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Author is unimpressed by permaculturalist views of 'invasive' plants  RSS feed

 
Destiny Hagest
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I'm currently immersed in some other reading, but came across this article today - what are your thoughts on it?

I feel that I still have a lot to learn about the concept of permaculture as a whole, but to me what it entails as far as invasive species are concerned is that the environment tends to correct itself, and these pestilent plants tend to only show up and thrive when there's some sort of ecological deficit, like with mullein and compacted soil. Once the problem has been corrected, the environment is no longer hospitable to the plant, and it dies off on its own.

I plan to come back to this tonight with some grounded, kind commentary on this subject, but I wanted to get some input from my peers here first.

I know parts of this article are a bit confrontational and inflammatory, but if you do comment on it, please do so respectfully. Messages are generally much more well-received when delivered in a positive manner.
 
David Livingston
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I think young Paul had something to say on this issue http://www.permies.com/t/41008/plants/dark-side-native-plant-enthusiasm

David
 
Caleb Skinns
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I like the way Toby puts it.

 
John Weiland
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I hope this doesn't come across as inflammatory, but I really am in the dark about why there seems to be a controversy about invasive versus native plants that can be considered to be separate from invasive versus native animals, including humans. Certainly when mixing occurs, there will be perturbation of ecosystems as has been going on with or without human intervention for thousands of years. And as Paul queried in the linked post above, when and where is the time/history cutoff for considering something native?
 
Russell Olson
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I don't think that author even can comprehend the argument Falk was trying to make. She's very focused on obvious and specific modern day invasive/native situations and examples.
He probably articulated too wide and grand a vision in his response. Perhaps he should have at least began with the specific example they were arguing over and explain how you might design a system with that "invasive" and then move on into permaculture theory.
 
Aaron Festa
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This is an old article that I remember reading a few years back. toby hemenway has some responses in the comment section that are definitely worth the read. I thought Eric Toesnmeier also responded in the comment section but perhaps they have since been deleted. Not sure whether that was his choice or the authors.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Destiny Hagest wrote:I'm currently immersed in some other reading, but came across this article today - what are your thoughts on it?


It strikes me as a statement of beliefs... It purports to quote science, but the bolded-headings seem more like beliefs than rigorous science. For example, my type of science wouldn't say, "Many native fauna are unable to complete their life cycle with nonnative plants." I believe that science would say, "The spotted cucumber beetle produces 10% fewer offspring when browsing on Luffa than an C. maxima." Honest science would also go on to say, "The reproductive rate of the endangered Eastern Kingbird is 350% higher in stands of Tamarisk than in native willows." Or statements of similar nature...

When I go out into the wild-lands and look at ecosystems with my own eyes, I am unable to distinguish species that have been here for a long time from species that are new to the area... Every plant and animal has predators. Every insect and animal eats the other plants and animals in the ecosystem. Any plant that is producing leaves, stems, pollen, or nectar has some species that is using it for food or shelter. I am not able to observe any plant or animal that is alien, or that doesn't belong in the ecosystem. It is impossible for me to observe co-evolution. I observe insects eating plants that have been here for 10,000 years, and I observe insects eating plants that just arrived from Asia. I observe randomness everywhere I look in the natural world. I observe opportunism. I observe every plant and animal providing and using ecosystem services. I observe them constantly changing their relationships with each other.

When I observe stands of "non-native" tamarisk, the biodiversity is through the roof. The flowers are highly favored by the local insect populations. Because of the large amounts of insects, the birds come to take advantage of the extra food. Because the canopy is open, light can penetrate to the ground, so many species of grasses and flowering plants are able to co-exist with the tamarisk. When I observe stands of "native" willows however, they support far fewer species of plants, insects, and birds. The first time I compared the two ecosystems I was astonished about how many more species felt right at home in the tamarisk and how few called the willows home. But, as rich as the species count was in the tamarisk, and as poor as it was in the willows, the overall ecosystem benefited by having both willows and tamarisk.

Also, I am not able to observe mono-cultures of invasive species in the wild-lands around here. An when I see photos from supposed problem areas, every photo that purports to show a mono-culture has other species in it... I am not able to observe whole landscapes overtaken by "invasive" species. I observe a species thriving in a particular micro-environment, and a few feet away I observe other micro-environments that favor other species. I observe hundreds of micro-environments jumbled all over. No plant or animal can occupy every micro-environment, because each species only thrives where it thrives. No species thrives everywhere.

I didn't read Falk’s article, but I would fully join him if he "denied the entire concept of invasiveness,".

As far as I can tell, no poisoning/burning/quarantine campaign has ever been successful in a continental ecosystem, so we might as well stop wasting the money.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, I am growing somewhere around 130 species in my vegetable garden. There are hundreds more species growing in the wild-lands of my farm. It would be impossible for me to do the research to determine which ones were living here ten years ago, or 500 years ago, or 10,000 years ago, or 100,000 years ago. It's impossible for me to do the research to even identify the species that are growing. So my strategy is that if it is living on my farm today then it is native and is welcome. If some plant or animal arrives on my farm tomorrow and it survives then it is likewise native and is welcome.





 
Destiny Hagest
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I knew I'd learn something if I posted this here - thank you all for pointing me in the right direction, very interesting perspectives, especially the Native to When? concept.

