(This is Part II. If you haven't read Part I yet, you should do that before reading this. It has "Ghost Whisperer" jokes, carnivorous plants, and a hopeful but tragically misguided plan to solve the invasive species problem by making every species invasive.)
Finally, I very badly want to know which past ecosystem my anonymous commenter wants us to return to. They've never been static. I grew up in an Iowa that had ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus torquatus), as did my parents and grandparents, and everybody around here thinks they're native North American birds, but in fact they've only been here since the late 1800s. Should we round them up and send them back to Asia? Honeybees aren't native to North America either, and were only brought over from Europe in the 1600s. It'd be an agricultural disaster for the U.S. if we lost them all, but a true native-species purist would send them back. Hell, human beings -- even so-called "Native Americans" -- are new as of about 10,000 to 14,000 years ago. And on bigger time scales, the continents have been sliding around for millions of years. Where does one draw the line and say, this is the ecosystem we need to preserve?
And even if one picked a time to reset the clock to, and even if all the rats and pheasants and honeybees and Ardisias could be rounded up and disposed of, the fact is that the ecosystems are already irreparably transformed. The ecological niche of "passenger pigeon" (Ectopistes migratorius), whatever it was, can no longer be filled by passenger pigeons. We've wiped them out. So in that sense, you can't turn back time -- the ecosystems cannot be restored exactly as they were. Indeed, were all humans to vanish, and all plants, animals, and other organisms to magically return to their original habitats, it would only cause more extinctions: some native plants and animals actually depend on the actions of non-natives right now. Avocados (Persea americana) are thought to have evolved to be swallowed whole by now-extinct ground sloths, who would then distribute the pits in their droppings. No such animal exists now, so if humans disappeared, we would likely take the avocado down with us.
Of course, we're likely to take a lot more of them with us if we're not magically zapped off the planet, as recent events in the Gulf of Mexico suggest. But still. If we're going to "restore" the ecosystems, then we should acknowledge that there have been several of them in any given location, and decide which one to restore them to.
So what does it all mean, Mr. Subjunctive?
Oh, fuck if I know. I guess my first point, and the most important, would be that showing up on a stranger's blog to yell at them about their choice of posting topics is really rude and it's not going to do anything but make them defensive and sarcastic. Especially if you're a testerical asshole who gets off on telling people where plants "should" be grown.
But also, look. Invasive species are a real problem, and I think governments should be taking them more seriously. If we're going to eradicate them, though, we should commit the resources to doing so that are necessary.1 I'd also like to think that eradication is possible, but honestly, I'm not sure I do. In the same way that total elimination of spider mites from a large collection of houseplants is all but hopeless, complete elimination of Ardisia from the Everglades is all but unattainable too. All it takes is one missed pregnant female spider mite, and a distraction. All it takes is one overlooked Ardisia seedling, and complacency. Even with the full backing of local government, community organizations, national environmental groups, President Obama, Wonder Woman, all the angels in Heaven, and Mr. Anonymous shrieking threats at every blogger in creation, I don't see Florida getting rid of its Ardisia problem. I don't think they want it badly enough. (I don't know that they ought to want it that badly, either. There are other things the state could do with that money.) Unless Ardisias can be made valuable enough to be worth digging up, they're Floridians now.2
Which means that I think it's all the more important that people pay attention to the evaluations of organizations like HEAR. If it's impossible to get rid of the invasives we've got, we could try not to bring in any new ones. I'm not optimistic about that, either, because I well know the gardener's longing for novelty, and the logical impairment that goes along with it.3 But perhaps it's worth a try anyway.
In the long run, I'm not sure any of this matters. Mr. Anonymous berated me quite a bit for growing plants that "shouldn't" even be on this continent, but the fact is, "should" is a meaningless word in this context. Plants and animals have always moved around as sea levels rose and fell, as land bridges appeared, as volcanoes created new islands, as birds flew from place to place. I mean, it's not a good thing that so many plants and animals are disappearing: the Everglades are a distinct and interesting ecosystem, and it's a shame to have them changed at all, but that was all done well before I ever wrote a damn thing about Ardisia elliptica. In fact, the first introductions of Ardisia elliptica to Florida were in 1947, when I was in my negative mid-twenties. And, even if all the world's Ardisias were to pop out of existence all at once tomorrow, the Everglades has a dozen or more other invasives in it which are all just as bad or worse.
So perhaps we should be taking the long view. In another 250 million years or so, South America and/or Africa4 are going to crash into Florida and ruin the Everglades anyway. Even if Mr. Anonymous is standing there astride the little trickle of water between continents, commanding them not to merge, they still will. But hey, a bright spot: maybe Ardisia elliptica and all its descendant species will begin to die out in the process, and the sentient, plastic-and-oil-eating molluscs who rule the earth at that time will be beside themselves with worry about how to preserve the fragile, precious Ardisias. Stranger things have happened.
1. Do you feel, in your heart of hearts, that efforts to eradicate invasive exotic species are worth the time, money, and collateral ecological damage they cause?
2. Particularly since there's a good chance that we'll wind up covering the ecosystem with oil before we get all the invasives out anyway?
3. Have you ever deliberately planted something you knew might escape cultivation and become invasive? If so, why?
4. Isn't Mr. Anonymous an enormous testerical jerky douchebag?
5. "Rape" as ecological metaphor: for it or agin' it?
6. What, specifically, is lost, when a native species is outcompeted and driven extinct by an exotic? Why should anybody care? Why do you think people don't care more? (Or, if you think people care too much: why do you think people care so much?)
7. What do you suppose is up with people being able to mass-produce plants in Florida that are known to wreck Florida ecosystems? Why is this permitted? And why don't they just go pick them up in the wild and throw them in pots to ship north?
8. Am I totally wrong? Is Mr. Anonymous right to criticize me for encouraging production of an ecologically dangerous plant? Does it still matter, sixty-three years after their introduction to Florida, if I tell people Ardisia elliptica makes a good houseplant? Why or why not?
The Garden Professors: Are Natives the Answer?
Photo credits: all my own.
1 Though this obviously excludes the brown anole (Anolis sagrei), which is invasive and causing all kinds of problems in Florida and Hawaii, but should nevertheless be allowed to run free and unfettered as long as Felipe is still down in Florida somewhere.
2 If I have a plan for getting rid of invasive plants, that's pretty much it. Find something they're good for, and then turn business loose to exploit and despoil. What Florida needs is a George Washington Carver of Ardisias.
3 It would be really interesting to stick a hardcore gardener (like most garden bloggers and PATSP readers, I'm guessing) in an MRI machine and show pictures of unfamiliar plants to him/r. What would happen in the logic center of the brain? Is there a part of the brain devoted to novel plants? What about a taxonomic center, that tries to figure out what the plant is most related to? Does activity shut down in the ethical department, as the gardener plots how to find and take the plants? Does the spatial-relationships area go wild as the gardener tries to figure out where s/he could fit the new plant into his/r garden? I think there are some interesting neurological questions to be answered here.
4 Predictions vary. On one map I found, it looked like South America crashes into North America; on a second, North America and South America kind of both slam into Africa at the same time. Either way, the Everglades are in the middle of it all, and presumably go through some changes.