• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • paul wheaton
  • Burra Maluca
stewards:
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Miles Flansburg
  • Devaka Cooray
garden masters:
  • Dave Burton
  • Anne Miller
  • Daron Williams
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Joseph Lofthouse
  • James Freyr
  • Bryant RedHawk

the dark side of native plant enthusiasm  RSS feed

 
Posts: 250
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Stopping regrowth is the single biggest problem of the cleanup process. Mostly the goal is to leave the root structure in place to minimize soil disturbance. But yes it leaves a location for new problems to colonize. The single biggest mistake was not allowing enough time in the planning to kill regrowth. The original grants to work on it had them killing the trees in year 1 and planting new ones in year 2. I don't know anyone who has been successfully able to do that in that short a time period.
 
master steward
Posts: 26089
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Excellent information.

I wonder how long ago it was that the Russian olive was introduced by human beings.

I wonder how long ago the Russian olive would have shown up on its own with no help from human beings. And if there are no human beings around at all how would nature proceed... When the Douglas fir tree appeared and obliterated the oak savannas, the people that were here at the time work to burn it back... Not obliterate it... But - come up with ways so that they could have both environments in a simple way.

So rather than the word "invasive" maybe we should say "the Next Generation"?

If it turns out to be a less desirable plant next to a creek then it seems like a good place to have a gardener... Somebody who will care for a half acre or so in such a way to ensure a lot of biodiversity and minimizing the Russian olive. The Gardener could use the downed Russian olives for hugelkuktur and for heating his or her home. I wonder if the wood is good for building a home.

I have seen areas next to creeks that are overrun with cedar trees. Don't they also take over an area in such a way?

In desert areas with lots of wind where there is no concern about a waterway... It seems that the Russian olive does quite well and does not seem to be keen to take over. It seems that it does very well at nurturing other plans and helping to establish a bit of an oasis in a Cold Mountain Desert.

The Russian olive is part of nature. The Russian olive wood have come to the United States eventually... Without any human help it probably would have been here by now and doing the exact things that it is doing now. Where there are Russian olives that human beings would rather that they were not, it seems that the task of Shifting the dominant plant species is a task that is a little work for somebody that owns one or two acres. And the task is a little bit larger for somebody that owns 10 acres. I suppose that if a person owns 20000 Acres and they wish for the tree to go away then they might be able to afford to pay a whole bunch of people to remove those trees. If we are talking about the government and millions of Acres then I kind of think that the government should let the trees do what nature intended. It seems crazy that they would choose to remove a bunch of trees and make the taxpayers pay for it and the trees are just going to grow back. All in the name of protecting a museum from over 200 years ago on an epic scale. I think it's great to have a museum that takes up an acre but I don't understand the idea of building the museum that takes up millions of Acres.

So this part of nature... The Russian olive... Is being looked on as a villain... the suggestion is that nature is a villain. In reality this plant is a hero in cold deserts... So a powerfully fantastic component of a romantic relationship with nature in a cold desert.

 
C. Letellier
Posts: 250
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
16
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Some basic information.

One of the complaints by the wildlife experts that was pushing russian olive elimination is that while it benefits some species it is eliminating others. And though I can't speak on effects on animal species I can tell you from personal experience it pushes plants out reducing species. I talked to a friend from Nebraska that said it will even push the cedar trees out of river bottoms.

For firewood it burns good and hot, moderate amount of ash and isn't bad about creosote. The bark is extremely hard on chain saw chains making cutting a bit of a pain. Best guess is that it collects a lot of dirt in its layers. Splits decently if good wood and dry. Miserable stuff to harvest for firewood because nothing is even mildly straight and because of all the thorns. Best answer to help with harvest that I am aware of is goats followed by some cribbing horses. Goats wipe out the under story and the horses get rid of the rest up to more than head high. Normally the branch thicket around the base of the tree means cutting to even clear a place to work to fell the tree. Giant Mechanical shears or cutting blades help here so humans don't have to get close to cut them down. The thorns are rough to work around.

For construction wood the answer is unlikely. The trees tend to spiral crack with changing moisture levels and getting straight pieces even 4 to 6 feet long for wood working is difficult. The other problem is that if the trunk is over about 8 inches in diameter the odds are the heart wood will be rotten. Lots of years spent looking for cabinet size pieces taught me that. For every about 15 or 20 trees cut down with large trunk size I find one tree with good heart wood in the big part of the trunk. Now it might make artificial timber. The process that uses scrub wood and crushes it and adds glue to make an engineered wood might work with these.(I have wondered about this one for 25 years since I saw the original article on it.) It is a beautiful wood working wood especially quarter sawed. Really bad for fine detail work because places in the grain tend to be really fragile. For good durability avoid sharp square profiles along with fragile profiles and round all edges over.

As for when it was introduced in the US I can't speak for other areas but I know roughly when it came into this area. In post dust bowl years it was one of the wind break trees pushed by the government. It was cheap, survived well and was easy to plant. Normal location to plant was fence rows for wind break. So late 1930's or early 40's was when it first came to this area. I have talked to a few old farmers who remember when their families planted the original rows in this area. So in basically 80 years it has gone from nonexistent to the dominate tree in this area. In my 50 year lifetime I have watched the river bottoms change from mostly dark green trees with an occasional russian olive mixed in to a sea of the pale green russian olive and just a few dark green trees showing. And it is pushing up the mountains along the streams. Damage to habitat is one of the concerns as it moves higher on the mountains. It may also be hurting water quality.(The guy arguing this one didn't have real proof but was making a bit of sense.) He was talking about reduced grass growth along streams because the trees were choking it out. And that grass acts as a fine bio filter so lack of it was reducing water quality at certain times of the year. This last one I have heard from only a couple of people and there was not solid science to back it. But it should be in the discussion till proven or dis-proven.