Invasive definitely seems to be a relative term.
 
Aaron Peretz
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Aaron Festa wrote:This is an old article that I remember reading a few years back. Toby Hemenway has some responses in the comment section that are definitely worth the read. I thought Eric Toesnmeier also responded in the comment section but perhaps they have since been deleted. Not sure whether that was his choice or the authors.


Wow I just spent an hour reading some of Toby's responses and overall discussion happening in the comment section that is the real gem of this article fascinating discussion happening down there.
 
Dillon Nichols
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As far as the article she's responding to goes, as much as I'm an admirer of Ben Falk's work/writing, I didn't think that much of his arguments in this case. And I didn't think much of Sue Reeds arguments either... The two sides here seem a little bit too black and white to me; expecting people to use nothing but native species is obviously a pipe dream shared by only a few, but surely there is room for some caution when it comes to introducing new things to a region?

As Aaron mentioned, the comments thread there is gold, though.

Destiny Hagest wrote:
to me what it entails as far as invasive species are concerned is that the environment tends to correct itself, and these pestilent plants tend to only show up and thrive when there's some sort of ecological deficit, like with mullein and compacted soil. Once the problem has been corrected, the environment is no longer hospitable to the plant, and it dies off on its own.


This is certainly the case with lots of invasives, but the exceptions(like Kudzu and English Ivy, as mentioned in the linked discussion) are both the most problematic and the most interesting, especially when you start asking that 'native to when' question you mentioned. Douglas Fir, as I understand it, had to make its way back up the coast after the ice-age, so it's 'only' been here a few thousand years, and it's fairly plain that since the european colonization the doug fir is annexing much of the former oak/camas areas that were previously kept clear by the natives using fire. It's a tremendously versatile tree, given that I see it competing with arbutus and oak in some areas, pine in others, and cedar in yet others. Each of these species can tolerate more of something than doug fir can, but the doug seems far more versatile, and in the long term looked like it will be pushing the competitors out of all but their most ideal growing conditions. So, is doug fir invasive?


Toby Hemenway wrote:An examination of many “invasives” shows that nearly all are playing similar roles of healing.

This is something I try hard to remember. When I was a child, I made pocket money exterminating the Scotch Broom on this property. Then I grew up and became interested in permaculture and realized I wiped out a nitogren fixing colonist plant that the poor soils really could have used...


Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I am unable to distinguish species that have been here for a long time from species that are new to the area... Every plant and animal has predators. Every insect and animal eats the other plants and animals in the ecosystem. Any plant that is producing leaves, stems, pollen, or nectar has some species that is using it for food or shelter. I am not able to observe any plant or animal that is alien, or that doesn't belong in the ecosystem.


Joseph, as usual I found your post insightful and thought-provoking. However, I do feel that(in my area, at least) there are some notable exceptions to the picture you paint, where you get a single species that can drastically reshape an entire ecosystem. Often this may be a creature that does NOT have a predator. Perhaps one will evolve... but that's a pretty slow corrective measure on the human timeline! Invasive fish that wipe out every other species in the lake, the pine beetle that has killed so much forest that you can't really fathom it except from the air or sat pics... Bullfrogs that eat everything in sight.... The plant examples are maybe less drastic, but I'd still feel like an asshole if I was the person that introduced something like japanese knotweed to a region. These exceptions in my opinion can and do make a region a less diverse, less robust, less pleasant place.


That said, I really don't worry about the broad area impact of me personally planting things from far and wide, as long as the species(not cultivar) is already present somewhere in my general area. This has been the case for literally every plant that I have sought out thus far, as there are lots of permaculture folks enthusiastically spreading the things that I am interested in... I figure if seabuckthorn is going to run rampant and destroy the island, it's going to do so even without my help, since it's already here. I do consider if it's likely to take over my personal soil, and I find that the things I'd rather not have on MY land are almost always the same things that I'd rather not have on my neighbours land or in public spaces... so, as soon as my neighbours and their neighbours start sharing my taste in plants, it should all work out fine!


Looking at the bcinvasives site, there are many plants I am familiar with, and many of these are present on our land. Most of them are non-issues in my opinion. They've been here decades at the least, but so have we, and we're used to them. They are successful but not so rampant that they take over the whole landscape, and they really don't pose much bother. Many serve multiple valuable functions.

There are also a few that we consider problem plants, as they WILL cause major hassle to us and reshape the land in ways we really don't want. To be clear, we object to them on practical grounds, not moral or theoretical. To be specific, Japanese knotweed is NOT a fun gardening companion, strangling your crops, spreading across massive distances with underground runners, and regrowing amazingly fast. English Ivy will gradually carpet an area and completely smother/pull down the trees, if left to itself. Canada thistle makes meadows very unpleasant to walk in. Daphne has toxic sap and while it's very new here it seems to be spreading VERY aggressively in the undergrowth. These ones we fight, tooth and nail, shovel and flame!
 
William James
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I believe that what English Ivy "wants" is more dead biomass on the forest floor, and to a forest that can be beneficial.
So, a question like "what comes after English Ivy in succession"? might be more useful.

I also think there are places where you should let succession have its way (native and non-native), and there are places (like a vegetable garden) where you don't want succession to take place (as much, you might still want perennial vegetables).
It's all about being appropriate to place and time.

