandon, Ireland, from whence he came, gorse isn't quite as "invasive" as it is here. It gets more sun here = happy, thriving gorse. However, here's the thing. Gorse is a pioneer species. It only grows where land has been cleared. It fixes nitrogen and prepares the soil for whatever is coming next. We have some out on our land. It is eventually shaded out and does not thrive. The conclusion seems logical. Don't clear land unless you have a plan...or gorse will come. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right? Nope. People are constantly clearing land here - for logging, for pasture, to get rid of the gorse. To top it all off, the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, in cooperation with other agencies (you know, in case it all goes awry) have introduced two new species to the area. These "biological control agents", the seed weevil and the spider mite, to "control" gorse and another "invasive", Scotch broom. Just in case you were wondering, that pretty much NEVER WORKS OUT. How can they be sure the seed weevil won't eat the seeds of other plants? Now, only a few years after the introduction of the spider mite, we are finding that they affect madrone trees, and important early source of nectar for bees. Way to go, Oregon Department of Agriculture (and other agencies)!

So, how about we starting thinking long-term, perhaps even several (gasp!) generations ahead, find ways to use these plants for our benefit, and recognize the role that they play in the remediation of ravaged by the people that scorn them so.

/rant

 
Genevieve Higgs
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I agree, non-natives are important in any reasonable future, especially when you consider strategies to mitigate the consequences of climate change

Dale Hodgins wrote:Hundreds of edible plants grow on this island. Only a few are native. All staples are non native. Camas and a few berries and herbs are about it. Native peoples got most of their food from the water. This area could never support a large population if we were limited to a few roots and berries.


BUT look at this list http://northernbushcraft.com/guide.php?ctgy=edible_plants®ion=bc Im not convinced all these are native - but its a bit bigger list than you might think and a quick scan turned up at least a few roots, not just leaves, and there's another whole list of berries, and one of mushrooms....droool
 
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