Don't get me wrong I see numerous advantage to russian olives. Easy spreading in an area where trees are hard to get started. The bee keepers love them because of the long bloom time and huge pollen loads.(they do try to track frames from it though and leave those for the bees because it does not make great honey apparently.) Migrating birds love them for food in the fall. The fruit is eaten and the seeds spit out. Huge food source for some species. Other species are hurt by them. Wild turkey for example had other native foods they ate that the russian olive push out. And turkeys don't see long term benefit from the berries partly because where they are in the trees but mostly because migrating birds wipe it out not leaving some of the longer lasting food sources they originally used. So turkeys are more hurt than helped by them according to the biologists presenting at the meetings for removal. They provide good shelter for small wild life. And this just lists a few. But having grown up around them I also see the disadvantages and understand why the state is going after them. Water loss, loss of species etc. Having changed hundreds of russian olive flat tires colors it even more against. Multiple hard to heal wounds colors it more too. Dry thorns are mostly safe only making a hole but green thorns contain a toxin that produces an allergic reaction in most people increasing pain and slowing healing.

As for using them in hugelkulture that is on my to do list to try. Since I have only been aware of it a bit over a year, I didn't make it last year. Hopefully health will cooperate and I will get around to trying it this year.

Personally I hate the amount of money that has gone into the cleanup for even our small drainage. I also hate the waste of piling trees and burning them as slash piles. But I understand the reasons too. If we are going to spend government money on this I would like to see a harvesting for bio fuels program of some sort created to use the wood and instead of wiping the russian olive out in an area simply put so much pressure on them via harvesting for fuel that they don't spread. There are many areas where growing these for fuel might be the best use of that land. If the contract cost could be used to cover the initial startup cost of the business could it hang on afterward without those contracts? Surely a fuel they are paying roughly $200 to $250 an acre to harvest a way can be found to make it viable for power generation. In the short term use the fact that it has more value to cover the start up.


 
pollinator
Posts: 1546
Location: Denver, CO
52
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In short; yes, Russian Olive is a pain in some ways, and also a useful plant in some ways. By and large, I would have never imported the thing. Then again, there are native plants that are a huge pain too. I think we would do well to realize that we will NEVER get rid of Russian Olive. That being said, a private land owner can try to do it if they like.

If I had a stream full of Russian Olive, I would look at the following factors:

The stream drainage has probably been changed by dams, culverts, and roads

The surroundings have probably been modified by roads, paving, tillage, clearing, buildings, sewers, septic systems, and other man made changes. This has drastically changed the flow of water in the stream, creating a boom bust flow cycle.

The fauna and flora have been changed. Honeybees have replaced native bees, and are now themselves going extinct. The buffalo are gone, the beavers are gone. The earthworm is an invasive that has changed the soil composition and ecology. Different bird predominate now.

My neighbors land, and all the land within a hundred miles, contains lots of Russian Olive that will continue coming to my land.

The stream is carrying far more silt then it used to, and I can't stop my neighbors from increasing the problem.

There are different toxins and pollutants around then there used to be. Acid rain is dropping more nitrogen from the sky then natives are used to.

The wildfire regime is very different then it was.

The Climate is changing, fast or slow.

Given this setup, creating another disturbance to try and recreate a native habitat is folly.

On the other hand, Russian Olive thickets are a problem. I would cut them down in select patches, and plant other native and exotic trees in these clearings, slashing around them once a year to give them a head start. I would use the slash and felled olives in some way, possibly as brush dams in the creek to favor the native plants. The nitrogen from the Olives would help some trees, maybe hinder others. The organic matter will help some under story plants, hurt others. I would wear protective gear to minimize thorn danger. Every year I would establish more trees. Eventually, the low Russian olives would be overtopped and shaded out, maybe not by the Cottonwoods and willows, but by something else. Maybe the cottonwoods are simply not adapted anymore.

In the end, I would have a lush stream side forest complete with check dams, edible fruit, and here and there a coppiced Russian Olive stump for biomass, nitrogen, and bee forage. Every few years a sweep would be made to grub out unwanted saplings of all species, Russian Olives, Siberian elms, and maby even some natives if they were getting out of hand.

Meanwhile my neighbor would be breaking out the bulldozer and herbicides for the hundredth time and wasting my tax dollars.
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
Posts: 1546
Location: Denver, CO
52
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
To add;

If I cut all the Russian Olives right away, I would loose wind and shad protection to the stream, and possibly some bank erosion protection, thus doing more harm then good. Leaving the surrounding olives would speed the regeneration of my select trees, so long as I kept them at arm's length.
 
Posts: 27
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Is this a problem of space? What space should be dedicated to wildlife and what space should be dedicated to gardens for our food and our enjoyment? I think that the problem is that native plants in a complete ecosystems need to be preserved in enough areas, and that those protected ecosystems should be of the highest quality, not degraded but as close to pristine as possible, then, there should be other areas where people plant their gardens to live off them. I think that controlling invasive is important, but that a permaculture garden is "allowed" to use non-native species. It has to be both.
 
Posts: 87
Location: Long Island, NY
10
food preservation forest garden hugelkultur
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The main issue that really hasn't been addressed in this thread has nothing at all to do with the plants and everything to do with insects, birds and animals.  While pollinators can and do enjoy the nectar of alien plants, almost no evolution has occurred in the area of host plants.  If a mature insect cannot find its host plants to deposit its eggs, the next generation is not born.  I know Anne has a big thread about the Monarch Butterfly and its plight, which is the pretty poster child for native plant habitat loss, but there are literally thousands of beneficial insects that can only host on a limited number of specialist plants.

