I do not hate invasive species

Pine trees of the New Jersey Pine Barrens

Quite often I hear the words “I hate that invasive species”. Let us clarify what we really mean by that. It helps to have a global perspective in the subject. Of course, not all invasive species are non-native; but in this piece, I will be referring to human introductions which become invasive. I want to illustrate my point with a couple of examples:

I love native maple and pine trees; we all do. But they have been introduced in my home country of Argentina and some have become invasive. In that country the deadly silence of a grove of pine trees is numbing; there is no bird in sight because they can’t find what they need. This I hate.

Non-native pine trees growing in Argentina

I love water hyacinths. I love them in Argentina. The flowers are exquisite and the plant fills an ecological niche. I hate what water hyacinths do in North America, clogging waterways and displacing some native plants.

Water hyacinth. From Wikimedia commons. Author Eurico Zimbres

In summary, I love all plants and animals. There is a place for all of them. I regret what we humans do when we introduce them somewhere else and then face unintended consequences. I do not hate the species themselves. They are perfectly fine where they belong. I also do not hate their invasive qualities. Some species migrate without any help from us and get established somewhere else, such as the cattle egret has done in recent years, arriving from Africa on its own power. That is the way nature operates and that is how it should be. Species come and go. Ecosystems change and evolve. The occasional new arrival becomes integrated into the community. What I do deplore is the way we humans have been moving species in unprecedented number. Ecosystems do not have enough time to adapt to the continuous onslaught of newcomers.

I am sure that most of us think this way and that when somebody says “I hate that invasive plant” they are using the expression as shorthand for “I hate what that introduced species is doing to the ecosystem because . . . etc. etc.”

It is important to make this distinction because there appears to be a backlash against the native species movement. Some people are trying to justify the presence of certain non-natives. They sing their virtues and oppose efforts to eradicate invasive species.

I have seen that trend in a recent article by 19 ecologists published in Nature and discussed in the Conservation Magazine (Eco-bigotry). The team of ecologists says that non-native species are being “vilified” and recommend ending the bias against alien species. Another example of this view is expressed by a naturalist in reference to English ivy (Pollinators aplenty: English Ivy mixed blessings). He suggests that we should “view non-natives with less disdain”.

All this seems to reflect a misunderstanding about our ideas on invasive species. We, or at least I, do not vilify or disdain invasive species. We are not eco-bigots. All we want is to minimize the damage that is being done to ecosystem by species that have been introduced by humans in other places and that have become invasive. If we express hatred toward alien plants we provide fodder for their arguments.

Photos by Beatriz Moisset unless otherwise indicated

© 2011, Beatriz Moisset. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Beatriz Moisset

Born in Argentina and a resident of the United States for about forty years. A biologist by profession and a photographer and painter by avocation. I finally found the way to combine all these different interests in one single package when I became interested in pollinators. I have been photographing and painting them and studying their biology and ecology and I probably could spend the rest of my life doing so because the subject is endlessly fascinating and of tremendous esthetic, ecological and economic importance. Author, with Steven Buchman, of Bee Basics: An Introduction to Native Bees

Comments

  1. Kevin Songer says:

    wonderful insight on a difficult question. I love sedum and perennial peanut but am disappointed in their monoculture use across rooftops because some dont want to spend the time to understand native plants, especially wildflowers.

    Education is the answer and supporting your local native plant society.

    What about food plants?

    Reply
  2. Kelvin Boyle says:

    Amen!

    Reply
  3. UrsulaV says:

    *cough* Your view is very enlightened. But I, um, actually think I legitimately hate Japanese honeysuckle. I mean, its probably very nice in Japan. But Ive spent so many man-hours yanking that stuff out that I have a distinct loathing for it. I do not pull it up thinking You poor, misplaced victim of human tampering with the ecosystem! I pull it up thinking DIE SUCKER DIE DIE DIE OH GOD WHY WONT YOU DIE!? If I could leave little honeysuckle flowers impaled on a pike as a warning to others, I would do it, except it would probably grow over the pike and then make a run for the garage.

