Invasive Plants? Be Careful What You Kill

On the whole, my local paper Daytona Beach News-Journal offers pretty good coverage of gardening topics. Correspondent Lynette Walther is a good writer. 

This article about plants NOT to plant because they “take over” is good advice from a conventional gardening perspective, and also from a native-habitat perspective. We don’t want invasive plants choking out our vegetable patch or crowding out native plants. 

That said – speaking from a PERMACULTURE design perspective, with patterns and the long view in mind, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we have some plants that are this tenacious. Human activity, including excessive pavement, factory agriculture, and destructive residential and commercial landscaping practices, has seriously degraded the land.

There may come a time, if soil depletion continues and we have an extended drought, that ANY vegetation will be needed to help check erosion and stave off desertification. (Maybe it’s just me, but overall I’m more worried about desertification than I am about sea-level rise or extreme wet weather. A Facebook friend in Ohio said a 6-mile square which includes him has gotten 0.5 inches of rain since May! Normal would be 8-10 inches. Even my friends in Ireland experienced a major drought this year. )

Super tenacious plants may one day help screen our food/medicine gardens and our homes from a merciless sun in a treeless landscape. Furthermore, photosynthesis is an endothermic (heat-absorbing) reaction, and as humanity’s bad habits continue to heat up the planet, super-tenacious plants may one day be the only thing that stands between us and literally being cooked alive. I pray things never reach that point, and I am doing everything I can think of to reduce that likelihood. But as eco-minded folk, we need to be prepared to design for all possibilities. And today’s “pesky” tenacious plants might be tomorrow’s essential allies.

In my opinion, the best thing we can do with most invasive plants is cut them back; either “chop and drop” for mulch, or harvest as material for basketweaving, papermaking, and such. Cogon grass, considered highly invasive here in Florida, is used to make sleeping-mats in one region of China (according to a book I found online by doing a search “cogon grass basketweaving.”)

And extending the conversation to invasive animals and insects, I read the other day that Sudan and neighboring countries are having their worst locust plague in 70 years. Awhile back, I saw an article about restaurants in Israel capitalizing on the bounty. The writer pointed out that humans can only eat so many locusts. But this morning, as I was walking on the beach (where many ideas come to me), it occurred to me that maybe the bugs could be used as an ingredient in pet food as well.

Further Reading: I am currently rereading Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystems Restoration, by Tao Orion; published by Chelsea Green. From the publisher’s site: “Concerns that invasive species represent significant threats to global biodiversity and ecological integrity permeate conversations from schoolrooms to board rooms, and concerned citizens grapple with how to rapidly and efficiently manage their populations. These worries have culminated in an ongoing “war on invasive species,” where the arsenal is stocked with bulldozers, chainsaws, and herbicides put to the task of their immediate eradication. In Hawaii, mangrove trees (Avicennia spp.) are sprayed with glyphosate and left to decompose on the sandy shorelines where they grow, and in Washington, helicopters apply the herbicide Imazapyr to smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) growing in estuaries. The “war on invasive species” is in full swing, but given the scope of such potentially dangerous and ecologically degrading eradication practices, it is necessary to question the very nature of the battle.”