A great book to read is called Bringing Nature Home, which relates to this ecosystem issue. Studies show that very little biomass of alien plants is consumed by native insects and so vast food deserts exist in many areas. If there are no beneficial herbivorous insects, kept in check by parasitic and predatory insects, then there are limited resources for native birds and small prey animals.  Without the host plants, the entire habitat is stressed.

As a student of biology, I understand and support this interconnectedness by planting numerous native plants in our garden and doing my best to eliminate the most invasive non-native species, but I also plant non-native food bearing plants and use non-natives, like comfrey, autumn olive and lovage for biomass in my compost.  Chop and drop solves the issue for me, and I keep the plants around to enrich the existence of all plants in the bio-web that I am stewarding.

As an experienced wild forager, it is obvious to me that humans could not exist on the native forage available without eating large quantities of wild-caught animal fat. Plants were not the main focus of the diet, but a supplement. While I am an omnivore, and could survive healthfully on what I have available in the woods and fields around here, I would still have to harvest huge quantities of oak acorns (which do not mast every year in our parts) and process them extensively to obtain the necessary fat, and certainly we have no big game in our area here on Long Island, NY that could support a family long term.  We could fish and clam, but with the NPK run off in our Sound, it would be like eating conventional produce that you didn't even wash!

Farming of corn, beans and squash the original three sisters supplemented the diet and down south wild rice was harvested as well, but most winter stores were pemmicam and wait till spring for the dandelions!

So, to me, as a hobby permaculturist, I give a nod to native plants and garden with them, but the hugel is full of potatoes, tomatoes and other non-native vegetables and the compost is full of non-native biomass. My 20 full grown oaks support over 400 native species of insects, so I guess I can be a little indulgent with my hostas and wineberry bushes! If anyone has a problem with how I do it, they can kiss my asters! (which are native, but you get it don't you?)
 
Posts: 85
Location: Limestone, TN
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I agree.  I have several "invasive" species, naturalized species, and native species.  I want to grow some endangered native species.  Yet, I refuse to eliminate any plant in order to do so.  If it's here on the property, it is serving a purpose.  It is improving the soil, attracting pollinators, providing medicine.  Everything belongs.  Great post.  Enjoyed reading the comments.  
 
master pollinator
Posts: 2790
495
books cat chicken duck rabbit transportation trees woodworking
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As part of the American Tree Farm System I am supposed to eradicate a list of non-native species in my forest, but good gosh, I do not have the income to even start that task, much less complete it. Yet when I talked to my forester two years after writing my last forestry plan she was incensed I had no concern about doing so. She was peaceful compared to another forester that was down right belligerent about it. To me a remediation effort is about as effective as telling my four year old to pinkie-promise me she will be good every day until she is 18 years old. That plan...along with non-native species...is futile.

Like I asked them, where do you want me to start: the 10 acres of high bred hackmatack you guys gave me as an experimental tree plantation? The new Chinese blight resistant Chestnut trees? All the apple trees on my farm derived from an ancestor some 170 years ago that like grafting fruit trees? All my high bush blueberry plants? All those are non-native and that is BEFORE I started listing items on their list as evasive.

Myself, my grandfather taught me many years ago; "when you want to get rid of a grass in your field, figure out what makes it thrive, and change it". 99% of the time it is soil. Last year I had a pasture just teeming with milkweed which is lethal to sheep. I was able to eradicate it in 4 hours...by putting down potash. It was not that milkweed likes potash, it likes soil without it. Smooth bedstraw is the same way. When the PH level is down, it thrives. When the PH level is high, it struggles. Lime the soil and the problem goes away.

It is a bit harder to do in forest settings, but it beats herbicide.
 
master steward
Posts: 12524
Location: Left Coast Canada
2409
books chicken fiber arts cooking sheep writing
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm so glad you wrote about milkweed.

I have several people pushing for me to grow it, they even gave me a flat full of seedlings.  Something to do with butterflies - which I already have tonnes of, so I don't know why I need more, but that's not important.  What is important is the variety of milkweed they give me isn't native to here.  I suspect it will be on the invasive list in a few years for crowding out the native milkweed.  What's more, these are the same people who lecture me on allowing black berries to grow on my land because they are so invasive - my blackberries are contained by goats on one side, humans on another, and a forest on the third.  

So here I am, about to give into pressure and start planting out this milkweed and commit space and water resources to it.  But thankfully, I just discovered they are lethal to sheep.  Anywhere I have space to plant these, the sheep will have access to at one time or another.  

No milkweed for me.


I pay attention to the invasive list when I import new plants.  There are legal charges that can happen if we knowingly plant an invasive (although the local nurseries still sell these plants).  But I don't mind the ones that are already here.  If they have a use on the farm, then I'll manage them.  If they don't have a use, I'll change the environment around them to encourage plants that do.  
 
Jane Southall
Posts: 85
Location: Limestone, TN
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Good you found out!  They are to help repopulate the monarchs.  The milkweed.  You will have no problem giving away the seed.  I have an area set aside for monarch habitat, for the kids especially.  Four of them have never seen a monarch
 
pollinator
Posts: 1193
Location: RRV of da Nort
100
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Travis Johnson wrote: "when you want to get rid of a grass in your field, figure out what makes it thrive, and change it". 99% of the time it is soil.