Usually the invasive discussing gets pulled out when someone wants to "do something" in a particular space but is inhibited by the plants that are there, minding their own business.

Plants live, die, get crowded out, overpopulate themselves, etc, etc, etc. It's what nature does.
General, sweeping declarations expressing universal truths about plants is a little misguided at best. There is still a lot to be understood about how the natural world works.
William
 
Russell Olson
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Just add onto what William has said, it might be useful if people have examples, or even better photos of their "favorite" invasives succumbing to succession.
I've seen buckthorn on my property growing to maturity and dying off under a thick canopy of native boxelder, which will likely die in the next 30-50 years and leave space for other taller hardwoods like oak or walnut.
 
Neil Layton
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This one is a mess, and I can see it's a mess.

Okay, parallels have been drawn between objections to non-native species and objections to migrant humans (often xenophobic, even racist, in nature). I do think everyone needs to avoid giving conceptual succour to the racists, but I think this is best done by explicitly separating the two issues. "Think very carefully before planting Russian olive" is NOT the same as "throw out all the Muslims"!

Most of us can't see, by simple observation, which native and recent colonist species support a balanced ecosystem. An ecologist, with the right tools, is another matter, and I'm inclined to accept the science on the matter.

That said, most of the plants we grow as food in our gardens are not "native" species. I grow species in my garden whose wild relatives are not found around here, and are often on different continents, and I have no problem with that.

On the other hand, and this is important, a tiny minority of species planted by permies are dispersive, opportunistic species likely to create local monocultures when (not if - when) they escape. A plant overshadowed in a forest garden by the design of the patch may not be overshadowed on a stream bank outside it. This list is not a long one, at least by comparison with the number of species we have moved around, and may vary from locality to locality: I'd have no problem with Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) here, but I know it can be highly opportunistic elsewhere - mainly in places where it is not a native species. Around here it's a common, but not problematic species, although that is not the case elsewhere even in Scotland (the Scottish government prohibits sowing the stuff). Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is another matter (even here you aren't allowed to sow that either). Both of these are native species, but are downright opportunistic, not to mention a fire risk, but they fix nitrogen and do have wildlife value.

It is, I emphasise, a minority of such species, but you need to know what they are. There are any number of examples around the world where such introductions have absolutely NOT resulted in the sort of natural corrections Destiny Hagest alludes to (think about rabbits in Australia for an extreme example). Even where you can find examples of this happening you cannot be sure the same will happen where you are, or a few hundred metres down the road where you are not monitoring and managing.

The problem is that some of the properties that make these plants particularly useful, such as the ability to fix nitrogen (such as broom, or Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)) are precisely those features that allow them to become opportunistic monocultures elsewhere.

I don't think anyone is advocating abandoning non-native species, but that we need to be very careful when selecting potentially dispersive species, of which the majority are more likely to be non-native species. At some point I'm going to have to make decisions about Russian olive because, whatever its benefits, I don't want to be responsible for it getting loose. Equally, I have a long list of non-native species I am happy to plant, but I want to think about them on a case-by-case basis.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I just read the whole schwack. Phew.
Wow I just spent an hour reading some of Toby's responses and overall discussion happening in the comment section that is the real gem of this article fascinating discussion happening down there.
I completely agree. There is even a post by Ben Falk just a few days ago (Feb 29th/'16), but it pales in comparison to Hemenway's multiple works in the comments section. The proponents of the "invasive plant's bad" (I will not try to call them Nativists or some other term, because their main goal is trying to stop the spread of extreme invasive species), also have some very strong arguments that are very well thought out. While I would love to agree with Joseph Lofthouse above (since generally I do) I think that it is very important to read as much of both sides of the issue, since the intelligence of those who we often disagree with is a source of potential wisdom for us. We can never assume that we know everything (especially when nature is concerned), and I'm not saying that Falk, Hemenway, and (J. Lofthouse in this thread) are doing that, but it may very well be that a bit more caution is actually needed by permaculture instructors, bloggers, and and article writers, when dealing with such issues, and spreading the love of permaculture.

 
Destiny Hagest
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I agree that the biggest problem with this discussion is that there are just a lot of generalizing, blanket statements being made. I think what Toby said what spot on - whenever possible, always use a native plant first, but understand that the term native is relative, and if the environment calls for something different, introduce something else with care as is needed.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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and if the environment calls for something different, introduce something else with care as is needed.
I just wanted to point this out, just so people had an idea of the balancing that Toby tried to do, and was accepted by the 'other side' of the debate.
“when it comes to practice: anyone who plants a shade-tolerate vine in a climate with warm-season rainfall is, if nothing else, being incredibly rude, politically naive, and asking for trouble, even if no harmful ecological consequences come of it. It’s a stupid thing to do for many reasons. The shade-tolerant vines are potentially the most damaging exotics to forests of almost any age. Get your kiwis at the store. Plant a grape.”

-Toby Hemenway, in the comments section of the original linked article.

 
duane hennon
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asian carp
pythons in everglades
emerald ash borer
brown stinkbug
bradford pear
house sparrows
starlings
feral pigs

but this would be most problematic if it occurred today

http://www.livescience.com/53877-t-rex-was-invasive-species.html

T. Rex Was Likely an Invasive Species

 
Jo Hunter-Adams
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What an interesting discussion-- I agree the comments that follow the article are particularly interesting.

