There are three certainties in life, death, taxes and change; two of which are applicable to our botanical world. Historical data has proven that nature is in a constant flux of change, some species survive and some become extinct – this is botanical evolution. No matter what changes have occurred over the eons, ecosystems adapt accordingly and carry on.
Non-native plants have been on North American soils for hundreds of years and ecosystems have adapted. Many of these naturalized plants have proven to be invaluable sources of food and used in various herbal preparations. Yes, some of these have made themselves at home and have become aggressive in some habitats. Although it is sad that some plants are unable to compete with these aggressors, whether we like it or not, nature will take care of things – it always has and it always will. It is worth mentioning that non-natives do not hold the monopoly on being categorized as invasive. There are native plants, shrubs, trees, and so on that is categorized as invasive such as:
Cronus stolinifera, Rhus glabra, Rhus hirta, Hydrophyllum virginianum, Laportea canadensis, and so on.
Transportation of Seeds
Nature is mostly responsible for the transport of seeds (and nutrients) from one area to another. For example:
• An estimated 22,000 tons of phosphorus per year reaches the Amazon soils from the Saharan desert. In fact, NASA data shows that wind and weather pick up on average 182 million tons (almost 700,000 semi trucks filled) of African dust every year and takes it to various destinations in the Americas depending on wind currents and storms.
• Science Daily reports that migratory birds can carry seeds either via their digestive system or caught in their feathers up to 300 kilometres. When dropped, if conditions are favourable, then a new species may flourish.
• Storms whip up soil and can send seeds hundreds of kilometres.
• People also transport seeds.
Whether it be people, the weather, or migratory birds, over the decades, new species have arrived and they will continue to do so, especially with the changes in climate. Wanted or not, new species will continue to take root if nature provides the right conditions for them. Some of these naturalized plants have already shown to have proliferated at astronomical rates. Most invasive plants, one way or another, have some benefits for us. Here are some examples:
Phragmites – Used as insulation, bio fuel, roofing, food, and it has medicinal qualities.
Garlic mustard – Many health benefits and a great source of nutrient-dense food.
Poison ivy – A valuable food source for over 60 species of birds and some insects, and medicinal qualities.
Giant hogweed – Young plants are fodder for sheep and cattle. Seeds are used in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Japanese knotweed – Plant extracts are successful at treating some people with Lyme disease, excellent source of food with many health benefits.
It is evident by researching European and Asian journals, magazines and other scientific documents that they have taken invasive species and worked with them not against them. By doing so, there are proven ways to not only help sustain local ecosystems but to benefit by using “invasives” to our advantage.
Here in North America there is an endless amount of time and energy spent complaining about invasive species, whereas in my opinion, this energy could be better spent by following successful European projects that have proven there is a win-win when controlling invasive plants.
Nature takes care of itself and more times than not, when people try to control nature, nature wins. A perfect example of this is pigweed. This edible weed has defied all attempts at eradication in farmer fields across the U.S. (probably Canada too). It has caused an enormous amount of time and energy to be spent in an attempt to control it. Nature is telling us this plant is here to stay so it has armed this plant with the ability to grow up to 8cm (3”) per day, reaching heights of up to 2.5 metres (8′) and each female plant can produce more than 1 million seeds.
Our planet has taken care of itself for millions of years and it will continue to do so for as long as planet Earth is here. Botanical evolution is a given and we need to work with it, not against it.
To be a true environmentalist in the 21st century means celebrating nature’s diversity, wilderness and capacity for change. Remember – nature is always the last one up to bat.