Travis and others, maybe you can help me on a "weed" problem that I found no other link for within Permies.com:  Common Mallow.  Yes, the benefits of this little introduced (into U.S.) edible are numerous.  But it is taking over much of the property, especially with wet, high clay-content (mid- to high-pH) soil that we have.  In a small disagreement with my wife, I feel part of the problem is the "disturbed soil" concept:  her pigs have the run of the property and I would say that the worst mallow problems are coincident with the worst animal traffic, although increased soil wetness is also associated with the plant.  What was once a fairly even mix of grass, other edibles along with mallow is fast becoming mallow monoculture.  Any recommendations for beating it back a bit would be appreciated.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4339
Location: Anjou ,France
240
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
for me this one is a worry http://www.bbc.com/news/business-40899108
 
Jane Southall
Posts: 85
Location: Limestone, TN
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Not trying to minimize...always looking for the solution from the inside.  But the uses of knotweed are many, including eating.  I had a link copied but now on different device.  I have a very small patch near the house.  I am watching and learning.  
 
Posts: 221
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
15
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Not quite on topic, but I'm much more concerned about invasive bugs than I am about non-native plants. I personally despise multi-flora roses, they are a horrible plant that are hard to get rid of and the needles puncture my tractor tires when I mow them. Back in the 50's/60's the ag agents recommended planting them because they made such great no maintenance animal fences. What a mess that turned out to be, thanks for the lousy advice. ...But at least I can deal with them. I cut them down in the Fall before their sap goes to ground for the Winter. Come Spring, no "roses". What I can't deal with is the imported bugs. Over the last hundred years we have lost all our Chestnut trees, almost all our Elm trees and now all the Ash trees are dying off. There has been a fundamental and permanent change in our woods. Darn non-native Chinese for shipping infected wood pallets into a West Coast port, and starting the whole ash tree death spiral. The gov't tried to stop the emerald ash borer by spraying the heck out of the woods everywhere around here, and banning the transport of any ash wood across county lines. But, of course that didn't work. So now the ash are all standing dead, which has greatly increased my wood supply for this winter, but greatly reduces my shade next summer. (...I'm sorta thinking of planting Douglas firs and Russian olives to replace them.) I'm a bit worried about what the next non-native bug will be. If something brought in from "somewhere" goes after the Maple trees that will really be worse than awful.  

 
Jane Southall
Posts: 85
Location: Limestone, TN
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am concerned about the native trees, as well.  And now with possible or it may have all ready happened introduction of GMO trees.  And insects.  Just saw that a non native praying mantis was introduced for some type of pest control and is now devouring hummingbirds.  So, yes.  There needs to be balance.  Hence, the important purpose of individuals creating stable ecosystems.  
 
pollinator
Posts: 424
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
33
dog duck hugelkultur
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
For the love of conifers...And yes I am a white guy who has been a NPS ranger in the greatest coniferous forests on Earth, so I must be full of it..The fact that native Americans cleared relatively tiny patches of forest with fire to maintain prairies amongst a sea of conifers in the Pacific NW does not mean they "didn't like Douglas firs." They were integral to the Yurok fish dams and many other structures.

It was a clear advantage to have such edges and variations in habitat as this strategic use of fire created, but they did nothing catastrophic to the species.  Maybe this is because, at the same time, conifers were also understood by anyone who lives with them intimately and observantly to have unique advantages to people and other living things.

Evergreen conifers like Doug fir, Hemlock, redwood, cedar etc, slow and help to absorb and seep our NW winter rains in ways that deciduous plants cannot with their leaves gone. Conifers also grow as fast in the NW's moderate winter temperatures as they due in June, providing sugars to the soil ecosystem and supporting our prolific mushroom blooms.  Moreover, doug firs support more species of fungus symbiotically than any other North American plant (350+, 80+endemic to Doug fir root systems).  They have a dramatic positive effect on moderating river flows and temperatures, and are very important for salmon, which pretty much blow every other food source in the NW out of the water in terms of significance. Also, I think a conifer line on the north side of a food forest is ideal due to its weeping of fertility, and creating a heat reflector to the south and rainfall/runoff moderator down hill.
 
Jane Southall
Posts: 85
Location: Limestone, TN
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jane Southall wrote:Not trying to minimize...always looking for the solution from the inside.  But the uses of knotweed are many, including eating.  I had a link copied but now on different device.  I have a very small patch near the house.  I am watching and learning.  

.

https://www.hawthornehillherbs.com/node/148

Just to follow through.  I thought about researching the Asian practices of growing and harvesting, for some clues toward a solution.
 
Posts: 80
Location: Nomadic
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This past Summer I skipped with bare legs through the meadow of knapweed flowers. Oh, *#!, my legs burned for hours afterwards. Ouch!
And I still like knapweed lol.
I think native hedgerows can be a nice touch on a property. I have seen a lot of birds and bees there. That's my two cents worth.
 
Posts: 104
Location: Northern Colorado
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think native should be preserved and maintained whenever possible but it's a dynamic system it's going to change some.

Russian olive trees though are one i can NOT support. They are illegal here for good reason. Here in our dry climate they suck out the water from everything else and the roots go so deep. Hard to control even with teams that go out to remove and cut them down. I've helped, they are evil. And they look terrible, so ugly.

On the other hand, ironically some people have the same stance i do on mullein. I like it despite the fact that it is an invasive.

But when it comes to Russian olives and European Starlings i think they need to be exterminated.
 