    This may make me a bad person. Im okay with that.
    UrsulaV recently posted..Lush and Ragged

    Reply
    • Beatriz Moisset says:

      I like your sense of humor.
      Beatriz Moisset recently posted..Mountain laurels instead of rose bushes?

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    • Loret says:

      Ursula, you are a pip! LOVE IT!
      Loret recently posted..Tribute to a Great Friend

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  4. Loret says:

    I actually never have said I hate invasive species. On the other hand I have often said that I hate human tinkering with things they should not tinker with, such as introducing inappropriate plants, critters and the like. You said it well, it is the actions that should be taken to task.
    Loret recently posted..Tribute to a Great Friend

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  5. Ginny Stibolt says:

    Hey Beatriz, Come on down to north Florida to help me scoop baby water hyacith plants that have completely covered my 1/10 of an acre pond. Its great exercise and your back will love it. The guest room has a nice view of the pond so you can see how much (or little) progress youre making.

    No sooner do I remove 3 or 4 wheelbarrel loads then they spread out, clone themselves, and cover the entire surface again. I dont care how cute the flowers are, this monster is doing terrible damage to Floridas waterways. It deserves to be hated.

    Reply
  6. Sue Dingwell says:

    Ha, Ha, Ginny Nice try at scheming to get help for cleaning up your pond. You forgot to offer free compost!

    I think Beatriz does have a good point, though, because public perception is important as we go out on the road with our message about the unique value of native plants. And if we move the emphasis away from hating invasives toward being saddened by what they do, we switch the focus onto the crux of the problem.

    I suggest you offer potential helpers homemade treats from your stock of garden vegetables!
    Sue Dingwell recently posted..A SuperBowl of Natives!

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  7. Elephant's Eye says:

    We have the water hyacinth in South Africa. What appals me is that despite being a declared invasive alien it is still SOLD by nurseries as a water plant!
    Elephants Eye recently posted..Pecan down

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  8. Jenny says:

    Great post and good point of view! Good point when you said All we want is to minimize the damage that is being done to ecosystem by species that have been introduced by humans in other places and that have become invasive. If we express hatred toward alien plants we provide fodder for their arguments. I totally agree with you Beatrize.
    Jenny recently posted..Cable View Online

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  9. Sue Sweeney says:

    Good point that the problem is the behavior of the plant in what is for it an alien place not the plant itself.

    Reply
  10. Ellen Sousa says:

    I think people have a tendency to use war-like language when dealing with things that require a lot of work and effort to fix. I know it helps ME to consider weeds as The Enemy in my own efforts to remove them. Kind of like a rallying war cry the current backlash against the anti-invasives movement really concerns me. Invasives, when allowed to multiply without control, tend to reduce the overall biodiversity of an area. That is fact, not just emotional rhetoric. Biodiversity is what keeps our planet ticking along nicely, and we need to do whatever we can to preserve what biodiversity we DO have left. So this new attitude of tolerance to invasive plants and their merits seems misguided to me. We should be doing whatever we can, with whatever means we have at our disposal, to preserve the plant communities that support existing biodiversity. At least for me, it means war!
    Ellen Sousa recently posted..The Year I Shall Win the Pachysandra War

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  11. Sean Solomon says:

    location, Location, Location! I love plants and seeing garlic mustard in the south of France grow as a native wildflower and seeing English Ivy and Norway Maples grow in Paris is delightful. In Philadelphia, they are pulled out of the forests of Fairmount Park by us environmentalists for good reason! Now in Paris they are planting our native american Tulip poplar! A city being overun by the invasive Ailanthus tree and butterfly bush is introducing more.

    Now the butterfly bush is found on roadsides in Philly, an emerging invasive. We need to stick with the facts and not reactionary emotions about plant introductions or any other disturbance to ecological systems.

    Reply
    • Beatriz Moisset says:

      How true! Unfortunately some people misinterpret our efforts to eradicate aliens and restore the natives.
      Beatriz Moisset recently posted..Of Spring Beauties and Lesser Celandines

      Reply

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  1. Native Plant and Invasive Plant Defined says:

    [...] Species: Lets start with the definition of invasive as the term is used to describe certain undesirable species. To be invasive, as I understand it, a species has [...]

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