I feel like it makes sense to take things out of the abstract-for-all-time (permaculture is not a cult, after all), and into practical examples (as Toby Hemenway does a few times in his responses to the article). My examples: (1) I live on an acre of land with lots of acacia saligna, one of the most hated invasives in my area. My neighbours keep telling me to cut them all down and poison them, but then I wouldn't have any wind break for my fruit and nut trees. And my soil is basically beach sand, so anything I can do to add biomass seems good. Plus they are nitrogen fixing. I'm careful to coppice every year (okay, this is only the second year) and prevent them from going to seed so that my neighbors are unaffected, and I'm hoping gradually the acacia saligna lose their advantage over other trees as the land matures (partly because of the biomass they're bringing-- and it's pretty massive amounts of leaves and branches). That said, I might be wrong, in which case I feel like I won't have lost much, and can regroup and ask for more advice.

(2) The land also came with a concrete reservoir (about 4m diameter), which I'm thinking of resealing to hold water before our rain begins for the year. Once it's sealed and collecting water, I want to use it to raise tilapia, and give our ducks a much bigger space to swim in. I also am seriously considering stopping by the nearby river and grabbing some water hyacinth to add to the reservoir. Water hyacinth is another hated plant here, because of the way it clogs waterways. But it's already extremely widespread and I think it may allow me to get the pond ecosystem started much more cheaply and easily, while I try to source other types of reeds that might suit the reservoir. It's a bit different from the first example, because while water hyacinth is widespread, it is not on our small farm just yet-- I would be intentionally bringing it in and feel like I can easily remove it as mulch as needed. My major hesitation is whether I'd be furthering its spread to nearby waterways.

Which is to say, I think we all try various options carefully, with lots of thought about our actual circumstances and whether it would help to forward our overall goals for the property as well as the natural environment-- which for us involve trying to get as much food as possible in a way that improves the land over time.
 
Neil Layton
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Okay, shall we try this one as an exercise, so we can see what might go wrong and how we might be able to avoid it?

Jo Hunter-Adams wrote:
(1) I live on an acre of land with lots of acacia saligna, one of the most hated invasives in my area. My neighbours keep telling me to cut them all down and poison them, but then I wouldn't have any wind break for my fruit and nut trees. And my soil is basically beach sand, so anything I can do to add biomass seems good. Plus they are nitrogen fixing. I'm careful to coppice every year (okay, this is only the second year) and prevent them from going to seed so that my neighbors are unaffected, and I'm hoping gradually the acacia saligna lose their advantage over other trees as the land matures (partly because of the biomass they're bringing-- and it's pretty massive amounts of leaves and branches). That said, I might be wrong, in which case I feel like I won't have lost much, and can regroup and ask for more advice.


Okay, the thing that would worry me here would be the plants going to seed and it turning into a bigger problem, especially if someone else less inclined to do regular pruning ended up taking over the land, or if it ended up abandoned for some reason. In the short to medium term, provided you don't let the seeds mature you should be okay but, if you want to keep your windbreak you might want to think about slowly replacing the acacia with something else. I'm not going to make suggestions, because it would depend on where you are. The acacia will only lose competitive advantage if you keep pruning them heavily. Once that stops, they are more likely to become a pest.

In other words, I advise being very careful. In many jurisdictions, planting acacia is illegal.

Jo Hunter-Adams wrote:
(2) The land also came with a concrete reservoir (about 4m diameter), which I'm thinking of resealing to hold water before our rain begins for the year. Once it's sealed and collecting water, I want to use it to raise tilapia, and give our ducks a much bigger space to swim in. I also am seriously considering stopping by the nearby river and grabbing some water hyacinth to add to the reservoir. Water hyacinth is another hated plant here, because of the way it clogs waterways. But it's already extremely widespread and I think it may allow me to get the pond ecosystem started much more cheaply and easily, while I try to source other types of reeds that might suit the reservoir. It's a bit different from the first example, because while water hyacinth is widespread, it is not on our small farm just yet-- I would be intentionally bringing it in and feel like I can easily remove it as mulch as needed. My major hesitation is whether I'd be furthering its spread to nearby waterways.


Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is bad news, and very hard to get rid of once established. Again, it's often illegal to introduce it, for good reasons. If it's in an isolated tank, it should be okay, but there are better options.

My suggestion if you want to cover your pond with something that floats would be Chinese lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), although this could also become opportunistic (but much less so than water hyacinth). All parts are, I think, edible. There are loads of other edible water plants, but much will depend on whether your tank is sheer sided. Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis), which is edible, is a nice sedge. There are several others.
 
Jo Hunter-Adams
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Thanks so much for taking the time to reply!