Posts: 47
Location: Western Idaho
1
greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Any "problem species" has the potential to be a very subjective scenario. Who or what has the problem? Where is the problem? What is the actual problem? Why is it a problem? In this way there seems to be a need for a majority of a human population to be able to agree on what is good and what is bad. This is difficult across large areas of land under the same jurisdiction  I think the native vs. non-native debate is too broad of a subject to be in one camp or the other. Balance is key.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 2182
Location: Toronto, Ontario
176
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Has anyone else come to the conclusion that our complaints are the result of looking at tiny bits of a system, isolated temporally and geographically?

That is what I take from questions of "Native to when and where?" I love the Mollison quote about 100% of the plants he uses being native to the planet. That is precisely the attitude I like about permaculture.

My problem with legislative solutions has to do with the fact that the "answers" to "problems" (leaving aside the fact that these designations are often arbitrary and seek to appease voters or financial contributors ahead of the next election cycle) all need to be dumbed down so they can be explained to people with the attention span and reading level of early high schoolers, and then solved with a single monolithic solution.

I call this panaceic thinking, or trying to solve singular, multiple, or systemic problems with a single, shiny, magic bullet, or panacea. We see it in permaculture where people want to use a single permacultural tool as their whole toolbox. We see it all over this site, and all over human nature, what with miracle cures and superfoods.

If we enlarge our focus, we begin to see the truth of Bill Mollison's "...native to the planet..." quote. Your system will only have "waste" products if your system is too tightly focused. If you enlarge the area of your focus, in effect enlarging your system, you find that the waste product is, in fact, a feed stock to yet another sub-system.

So why do we have invasive insect issues? Why did they evolve at all?

We know the answers to this. It's not because we messed up. It's not because there's a malevolent force out there trying to destroy things on us (well, maybe human organisations with vested financial interests).

Insects show up every now and then and eradicate our carefully planted fields of one kind of candy because we've concentrated one kind of tasty thing in one place. I would imagine they exist, in the case of locusts, to cycle nutrients and move them to where they otherwise wouldn't go, and to ultimately feed something.

We see this all over the planet, in predator/prey population dynamics, for instance. A fire burns away some forest, creating more edge habitat for deer, and more deer food. The deer population increases. Their primary predator, let's say wolves, benefits from this, and their population increases. Then, the strain on the environment by the larger deer population causes a die-off, which is followed by a subsequent die-off in the wolves.

So the invasive insects are simply capitalising on an overabundance of their preferred food. They would have gotten here eventually, and their host species didn't have time enough to develop biological defenses. So the strongest, most insect-resistant (or resilient) individuals will continue to pass on their genes. Of course, they will have to survive the subsequent fires, or their contributions to the seedbank will, and hopefully the specific insect parasite in question largely dies back as a result of its food and habitiat burning to ash.

It's my opinion that it is a natural mechanism for ecological succession. It isn't really bad of itself, and certainly not worse than what we've already done, but it negatively affects us, and so it is "controlled," and "managed," so people can continue to live where they really shouldn't, and are then completely aghast when fires and soil disturbance causes havoc.

Our collective views on conservation, such as they have remained in common, have historically focused on perpetuating myths that have no basis in fact, such as that of the Forest Primeval. The old idea used to hold that the ultimate expression of untouched wilderness was closed-canopy old-growth forest, that this form would, in the absence of human or other animal disturbance, overtake every other biome, fill in the prairies and grow giant hardwoods across the whole continent.

I think that this idea originated with European settlement of North America, when the settlers, arriving some time after Columbus' initial arrival and the epidemics that killed out 90% of the native populace, saw the forests that had succeeded the oak savannah that had been carefully cultivated through burning by the original inhabitants. This land was uninhabited, as far as they knew, and the locals were few and couldn't possibly have affected the land with their lack of technology, right? What they found must have been there for hundreds, or even thousands of years, right?

And so hundreds of years later, the popular forest management default has been "Keep things as they are, except where we can make money." This has led to lumber monocrops with individual trees so closely spaced that there is some question as to their structural characteristics, on a scale so vast that it could affect the next half-century of structural lumber, and increased fuel loading in areas of high conservation, such that, well, do I really have to bring up forest fires all up and down the west coast of the continent?

I think this was likely exacerbated by insect infestations, which, in turn, were exacerbated by the close spacing of so many of the same species of tree. I don't doubt that many potentially invasive organisms are introduced everywhere, every day. I think that we only notice a handful of these because they take advantage of our sloppy, oversimplified systems of forest and land management. This applies more to the Pine Beetle mentioned earlier that has left thousands of acres of standing deadwood in the West than it does to species devastated by foreign disease, as with Dutch Elm, or as with the American Chestnut tree, or what's happening now with the Emerald Ash Borer.

But I do think that it's a valid point that it is likely that only a handful of potentially invasive species take off to the point where they have any effect on local ecosystems, and it's their effect on either economic or cultural treasures that is singled out as areas of greatest negative impact.

It's also interesting to note that this approach isn't limited to invasives.

Beavers are a native, some would say keystone, species in some parts of Canada. They are essentially permacultural engineers. They stop and slow the movement of water across the land. They favour a species of tree that coppices well to use in their construction, and their efforts foster biodiversity across a massive ecological scale.

They are frequently eradicated for stopping up culverts and causing ranchers' fence posts to rot out.

So the sentiment is fluid with respect to native organisms. If money can be made selling sprays to beat down non-natives, native plants will be championed. And if a native species is a problem, such as poison ivy or oak, we won't hear about it, except to avoid it. We won't consider that it might be a natural mechanism to fend off disturbance, and that eradicating it will only bring a stronger problem plant in to do the job. And we won't hear much about the extirpation of the beaver, and the gradual loss of the giant swales and sediment traps these amazing creatures create.

