You can’t be in the native plant business without getting into a discussion about invasive plants. (There is also the discussion about what exactly is, and is not, a native plant but that is a post for another day.) A somewhat troubling trend we have noticed in these conversations is a tendency to see these issues in black and white. Good plants versus evil plants. Some even go so far as to create a “Most Hated Plant” list. Hate is a strong word.
We are here to tell you, while we have plants we prefer and plants we are not fond of at all, we do not believe in “good plants” and “bad plants.” During these discussions people often remove themselves from the conversation: Invasive are evil, causing so much trouble, ruining the environment and on and on. But rarely do we here about the people who are moving them around, or the accidental introduction that brought them here in the first place, or the ways landscape management and development practices provide perfect petri dishes for the establishment of introduced species, or how our contributions to the warming of the planet have created an environment just right for introduced plants to thrive while our natives migrate out of the area. If people do enter into the conversation it is typically to talk about the evil nurseries that sell these invasive plants. People exclaim “What are they thinking?!”, “Why don’t they know better?!” as they reach for their pitchforks and torches.
We know there are some plants that have escaped ornamental cultivation to the detriment of natural ecosystems. We acknowledge wholeheartedly that there are invasive species here and that something needs to be done about them in order to protect the fragile unique systems that surround us. We encourage people to educate themselves about the plants they are choosing for their yard, or the plants their landscapers are choosing for their yard, and to understand the impact that plant will have on the natural areas beyond their landscapes.
We also acknowledge that we live in a global economy, that just as we do, plants are going to travel and make their way into the far reaches of this planet and in some cases cause some trouble. We have read recent research that examines the evolution of various invasive species and correlates a plant’s success to genetics rather to anything we humans did or didn’t do. As Darwin noted, “Some plants were just born to be fighters.”
No, rarely do you hear any of this. Typically there is some cursing, some throwing around of scientific names, some degree of complaint regarding sore backs or aching knees and if things get really crazy the herbicide debate begins. We would like to add just a little bit more perspective to the debate.
We sell invasive plants.
Yes, you read that correctly. We sell invasives. That drought tolerant Coreopsis lanceolata you couldn’t live with out? Well it is considered an invasive plant in Japan. The same is true for our precious Rudbeckia lanciniata. AND Rudbeckia hirta.
So many meadows going in, and so much Broom Sedge being planted. Good thing we are not in New Zealand where our native has become a threat to native grass populations due, in part, to its allelopathic tendencies.
But here, these plants are the good guys right? Providing essential eco-system services, feeding pollinators, loosening soils with deep roots. How is that we can love a plant here and then go to another country where it has escaped cultivation and hate it there? We may hate what it is doing. We may hate what is happening to the environment because of its presence, but hating the plant for doing what it does best?
While some may be raising their fists above their heads in victory, reveling in the notion that some of our plants are wreaking havoc on some sensitive ecosystem in some far away land that produced many of the plants we fight today – perhaps we should take this time to reconsider the conversation. Let’s start looking at the bigger picture. Let’s start looking at our experiments with controls as a way to share knowledge to save environments around the globe. Plants are not good or evil. They are surviving. They are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Whether they came in on a shipping crate or on the back of a landscapers truck, people introduced them. Knowing that some of our most prized plants are wreaking havoc in another country’s sensitive ecosystem perhaps can change our conversations from blame and complain to one of shared learning and compassion, after all the plant we love today could be the one causing problems in someone else’s yard tomorrow.