I guess that's my point- considering specific examples and considering that we're in totally different climates, and that I'm dealing with very hands-on management of just one acre, rather than many acres-- I think these things matter a lot, as much as the actual species. Though I may not have been as clear on these points as I meant to be. I'm absolutely slowly making plans for a food forest that has fewer and fewer acacia (and have been planting South African acacia varieties-- now called Senegalensia I think-- to this end), but to get rid of it on arrival would leave the plot with essentially nothing but sand and sourfig, and mean a much slower process of getting biomass and protecting the trees I do want. Hence the slow process of repeated coppicing etc. Here in South Africa, acacia saligna is not illegal if you're growing it for a purpose of some kind. And we do have rust fungus here on the plot (introduced in South Africa to control acacia saligna) so if we left (it should be noted we are NOT cultivating the acacia-- it was what we had on the plot when we arrived) that would have some impact. Again, I think it's super important that I'm on a 1 acre, residential plot (I think I originally said i was on 1 acre but not that it's surrounded by a few other 1 acre plots, and then much denser settlement). If we were to have to leave, it's likely our plot would become a much denser settlement for people-- there wouldn't be food growing here.

I agree, the second example is a much stronger caution-- because of the broader impact on other places rather than the lack of benefit for me-- which is why I'm thinking long and hard and asking for lots of perspectives. I'm looking for other species at nurseries etc, but there are very very few water plants in the nurseries-- mainly a species of water lilly, which is super expensive. So again, the context seems to be the key thing here. I guess I differ from you in that I'd also be cautious of the "water hyacinth is bad news" approach. It's already widespread so I wouldn't be introducing it (and I agree it's causing an awful mess on the waterways). It's not illegal so I'm respecting laws here. It's edible and in a small, well-confined (residential) area. I only have one small reservoir surrounded by hot, dry, sand, and it's already in the waterways a few km from here. It aerates the water. It's food for ducks and fish. There isn't much else available. I desperately need biomass on my plot, and it may just provide a niche for a while.
 
Scott Stiller
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I have dedicated two acres to invasive plants I love. I let them run wild and harvest what I need. Sunchokes, horseradish, blackberries and comfrey all fit the bill. Then there are hops, strawberries, and Egyptian walking onions that aren't invasive but I don't have to give them much care. I grow wine cap mushrooms too. I planted them all near the tops of the hills. When they drop their spores they can be caught by the wind or water and transported to a new spot to grow. I realize that not everyone has some room to spare. I do hope this can be of help to someone.
 
Neil Layton
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Scott Stiller wrote:I have dedicated two acres to invasive plants I love. I let them run wild and harvest what I need. Sunchokes, horseradish, blackberries and comfrey all fit the bill. Then there are hops, strawberries, and Egyptian walking onions that aren't invasive but I don't have to give them much care. I grow wine cap mushrooms too. I planted them all near the tops of the hills. When they drop their spores they can be caught by the wind or water and transported to a new spot to grow. I realize that not everyone has some room to spare. I do hope this can be of help to someone.


Third Edit: the be nice edition.

With respect, this is the kind of thing giving us a bad name. If you are growing plants that are known to be invasive in your area, you need to be managing them intensively. If you don't, then these are the conditions under which they are more likely to become a problem off site.

If you have an area you can't manage, maybe it's worth converting it to zone 5, or attempting to grow new strains using a total and utter neglect system: http://permaculturenews.org/2014/11/08/permaculture-profit-stun-system-sheer-total-utter-neglect/
 
Lorenzo Costa
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First of all sorry cause I haven't read through all the discussion but I think it could be interesting to have someone share some insight on this book: Behind the war on invasive species by Tao Orion
I've got it, but I've been caught up with a lot of reading and having some deadlines I have to respect, but I guess we could hear if someone has read it and can share some idea's that Tao Orion discusses in the book
Coming to think of it we could have a promotion of the book here at permies and discuss directly with the author. really sharing my thoughts in realtime here
I'll hear from the author and keep you posted if we get to have the promotion of the book on permies.com
 
Neil Layton
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Lorenzo Costa wrote:First of all sorry cause I haven't read through all the discussion but I think it could be interesting to have someone share some insight on this book: Behind the war on invasive species by Tao Orion
I've got it, but I've been caught up with a lot of reading and having some deadlines I have to respect, but I guess we could hear if someone has read it and can share some idea's that Tao Orion discusses in the book
Coming to think of it we could have a promotion of the book here at permies and discuss directly with the author. really sharing my thoughts in realtime here
I'll hear from the author and keep you posted if we get to have the promotion of the book on permies.com


I haven't read this book (it would require me to buy it or for my local library to buy it or haul it out of the national stacks for me, but if the author is confident of her thesis and wants to send me a review copy I can let you know what I think of it), but I have just read The New Wild - Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation by Fred Pearce, and my review is here: http://www.permies.com/t/53346/books/Wild-Invasive-Species-Nature-Salvation#451474.

Spoiler: I was not impressed.
 
Scott Stiller
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Hi Neil, thanks for being nice. Paul and Sepp recommend growing Sunchokes. Horseradish gets leggy if left alone. I harvest the outer edges of the horseradish so it never gets out of hand. I never let my comfrey flower and go to seed. I do propogate it by root cuttings and plant it around my fruit trees. The blackberries were already there. No need to fight that tasty invasive. The only way to fight it would be with round up and that's never going to happen.
This part that I've dedicated to these plants is an energy company right of way. It took several months to get the power company off this land with their poison sprays. Now I manage it. With the wide creeks, woodlands, and bordering properties that get sprayed there is no way these plants could escape my borders.
Thanks for your reply.
 