So in my opinion, it's largely a sham. We encourage boreal deserts, and live smack dab in the midst of these really flammable trees, and are shocked when a single species of beetle takes to a tree and eats it all up like candy until adverse conditions block its progress and it dies. The standing deadwood turns this old growth forest, which is actually, essentially, too old, and should have been allowed to burn earlier, into a tinderbox, and we have conflagrations that engulf communities that weren't wise enough to include a firebreak into their municipal plans.

It's essentially a sham, in my opinion, because the ones making up the rules don't know what they're doing most of the time, and when they do, the questions they're asking are the wrong ones because their focus is too narrow, outside of a global and temporal context. Not to mention when those making up the rules are profiting from their policies' implementation.

-CK
 
Posts: 265
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
17
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The "When" of native plants

We are living in climate change world wide now.  Some parts of the world probably have had "stable" climate for a long time, I don't think where I live can say that.

Something like 10,000 years ago (could be 11-15 kyears) my farm was _under_ Glacial Lake Peace.  I am on a north facing slope, and the highest part of my farm was probably under about 10m of water.  Another 10m higher in elevation the land transitions from clay to gravel.  This part of the world was colder then, for water to be held back by a dam of ice, and before that there was probably just a bunch of ice.  But, things were warming up.  The dam holding back the water went away, and at some point not too long afterwards, average yearly temperatures got to be about 1.5 Celsius higher than yearly average temperatures in the 1960-1975 (I moved here in 1975).    I don't know if that was about the minimum of yearly average temperature or not.  But, over the years I became accustomed to Dawson Creek being Zone 2.  I believe we have warmed about 0.5C from the 1975 value, and are close to transitioning to a Zone 3 climate.  Was this area Zone 3 shortly after the demise of Glacial Lake Peace?

We had some set of plants which were growing here before the glaciers came in.  The soils probably had much less clay than now.  Were those the native plants?  The Glacial lake recedes, and now the soils often have a lot of clay.  The plants that were growing here before may have had a head start at growing here, but does that make them native?  Temperatures increased for a while, and then dropped to somewhere in the mid 1900's.  The soil still has a lot of clay, but does a few thousand years of growing in much more clay now make all these plants native?  I believe we are about 1/3 of the way back to the warmer temperatures since the glacial lake, and we are locked in  to get to at least those temperatures and quite likely a bit higher due to the changes in carbon dioxide.

The big tree species here are willow, aspen, poplar, spruce, pine, birch and some tamarack.  At the research farm about 50 miles away (situated on the top of a hill), someone decided to plant an oak tree 90 years ago.  It's still alive.  Then 30 years later, they planted a bunch more oaks, and they are still alive.  I don't know if they have been producing fruit, so perhaps there has been no way for them to spread (except by people).  Will they start to produce fruit with the continued warming?  What of new oaks being planted now?
 
Posts: 74
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
15
chicken food preservation forest garden
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think that cultivating non-native species for our use is fine as long as it does not disrupt natural systems - become invasive.  The line for me would be between cultivation, vs. wild introduction.  If you can cultivate and use a plant without disrupting the balance of the natural system around you, go for it.  The distinction made here is between "Native" and "Naturalized" plants, and not every publication seems to understand the difference.

I hope that people will look and think very deeply before altering ecosystems that nature balanced on its own.  Purple Loostrife is a great example from Ontario that had a huge impact in reducing biodiversity in waterways.  It was one of those things in nature that, once we had meddled with it, we had to take responsibility and meddle with it again by introducing the only species known to feed on it in order to balance the unbalancing we had mistakenly done.  http://www.invadingspecies.com/purple-loosestrife/

I'm of the opinion that there is value in maintaining biodiversity, and don't feel that I have the right to make such decisions for nature and future generations, by saying that a plant nature made in an ecosystem on the other side of the world should be in this ecosystem too, because I think it's pretty or useful to me.  My feeling when looking at my land is that I have a right to be here, to feed myself, to live, but I don't have a right to unbalance a natural system to do that; I have to learn to function within the system that nature so beautifully created.  That's a responsibility I take seriously, even though I talk out of my ass about killing beavers from time to time out of frustration.  There are ground cover choices that would be incredibly cheap and easy for us to use, such as periwinkle, which I could get loads of for free and would fill in massive areas quickly and hold the soil, but my land is in the forest, and who knows where it would stop, and what it would kill on the way?
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 26089
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Norma,

If there were no human beings on the planet except you, and a new invasive showed up, who will you wag your finger at?  

And then you add in a few million people in your area, all that stuff gets accelerated.   But it is still a natural thing.  

Myself:  I object to people creating GMO plants that will take over the world.  I think that if all GMO stuff stopped, I would be okay with that.    

So I suppose you and I draw lines, but we draw them at different places.



 
Norma Guy
Posts: 74
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
15
chicken food preservation forest garden
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just as a reflection on this subject… the flaw in my thinking may be that I view nature as an entity, and ascribe some sanctity/wisdom to it (anthropomorphise or deify, perhaps?).  Maybe my feelings on the subject come from a spiritual rather than a practical place; maybe that just makes them superstitious.  Nature changes things slowly, and we change them quickly (we’re such smart animals!), and nature compensates for what we do.  There are some things that we do so quickly that nature can’t compensate for them.  Back to the spiritual or fatalistic viewpoint I approach this from, I also feel that we are reaching a tipping point, and many people would disagree with that notion as well.  But it is one of the reasons that I want to try my best to contribute less to these changes through a more neutral lifestyle than the one I was raised in, and that is what drew me to Permies.  I value the knowledge shared, the vibrant discussions, and the culture of respectful communication on this site more than any other on the internet today.
 
