Sunday, February 26, 2012

Invasive Species

The terms "alien", "exotic", and "introduced" have slightly different meanings but generally are used interchangeably to refer to plants which are not native. Some exotic species are vigorous growers which are displacing our native plant and animal species, hence the term "invasive". (North Carolina Native Plant Society)
I am eliminating English ivy from my yard. Honeysuckle and wisteria, too. The poison ivy is dismissed with prejudice, though not without guerrilla counterattacks from its side. My all-out war on invasive plants has raised some eyebrows, especially among my Northern friends who are used to being grateful that anything survives the winter in their yards. 
The North Carolina state flower and bird. 
"Ruth has a beautiful wisteria," sniffed Ann when I told her.  "She prunes it carefully, of course. You have to take care of them," she added with emphasis, as if I were simply remiss, as if it were my personal failure that had caused these thigh-sized vines to wind around the oaks until they screamed for help.  The wisteria alone had pretty near overwhelmed every native variety in our small forest, including the noble pines, some boxwood, native hollies and azalea and an established stand of Camellia sasanqua. What the wisteria hadn't gotten, the ivy and honeysuckle were in the process of finishing off.  I could hear their low munching sounds. It horrified me.

I grew up on Ivy Lane. I went to an Ivy League college. I have warm associations with the vigorous, glossy leafed hedera helixNow I am its worst enemy.

The Federal Government declares Feb. 26 to March 3 (contemporaneous with my birthday) Invasive Species Awareness Week, and I am celebrating by learning all I can about how to restore my little piece of Paradise here in Piedmont to its native glory. But I am doing some thinking about how far I am willing go with this restoration project. For instance, I recently found out that periwinkle (vinca, both major and minor) is an invasive species, too, so if I were a purist I would be ripping it up by the roots along with the ivy. I am not. I like its tiny lavender-blue blossoms, the first to bring color to the spring. 

And what to do about the well-established Japanese holly, the big-hipped English holly, the arms-akimbo Syrian fig and the delicate Japanese laurel? What about the marvelous crape myrtle, emigrant from the India that seems to do so well here? All are clearly illegals in a native garden. But we love the smooth, fleshy trunk of the myrtle and its long-lasting raspberry colored blooms which stay from spring to the end of fall.  Indeed, I recently and gleefully accepted a specimen of the latter from a neighbor and plopped it into a space which I had cleaned of....wisteria.

So you see, the business of eschewing the non-native in favor of the native is not so simple. Favorites are played, rules are stretched. And while it's easy enough to muster an attack on poison ivy, nobody can get hot and bothered about a pretty little crape myrtle that offers a nice puddle of shade by the patio and blooms for half the year. Can they?

So what to do. After pondering the matter for a while, I decided that my policy would be as follows: True invasives, the murderers of the plant world, will be destroyed, though it may take years to do so; exotics may stay; and from now on, only natives will be brought into our near acre of Paradise. The only exception to the latter will be food plants in the vegetable garden and the few fruit trees. Not growing tomatoes, that sweet Aztec jewel, would be just plain self-denying. Anyway, Central America is still America, right? Right?

But last week, I was smitten by an anise tree: It's long, dark green leaves smelling faintly of licorice, it's dark red buds...I could not help myself, I bought it. It is from Japan. And the big, broad-shouldered Delaware Valley azalea in 10 gallon pots I bought (too good a deal to pass up!)? The same genus but not the same clan as our lacier, fuzzier-leaved native azalea. And what of that coral pink quince that I covet? Japanese, Japanese, all Japanese!

Again, I ask you: What to do? It sounds great to say native garden, as George Washington did way back when he planned the gardens at Mount Vernon keeping them 100% American, or so they say. It's another thing to confine oneself to the indigenous in the 21st century, when so many lovely foreign varieties are perfectly naturalized,  inoffensive and oh-so available, and the selection of true natives is so very slim.

So --  My revised immigration policy for my tiny kingdom is currently as follows: 
  • True invasives, the assassins of the plant world, will be eliminated with prejudice.
  • Foreign plants who are naturalized, well-established and do not harm other plants may stay.
  • Plants that are annual and produce food may come on a seasonal basis, though they are to be confined to specific areas (for their own good) and they are not invited to seed themselves here. 
  • Plants that are native receive priority for land resources, and those natives who have lost their footing due to the depredations of the invasives will be given subsidies to re-establish themselves. 
  • Specific funding will be targeted to reclaiming land for the fern, ginger, phlox tribes and other blooming ephemerals, and I will help them to establish small communities in forested areas. I consider such horticultural affirmative action to be both necessary and desirable for the overall health of the land.
So what have I learned so far? For one thing, carefully planned plant immigration is not only possible but also desirable. After all, while our native dogwood is lovely and graceful in its short blooming time, only the Asian myrtle offers that wash of lipstick pink that lasts and lasts like the Energizer Bunny. Also, as I slowly clear and pick encrusted bits of plastic, glass, mop heads, broken bathroom tiles and even a metal file cabinet from my soil, I've learned that it's a lot easier and cheaper to destroy an environment than it is to build it back right.  But there's enormous satisfaction in taking on the job.

Now I feel that little tickle in my mind, that familiar Utopian wiggle in my step as I stride out to the forest, putting my back, time and money into the reconstruction of this earthly little slice of Piedmont Paradise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How can I reach you? I am a Dutch writer and I would like to use your picture of the GW bridge at night for my upcoming book. Please contact me at
bloemsa at yahoo com (I don't write the address as I should since I understand that's not safe) Thanks!!!! I LOVE your picture