Neil Layton
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Lorenzo Costa wrote:First of all sorry cause I haven't read through all the discussion but I think it could be interesting to have someone share some insight on this book: Behind the war on invasive species by Tao Orion
I've got it, but I've been caught up with a lot of reading and having some deadlines I have to respect, but I guess we could hear if someone has read it and can share some idea's that Tao Orion discusses in the book
Coming to think of it we could have a promotion of the book here at permies and discuss directly with the author. really sharing my thoughts in realtime here
I'll hear from the author and keep you posted if we get to have the promotion of the book on permies.com


UPDATE: I have now read it and reviewed it: http://www.permies.com/t/48782/books/War-Invasive-Species-Tao-Orion#461753

I wasn't wildly impressed, but you can read my review.
 
r ranson
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Having read the article (and deliberately not yet read this thread so not to be biased by your great replies), I have to say I'm not impressed.

The author talks about something I've been concerned about for many years, the unmanaged import of invasive species.

Living on an island off the coast of North America, I can look out my window and see the changes wrought by invasive plants and animals. The effect of European plants on our ecosystem has been intense. It's important to note that most of these plants did not become invasive 'naturally'. Scotch broom (actually from Spain, via the Sandwich Islands), alters the chemical structure of the soil, which kills off the native oak meadows. The three plants brought to woo the wife of an absentee miner, did not spread as rapidly as most naturalists assume. It wasn't until the local brewery ran out of hops and needed something to bitter their beer. Broom flowers and/or shoots made a good substitute, so they encouraged the plant to grow in as many locations as humanly possible. Thus, the invasive problem of scotch broom was created.

The dozen examples of invasive species I can see out my window, convince me that it is important to understand and manage imported species. The author seems to agree with me, but hides the core of the argument in the middle of the article:

... the great harm that can result when certain practitioners plant and advocate for the planting of species with the ability to spread far beyond one person’s garden or farm. Such plants can overwhelm local plant communities, often on a massive scale, replacing diverse assemblages of coevolved species with biologically unstable near monocultures.


Personally, I think this is an important issue and one that would be good to address. However, instead of stopping there, the author forms rhetorical conclusions that aren't sufficiently supported.

The consequences of these conversions—besides the increased use of herbicides and the need for ever-greater management efforts from already overtaxed farmers, municipalities, conservation agencies, and other land stewards—include, among other things, the alteration of hydrological cycles and water quality, changes in wildfire frequencies and intensities, and the degradation of aquatic habitats as a result of soil erosion


It doesn't look like rhetoric at first glance. It's intended to show us the 'obvious' conclusion from the prior quote (one follows the other in the text). The author shows insufficient evidence to say with certainty that this is the only and obvious conclusion from growing of non-native species. Besides, it deliberately attacks at the heart of what permaculture holds dear: herbicides, more hands-on management instead of self-sustaining ecosystems, harm to food production, making things harder for land stewards, water quality, and other ecological disasters. But it is not shown that one thing (these ecological disasters) is what follows from the other (a permaculture food forest). It is a deliberately sloppy assumption based on similar (but not the same) situations.

The author over generalizes and takes popular examples of what mismanaged invasives species do to an ecosystem, then applies it to permaculture practices. This shows, one a blatant disrespect for the reader, and two, gross twisting of the facts to suit the author's end. It is not a sound (having relevance to reality) or even a valid (being internally logically consistent) argument, it's not an argument at all, it's rhetoric.

Which is a damn shame, because if the author didn't word it so aggressively, we could see the good points that are brought up.

As it is, I wonder who the author is writing to. The frequent use of the word permaculture makes me think that it's written for people like us, but the content, makes me understand that it's written for the permaculture-curious. By bludgeoning the reader on the head with all these 'dangers' of a food forest, it makes the reader think, 'oh, well if permaculture is like that, then it certainly doesn't fit with my values'.

Another complaint about this article is the poor choice of quotes and support. If one has to fill the quote with "..." then I immediately get suspicious.

Reed writes, “[Permaculturists] promote using several . . . .invasive plants [in addition to hardy kiwi], including autumn olive . . . and oriental bittersweet. . . . What about native plants and insects? What about harm to native ecosystems?”


What was removed? Was the author unable to find a better quote that supports their position? Why couldn't they find a better quote? Is there something wrong with their position that they could not find better support for it or were they too lazy to keep looking for a better quote?



No. I think it's a pity that this article is written like it is. It would be far more productive to focus on how permaculture tools, when properly employed, can be used to limit the damaged of invasive species.

I would much rather read a cautionary tale for the first time food forester, that helps them understand the importance of thinking things through before importing species. Is there a local plant that does the same job, only better? Is there enough balance is the design to prevent one plant from taking over and transforming the food forest into a monoculture? Does the food forester understand how these different plants interact with each other? Does the food forester understand that what works in one location, will act differently in their part of the world, and do they understand the need for continued observation and possible maintenance of their system?

If we're going to have an article about invasive species in permaculture, that's the type of thing I would want to read. One that acknowledges the dangers of invasive species and directly correlates these dangers to the human mismanagement. Displays this problem, then offers solutions for moving forward.



 
r ranson
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Thanks for joining in Jamie.

I personally feel invasiveness of a plant (or other species) needs to be taken into account when designing any garden (be it herb garden, kitchen garden, food forest, or other). I hope that permaculture can provide a framework that not only limits the potential damage from invasive species; but also, gives us a tool for repairing damage already done.

