The language we use affects how we treat the world around us. It works the other way too of course: The way we think of and treat the world around us influences the language we coin to describe it. Since it works both ways, we can’t go wrong no matter which direction we start from in our effort to shape a kinder and saner world. Today’s post is focused on reforming the language we use to describe trees and other plants.
A caveat: My home state of Florida appears to attract a particularly virulent strain of anti-plant-ism. Can humans just not handle any other species being lavishly abundantly successful? Does fecundity freak us out? Who knows. Anyway, the following language may not be used so much in your part of the world as it is in mine. I’d be interested to hear from any of you, to compare notes.
Here are some phrases I’d love to see disappear:
• “Clean up those trees” (as in “Let me clean up those trees for you, Ma’am.”) — Nope! My trees aren’t dirty, and I’m certainly not going to pay you to give them a buzzcut. This phrase gets used a lot to describe the bizarre Floridian landscaping practice of scalping palm trees so they look like green-tipped matchsticks. It also gets used to describe yards and lots in general: “Clean up that lot.” Again, Nature isn’t dirty. Biospheric collapse, on the other hand, is pretty foul.
• “Lot clearance.” — Sounds like a sale at the Dollar Mart. Or a used-car dealership. Not like something that city personnel who have not been provided with any training about plants or local ecosystems should be doing to a piece of ground that’s supporting pollinators and other wildlife. Back off and let the shrubs and meadow plants grow, unless you actually have an immediate use for the piece of land.
• “Trash tree.” — No such thing. The “trashiest” (according to the colonizer-anthropocentric view) tree does far more to benefit the earth than the human labeling it thus. Get thee behind me, chainsaw-wielding agents of destruction! Learn the tree’s proper name, and learn or discover its place in the ecosystem.
• “Invasive.” — This word has a legitimate place in horticulture and land management. However, it gets overused to mean any plant that grows lushly. Check your county agricultural extension, or regional or state ag university, for accurate information on which plants are actually invasive. You know what’s invasive? Colonizer culture.
• “It just TAKES OVER.” — No, a tree or other plant does not take over. Sore losers took over the U.S. Capitol last week (or tried to, anyway). Shopping malls and yucky cookie-cutter residential developments take over the landscape, leaving no forests. QAnon conspiracy theories about lizard people and pizza pedophiles are apparently taking over a large share of our collective neural mass that formerly had been available for critical thinking. But plants do not take over. They’re just … growing. Being plants. Serving a function in nature. Yes, believe it or not, something other than humans actually gets to grow and thrive on this earth. We humans need to just deal with that and get over ourselves.
• “Weed.” — All plants have names. Learn them, and learn about the plants. You might be blown away to find out how many free vegetables, herbs, and medicines are growing wild right around you. “Pardon the weeds; we are feeding the bees,” says a yard sign employed by well-meaning gardeners trying to appease their turfgrass-tyrant neighbors. But we should never apologize for wildflowers! They are part of God’s magnificent creation. The word “weed” is just a word for the fact that most modern humans, and even some nursery and garden professionals, have not bothered to get to know the plants around us, and their characteristics, and their irreplaceable niche in the ecosystem. I prefer two other up-and-coming yard signs: “Our native flowers and trees feed the local birds and bees”; and “Native plants add life to this landscape.” We need to stop legitimizing the idea that there exists a horticultural hierarchy in which turfgrass or other manicured ornamentals are above wildflowers and other wild plants.
Oh, and there should be a special place in the eco Hall of Shame for the many “mow, blow, and spray” landscaping services who, apparently with no irony intended, name themselves after various birds and other wild creatures. If I were Queen-Mayor of the world, that nonsense would definitely be prosecuted as false advertising.
I know there are more examples of this kind of trash-talk that need to be called out; I’ll add them as I think of them. And please feel free to drop me a line with your suggested additions!