#TBT What’s Invasive? Telling People What They Can’t Plant In Their Yards

#TBT What’s Invasive? Telling People What They Can’t Plant In Their Yards

The debate over invasive species won’t go away any time soon. We’re sure that many would still have issues with Rant co-founder Michele Owens views on flag iris and other problem plants. This post is from July, 2009.

Iris image courtesy of Shutterstock

I have very strong ideas about how a civilized society behaves.  A civilized society behaves like Paris, where the mangiest dogs are allowed on the banquettes in finest restaurants on the assumption that everyone, including the pooch, understands how to conduct him- or herself properly.

A civilized society behaves like my urban neighborhood in Saratoga Springs, NY, where the neighbors don’t entirely understand why I have hens, but put up with the squawking and even give me a friendly hello in the morning anyway out of a general spirit of tolerance.

A civilized society makes the fewest rules possible. If it’s not hurting you, it’s fine for me to do it.  A civilized society is dubious of authority, humorous, and unafraid.

The world of plants is not civilized. I was shocked a few weeks ago, when I wrote about one of the most beautiful moments of my year–the blooming of the flag iris around my pond in the country–only to be called irresponsible for celebrating an invasive plant. Never mind that there is no sign of a problem on my property, though the flag iris have probably been there for 80 years. Never mind that almost all pond plants are potentially invasive, including waterlilies. Is somebody proposing that we do without waterlilies? Because if that is the case, I think I resign.

The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia even includes hemerocallis fulva, the orange roadside daylily, on its list of problems. Hemerocallis fulva is just so graceful, with its long stems and small, cheerful upfacing trumpets, that it makes driving around my part of the world in July a total joy, and I hate driving.

One of the great delights of a country landscape is the naturalized plants like these that thrive by themselves and form a piquant bridge between the wild and the cultivated. But nothing that is not at least a little thuggish naturalizes.  Should our world therefore be nothing but weeds and overbred, super-fussy garden plants?

Naturalized daylilies are easily controlled by mowing if they get out of bounds. I’ve got them everywhere in my yard, and have noticed no spreading whatsoever. This is not purple loosestrife, which when established, simply cannot be pried out of the ground–not in my part of the world, at least.

Take a look at this list of herbaceous plants reported to be invasive. It includes all kinds of old-fashioned garden plants like hollyhocks, geraniums, several veronicas, lilies of the valley, even several clovers. I don’t know how aruncus dioicus escaped censure, since it’s seeding itself everywhere in my yard. Isn’t every plant that grows easily from seed potentially invasive?

Maybe you consider this list informative.  To me, it suggests a profound paranoia and lack of trust. It is the product of a culture I don’t want to join.

My feeling is, if it’s invasive in your yard, get rid of it. If it’s not invasive in mine, be quiet.

Here is how the Center for Invasive Species And Ecosystem Health defines the problem: “Invasive species, if left uncontrolled, can and will limit land use now and into the future.”

Exactly right. That control is called gardening. So the problem is not the plants, it’s people who neglect their land. But nobody who is reading this site is neglecting his or her piece of property.

So can’t we just be adult and admit that, as Michael Pollan pointed out in his brilliant first book Second Nature, the battle for an ungardened landscape has already been lost?

We’re not going to restore our pre-Columbian ecosystems, no matter what, for myriad reasons, including the size of our population and all that carbon we’ve been spewing into the air since the Industrial Revolution. The plants that are native to your area may well be struggling because of all the things we’ve already done to our environment, so planting “natives” may well mean planting something native to another ecosystem anyway.

Can’t we instead be as civilized as your average Parisian mutt and stop barking at each other?  Let’s face it, unless you have a staff of half a dozen taking care of your yard, every garden needs at least a few thugs just to take up room and do what they do best, which is add a brutal vitality to the scene.

Posted by

Garden Rant
on March 24, 2016 at 8:00 am, in the category Garden Rant turns 10, Ministry of Controversy.


    • Ryan H
    • 12th December 2016

    Fan of the Rant, but on the topic of invasive species the posts consistently border on irresponsible. I guess controversy generates clicks. I actually agree with a lot of what gets said, but here in lies the problem: interchangeably using “invasive” plants in the garden vs. invasive species that escape cultivation. You can’t use two different things interchangeably to support your argument. I purposely use “aggressive” or “garden thug” for plants that behave that way in the garden. Invasive species are widely recognized by the scientific community as introduced species that escape and invade natural areas, and displace native plants, animals, etc. The environmental and economic costs are huge. Exotic plants may not be invasive, most of them aren’t (I’m not a native purest). Aggressive plants in the garden may not be invasive species that alter native plant communities, they’re just more of a nuisance. I agree that state lists of invasive species are imperfect. A regional approach is best. Some of them are exaggerated. I think a rating system backed by data that separates the worst from the rest would be helpful. Most gardeners have not spent the hours in the field (not the garden) to determine for themselves what is and isn’t an invasive species. With so many amazing native plants and non-native exotics to plant why are people clinging so tight to their precious invasive species?

    • Saurs
    • 13th December 2016

    Whereas anthropomorphizing nature (“invaders,” using racialized language like “thugs”) is equally irresponsible and hyperbolic.

    • Marcia
    • 14th December 2016

    Lack of trust
    Culture I don’t want to join
    Be quiet
    Be adult
    Stop barking”

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