That said, I think this particular article is not written in a way that encourages a solution. It's too obviously biased. Good points are raised about the dangers of invasive species, but they are lost in... well, see my above post. This article is damaging both sides of the debate. Like you say, it creates a knee-jerk reaction with its attack on permaculture, which can reduce our interest in avoiding invasive species, and it scares off the permaculture-curious by tieing in the movement with environmental degradation. I don't see how this kind of writing can help people understand the issue AND move towards a solution.


The topic of invasiveness is a very difficult one. There are a lot of different ideas and opinions on what to do. I feel by talking about it, we can work together to find a solution (if one is needed - I don't know). Thank goodness we are talking about it on a forum that has Publishing Standards.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jamie Chevalier wrote: Nowhere does he address any actual case. Nowhere does he discuss or acknowledge the intricate communities of co-evolved pollinators and plants that literally cannot live without one another. No specifics, no facts, no cases, no suggestions for safeguarding systems that have coevolved over thousands of years.


Maybe you can start a thread to discuss these things?

 
Mick Fisch
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I'm still a newbie, so point it out to me if get something wrong.

The author tarred the entire permaculture movement with a single brush. This was unjust. I was tempted to label him a 'nativist' and write him off. He did have a point though that I think is valid and needs to be addressed.

In permaculture we want plants that can take care of themselves. The whole idea of permaculture is that we set up a mini-ecosystem that can function successfully with as little input/adjustment from us as possible. This requires plants that don't need a lot of mollycoddling.

This desire for plants that can successfully compete, plus the fact that pemaculture isn't really a 'native plant' movement naturally provides the possibility that we will plant something from elsewhere that competes too well. Once an invasive species is widespread in an ecosystem, you can't really get the genie back into the bottle. The results can be catastrophic. Think cane toads in australia, kudzu in the southern US, dutch elm disease in the US. I believe the first two of those disasterous decisions were made by government 'experts' who were, sadly, wrong.

I think permaculturalist are actually more likely to introduce a problem if they aren't careful simply because we plant large numbers and a large variety of plants, sometimes undomesticated/semi-domesticated non-native plants.

The general native/ invader plant argument is in my mind a little too rigorous. If something has been in an area for 2 - 300 years and hasn't upset the apple cart, it's probably not going to. Most plants/animals that are introduced to an area either die out or find a niche and quietly become part of the community. A small minority become a problem, once in a while a major problem. Because of the high stakes involved when a species becomes invasive, a new introduction is always a bit of a gamble.

The real problem is not a permaculture problem, it is an informational problem. When I tried to look up thelikelihood of hardy kiwi or autumnberry (two specific species mentioned in the article) becoming invasive I found a lot of authoritative statements with not a lot of really useful information.

What I wanted was:
1) where (location and environmental settings) and by whom has the plant been found to be invasive
2) where (location and environmental settings) and by whom has the plant been found to be ok
3) best guesses on the triggers that enable this particular species to become invasive.

Does the plant take over bare ground, take over forests? Is it going to move into a corn field or is the annual plowing going to keep it out. Give me something to work with. Don't just say "invasive in Pensylvania".

I have a friend who wanted to farm tilapia in his greenhouse in Alaska. He investigated it and found that it's against the law to farm non-native species of fish in Alaska. The law was too general. In the case of a warm water fish like tilapia there really isn't a danger of them surviving more than about 10 minutes in the Alaskan ecosystem. The other problem is that sometimes a species can be native in one part of the state and cause problems when it gets over the mountains to a new area, even though it's part of the larger 'system' (state). An example is pike, a native north of the Alaska Range, but since some idiot hauled some over the mountains, they have been spreading like crazy and wiping out the trout in south-central Alaska, where pike aren't native.

Summarizing: 1) once an invasive species is widespread in an ecosystem, you can't really get the genie back into the bottle.
2) information, rather than generic statements are what is really needed. You aren't going to keep everything out, identify what you really do need to keep out, and why. An informed population is a better, more comprehensive defense than simple authoritative thunderings from some government or environmentalist office.




 
Tyler Ludens
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I've seen people complain that permaculturists focus too much on natives. I guess you just can't win!
 
Jamie Chevalier
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Thank-you Mick for your comment and yes to both points. But I want to emphasize that we often don't know what is "upsetting the apple cart", unless it is on a very macro scale.

Somehow I am surprised to find so much emphasis in the permaculture press about the human scale when the original vision is supposed to be of a whole system. I just don't see much evidence that many practitioners know or care about the vast majority of organisms that we don't see but that are crucial to the fabric of the system. The soil chemistry is guided and created by plants. The pheromones in the air that convene insect communities and thus birds and mammals are released by plants. The bacteria and fungi that create conditions for every other living thing are orchestrated by plants. And sunlight, the precious source of energy for life, is controled by whatever plant that has competed its way to the top layer. So when kudzu takes over our homes and barns, we notice. When vinca takes over a streambank, or star thistle takes over a hillside, cutting off the light for hundreds of native lilies and other native flowers and herbs, who notices? People see only that it is "green and lush". They simply don't see that a complex and diverse community has become a monoculture. They don't see what is missing--possibly lost forever.

