The pink flowers were holding their delicate heads above the edge of the tall grass. I saw them, yes, and it perturbed me that I did not know what they were. When I got home I tried to look them up and identify them. My mind was soon overwhelmed by the many shapes and details presented by the flower books. So the next day, I hurried back to the park with my camera, hoping the wild flowers hadn't been cut down by the mowers. I re-walked the route I had taken the day before. The Parks Department was apparently not yet thinking of mowing this early in spring. I shot pictures of the wildflowers. It was almost like picking them! I had them all in my hands.
Wildflowers are easy to collect with digital photography. Soon, on the screen of my computer, I had my collection of wildflowers—general shots and macros. As I looked for each plant in the pages of books and on the Internet, I discovered a vast world of plants and the relationships humans had formed with them. As you would expect, there was a battle going on. It was the Battle of the Invasives.
After 200 years of destruction of the native plant life in the Americas, people were now trying to save native plants. I was surprised to discover that when you look out your window on an American landscape, most of the plants you see, even if you live in the country, are “Invasives.” These are plants brought in from Europe or Asia. The plants were often brought for medicinal or industrial purposes, such as the Mulberry trees for the silk industry, or they came by accident in the ballast of ships. (Ballast is the dirt they used to fill ships to keep them upright on the high seas.) This ballast had seeds and insects from wherever the soil was taken. When the soil was released in the new land, the seeds grew and brought many new species to the continent. Occasionally, people immigrating to the Americas would bring seeds in their pockets so they could have their medicinal herbs when they arrived in their new land.
The ironies in the invasive plant battle were abundant. In the early 1900's, it was government or industry that deliberately brought the Invasives in and used them for agricultural or industrial purposes, advocating the use and spread of these plants from other continents.
Now, in the 2000's, government agencies and wildlife conservationists are trying desperately to remove the Invasives from wildlife areas. Vast lists are being composed of all the Invasives and where they have “invaded.” (Were these lists composed from old government lists advising what to plant?)
Meanwhile, commercial nurseries are advertising the very Invasives that the government is warning against. Honeysuckle being a case in point, also Norway Maple, Amur Maple and many others. Innocent folk are buying these trees unaware that their tax dollars are being spent to rid the forests and fields of these horrible plants.
Invasives are everywhere. Like the aliens in a science fiction movie, they cast their seeds and roots about trying to take over the world. The innocent native species are portrayed like helpless little girls in frilly pink dresses crying in fear that they will not be rescued. One website in Oregon showed volunteers rescuing native plants from areas slated for housing development. What dedication these people had to plants! They spent their weekends rescuing native species. A little opposition to the development would have also worked. There are inner cities that are crying out for development, for housing, yet no housing is built. Something crazy is going on here. But what?
The garden centers have it figured out. It’s all about money. Nurseries can now make money selling native species. It wasn't easy at first. They struggled with native species until they found a way to reproduce some of them in flower pots. Then came the wildflower experts, and the authors writing wildflower books. The common folks were told to look back on the destruction of native plants with despair and do what they could to quite the desperate cries of little flowers in frilly pink dresses.
But what is an invasive? Let’s not even discuss the Trumpet Vine, an aggressive native plant that races across the ground and climbs into tree tops to blow its bright orange bugle-blossoms at the hungry migrating hummingbirds….let’s not even talk about the many nations of people that have come to the Americas in search of the good life. Nature will have its way with all of us and make us adapt to her conditions. Could the Battle of the Invasives really be won? Or will we all have to make biological adaptations to this constantly changing world?
Copyright Patricia Hilliard June 2008