Chris Kott
master pollinator
Posts: 2182
Location: Toronto, Ontario
176
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, but unless you're living in one of the temperate hardwood/boreal transitional forests, you're probably looking at endless acres of boreal desert. I don't see anything wrong with increasing the amount of biodiversity in an area, especially if it's providing food and material resources to you, your livestock, and the wild animals that share your land.

I like a bit of boreal, don't get me wrong. If the situation allows, I am planning a boreal windbreak featuring jack pine (for the Chanterelle symbiosis), but I will be building it up as a fleshed-out analogue of what could have been there.

The assumption remains that the natural systems we think of are, in their undisturbed state, perfect and balanced. The reality of the situation is that these systems weren't in any sort of natural balance even before European contact; the First Nations were reengineering the Americas to their specifications for at least the last 20,000 years, and I think the current number is closer to 40,000.

So European contact happened, probably quite a few times and regularly before Columbus and his extended crew dropped human disease-bearing swine on the continent, which depopulated the land of it's keepers and caused the systems that they had been tending to collapse.

Then certain keystone species, namely the beaver, but there are some others, were largely extirpated from some areas, causing the ecosystems that they nurtured to begin to decline. Natural river systems were "fixed" with canals and cement, and "wasted" water resources were dammed up for use in deserts. As a result, for instance, the whole ecosystem that depended on the Columbia draining into the ocean dried up. Also, any systems that relied on the enhanced recharging of aquifers via beaver ponds also dried up.

So what natural? What native?

I think these metrics are pointless. Any ecosystem engineering, in my opinion, needs to be concerned with it's keystone species and all those species and biological processes that support it. Anything else is panaceic thinking, a seeking to simplify things down for understanding's sake that goes too far and misses the point.

Paul, as to GMOs, I think that a deconstruction of the argument is useful. I think there's a lot of misinformation about GMOs, and again, people simplify their arguments to the point where they lose usefulness.

I think glyphosate-tolerant species, for instance, are useless, because of the levels of glyphosate left in the food and soil rendering the food itself toxic to the gut microbiome, but also because in a game where any percentage of the target "weed" species survive to go to seed, the glyphosate will eventually be useless, which is already becoming a problem in the States.

But while I maintain that people oversimplify the issue, I do agree that I don't need GMO tree species bred to be sterile spreading their sterility, or GMO salmon escaping ocean farm enclosures to breed with wild stock.

I definitely see where the technology could be useful, for instance spreading nitrogen-fixation via bacteria-hosting root nodules or air roots to heavy-feeding crops, such that they not only provide for themselves, but provide excess nitrogen for the plants around them.

Or what if you could convey enhanced drought tolerance to a tree that, in the presence of enough ground water, would engage in hydraulic lift for the plants and trees around it and also respire it into the air?

Or what if you could convey the traits of longevity of older tree species to those in areas where no such long-lived tree species exist?

Or what if we could engineer trees, normal, generic tree species, that would grow faster, reach maturity faster, and then keep growing, to offer us and the environment all their benefits sooner, and to more readily absorb carbon?

This is a bit further afield than I had intended to go, but still pertinent. Just because a technology is too new to be reliable, and is being used in the wrong way for the wrong reasons doesn't invalidate a whole type of thought or research.

I think, though, that if all the GMO stuff stopped, we'd still get glyphosate sprayed in reforestation zones to keep "undesireable species" from outcompeting the crop trees. We would also still see the use of pesticides to keep "invasives" down. In my opinion, GMOs aren't the bad guy here, but the misuse of native plant enthusiasm by chemical companies to sell glyphosate.

-CK
 
gardener
Posts: 3858
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
1048
bee
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Norma:  I don't know how I would separate myself from nature... It is a natural thing for animals to move propagules around, and to plant them in all sorts of new places. If it's natural for a squirrel to move nut seeds and plant them in new places, then it's natural for me to do it as a primate... Besides, if one were to ascribe some sort of mystical powers to nature, how would we be able to determine whether or not nature created humans for the express purpose of moving genetics around the world quicker and more efficiently?
 
master pollinator
Posts: 10374
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
378
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Norma Guy wrote: Nature changes things slowly



Oh gosh I see it very differently!  Nature changes things suddenly and dramatically with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, avalanches, earthquakes, mudslides, volcanoes, meteors, tsunamis.

I also don't see humans as separate from nature.  We are part of nature.  We also have the ability to choose (to some extent) how we behave.  I've not ever met either in person or on the internet anyone who eats only native foods, so all of us are moving species around.  I usually see "invasive species" problems as a problem of management (usually people not harvesting enough of a species which they have introduced) rather than an absolute problem.  We had an "invasion" of non-native thistles until I cut them and composted them for my garden.  Problem now solved.

 
Posts: 637
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
32
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I incline some to Norma's view. Picking at this issue or that doesn't seem to address the size of the situation. The main issue may be the speed and volume of changes we have introduced appears to be actively toxic - to us as well as numerous other species. As long a petro-travel  and transportation remains on a roll, this trend will continue. "Stable" ecology we and much other fauna and flora depend on doesn't seem to survive well at present rates of change.

But massive amounts of cheap cheap energy available at our finger which fuels the rushing eco changes may not remain available to most people past the next 100 years. Don't know how much that will matter much viz the ecological situation, seeing as global warming will have sunk large parts of the globe and toasted other large part. Well, mother nature is fine with it all - just most of _us_ that may not make it through...