That is why Aldo Leopold said in the 1930's that to be informed about local biological systems is "to live alone in a world of wounds."
 
Mick Fisch
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Jamie, The reality is that nature is not really in balance. It's always in adjustment as things change, more rain, hotter, colder, disease. We do the best we can, but as you noted, we don't see most of what is happening.

There are only a couple of alternative courses of action I can see.
1) Move forward, do the best we can, learn, observe and realize we won't get it right every time, but be open to changing course when we see a problem.
2) Hide, whimpering in a corner (a melodramatic way of saying, allow yourself to be immobilized by your lack of perfect knowledge).

I can't help change things, by existing I change the system to a small degree.

I choose to do my best, realizing that, like nature, I am never going to have it exactly right, because everything is in adjustment. My hope is that I get to where only small adjustments are needed.

Back to the introducing plants discussion, I am less concerned about introducing a new plant if there are some already growing a few hundred miles away in a similar environment and have been there a while. My thinking is that the first introduction was a kind of field test.

Tyler, I agree, we can't win because we can't be all things to all people. I guess, like the old song says "you see, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself".
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jamie Chevalier wrote: So when kudzu takes over our homes and barns, we notice. When vinca takes over a streambank, or star thistle takes over a hillside, cutting off the light for hundreds of native lilies and other native flowers and herbs, who notices? People see only that it is "green and lush". They simply don't see that a complex and diverse community has become a monoculture. They don't see what is missing--possibly lost forever.



Can you see a solution to the problem of the general public not understanding ecosystems? I guess what I'm asking is, besides us sort of complaining amongst ourselves about what some other people may or may not be doing "right," is there something we can be doing?

 
Curtis Budka
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I'm trying to think of an invasive as an indicator. If a group of people invade your country, they probably want something that your country has. If a plant invades an ecosystem, it 'wants' something from that ecosystem. But since plants have no cognitive abilities, it does what it is genetically programmed to do: grow, reproduce, die. The same effect can be seen with diseases, bacteria, viruses, cancer, the human body, ect.

Climates, ecosystems, weather patterns, grazing patterns, food chains, genetics, ect. are constantly shifting, changing, dieing, and growing. It might not seem like it, since humans tend to not live all that long. But a few plants taking over a few acres is peanuts. A few plants taking over several hundred acres is only a slightly bigger deal. So... For anyone to have the audacity to assume that they know enough about an area to call a plant native is, IMO, incompetent on the subject.

Nature does just fine without us. Permaculture is about making it do better. Until we can accept that the only static thing in the universe is the concept of math, we aren't getting anywhere.
 
paul wheaton
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I see permaculture as replacing non-native mono crops.

And the anti non-native people see permaculture as not being anti non-native people. Like them. So rather than attacking the Growers of non-native mono crops they seem to go after the permaculture people who are growing a lot of native species. Perhaps they think that they have a better chance of convincing a permaculture person to grow purely native plants. The real kicker is when the anti non-native person does this they are eating from the non-native mono crops. The eating habits of the anti non-native person violates their own standards.
 
Chris MacCarlson
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One of my favorite things about the permaculture movement (and I'm a skeptic to the core) is that it encourages a stewardship ethic of intentional diversity that has been lost in modern agricultural and environmental movements. Instead viewing the human dominated landscape as a wasteland (environmentalists) or a raw material (agriculture) permaculture encourages a movement back toward the Edenic vision of woman in her garden, where the fruits are sacred and the bees and beasts are close cousins.

That said, I believe that we have a duty to be stewards of places where humans don't live, as well. These wild landscapes, filled with diversity unto themselves, deserve consideration when we plan human landscapes.

Certain species are bad actors in certain natural settings. Period. When creating intentionally diverse food forests, permaculturists ought to be intentional about the plants they choose, to protect the diversity of the landscape they are a part of.

 
Rick Valley
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Alas, I live in an area (the Willamette of Oregon) where we are positively infested with non-native species. And spreading. The problem is, so many people are promoting this, thru their cash inputs into the system. The Willamette is home of some of the most threatened plant communities in the state, and the primary habitat conversion is to AGRICULTURE. I am putting out an urgent plea to all who are reading this: I ask you to boycott these foods, and beverages that contain them. Hops (Humulis) European Wine Grapes, Soft white wheat, Apples, Pears, and seed crops such as beets, chard, cole crops, Pears, Berries such as blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry. Sweet Cherry, and of course lawn grasses of many species. (Bet you'll find that one the easiest to eschew!) It is not merely habitat loss; do you realize that apple (Malus domestica) can hybridize with our native Malus fusca? our noble native could be genetically swamped by alien genes, and our strain of the Western Crab Apple could be no more.
I do take great offense that someone would be so ill-informed as to say that "kudzu... is an exception" an INVASIVE plant that is not controllable. It is perfectly controllable. (i.e. you can make bank off of control of it)So curious that a plant which was brought in to save the South from soil depletion and is used as a key crop in farms, should be so demonized. And all WHILE THE USA imports medicines (incl. for alcoholism) fabrics, and foods (the best tempura starch) worth gazillions of dollars every year because we, who should be leading the world in Kudzu production instead pay Monsanto and others to make poisons to be used on it.
"don't kill all of the rabbits- they are part of the new dreaming"
 
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