Rufus
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
Posts: 10374
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
378
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Rufus Laggren wrote: The main issue may be the speed and volume of changes we have introduced appears to be actively toxic - to us as well as numerous other species. As long a petro-travel  and transportation remains on a roll, this trend will continue. "Stable" ecology we and much other fauna and flora depend on doesn't seem to survive well at present rates of change.



I usually see people beefing about some perennial "invasive" plant introductions but rarely if ever see them beefing about the many tens of thousands of acres in GMO corn which displaced an entire ecosystem (the Prairie).  Permaculturists moving plants around are not the problem, in my opinion.  Broad scale agriculture is the problem and has been for about 10,000 years.

 
John Weiland
pollinator
Posts: 1193
Location: RRV of da Nort
100
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:...... if one were to ascribe some sort of mystical powers to nature, how would we be able to determine whether or not nature created humans for the express purpose of moving genetics around the world quicker and more efficiently?



I guess is see topic as something for which there will generally be a divided mindset under most circumstances.  As someone previously opined, to only have 'native' species implies imposing an arbitrary slice in time.  In other words "Here!.....at this point we will call all things prior to this point in time as native and all things coming afterward as non-native...".   The term 'excessive'.....again, MHO....can then be applied to the two poles where there is excessively static changelessness in the diversity over long (define?) periods of time at one end to rapid introduction of novel genes/organisms at the other end.  This idea of moving genes, memes, molecules and atoms around the planet,.....and quite possibly around the universe in one form or another, biotic or otherwise....is a brain-cramper to be sure if one does not invoke either a deity or impart some agency to the cosmos.  In more mechanistic terms, I'm left pondering those Belousov-Zhabotinsky experiments where two (?) chemicals are thoroughly mixed and the patterns that form de novo are quite startling  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRQAndvF4sM ).  There may be forces as simple/mystical as those in that mixture that allow one species to reign for a while and then, over a long or even short timespan, be overtaken by another form.  So we might consider massive stands of eucalyptus trees in California or cheat grass in the intermountain west of the US as rapid introductions of questionable desirability (to us) and even note that they might not be here without human intervention.  History teaches us "these too shall pass".  Having non-exhaustively read and pondered all of the biomes and civilizations that have come and gone, I don't feel we can ever be confident of knowing where to draw the line, although it seems some prudence is needed in some measure.  An issue that will be struggled with for a long time I suspect.....
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
Posts: 10374
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
378
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

John Weiland wrote: I don't feel we can ever be confident of knowing where to draw the line, although it seems some prudence is needed in some measure.  An issue that will be struggled with for a long time I suspect.....



100% agree!
 
gardener
Posts: 2790
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
544
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I always struggle to find the words for this topic but I think Norma nailed it for me.  Humans and squirrels have been moving stuff around for millennia.  Sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally.  Ecosystems get shocked by new species (pigs, frogs, etc) and I'm positive that Mother Nature will fix it in the next thousand years.

After seeing how many times nature has been screwed with intentionally or unintentionally, I don't want to screw with her any more.  She has enough to deal with.  

I'm fine introducing a non-native to my site if it has nearly no potential to escape/spread.  I'm doing it with dozens of plants right now.  

I am not fine introducing a non-native that I know has caused issues elsewhere and/or my local government also would like me to not plant.

I know there are issues with how the government decides which plants are invasive, how they define invasive, how they want to poison invasives, how "native" is defined, when "native" happened, etc.  But that is all beside the point that I'm trying to make.  If I know it could spread and shock my local ecosystem, I should pick something else to plant.

The argument has been made that I could plant kudzu and feed it to my animals and keep it under control.  That sounds great but if I get hurt or divorced or move unexpectedly, who's going to keep that kudzu under control?  I can't promise the local ecosystem that I will forever be here to keep my aggressive new plant under control.  Since I can't make that promise, I won't plant it.  

Toby Hemenway discusses it in this short video.  In the first 30 seconds he says

You chose a native plant first, if that won't do the job you chose a proven exotic, one that you know is not going to be rampant and invasive.



Toby knows much more than I do about plants and I trust him.
 
Norma Guy
Posts: 74
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
15
chicken food preservation forest garden
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Norma:  I don't know how I would separate myself from nature... It is a natural thing for animals to move propagules around, and to plant them in all sorts of new places. If it's natural for a squirrel to move nut seeds and plant them in new places, then it's natural for me to do it as a primate... Besides, if one were to ascribe some sort of mystical powers to nature, how would we be able to determine whether or not nature created humans for the express purpose of moving genetics around the world quicker and more efficiently?



We are of nature, I do not separate myself from nature.  As another poster mentioned, our species moves around and moves animals around, puts predators in places they don't belong, and spreads diseases that others aren't immune to, and they mutate and make new diseases... these are part of nature too.  Are they part of a plan?  I can't say!  I am a product of nature.  My place in nature (as a human) is somewhat unique among most other organisms, in that I have the ability, with the brain natural evolution provided, to make logical (or illogical, maybe superstitious, as the case may be) decisions on where to scatter seeds, much more than a sparrow does in its droppings along a migratory route.  I can pluck a cactus from Australia today, hide it in my suitcase, hop a plane and plant it tomorrow in Arizona, but I think I owe the ecosystem in Arizona some thought toward the possible consequences before I do that.

Things like hurricanes and tsunamis may appear grand and destructive, but these natural events are somewhat short lived, and small-scale by earth terms - these are nature rebalancing.  Fire is rebalancing.  To say that a place has balance isn't to say that it isn't simultaneously in a state of change or flux.  There is a constant reaction, and reaction, and reaction... it fills me with awe!  We are very lucky a meteor hasn't wiped us out already :)
 
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!