Friday, May 14, 2010

The One About the Native Plants Purist, Part II

(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.)

Ficus microcarpa. Native to: South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia, some Pacific islands. A Florida Category 1 invasive plant.

6. You can't go home again.

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.

Murraya paniculata. Native to: South, Southeast, and East Asia, Northern Australia. A Florida Category 2 invasive plant.

7. So in conclusion (You are getting to a conclusion, right?)

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.

Syngonium podophyllum cv. Native to: Central America, Southern Mexico, Caribbean, Northern South America, Brazil. A Florida Category 1 invasive plant.

8. Questions for discussion.

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?

Ardisia crenata. Native to: East and Southeast Asia. A Florida Category 1 invasive plant.

Additional reading:
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.


Claude said...

you know what's really annoying about Mr. Anonymous? The whole anonymous thing... if you aren't even willing to ID yourself, I don't think you should be taken seriously... anyway... altogether an interesting and though-provoking post.

Water Roots said...

Very interesting (and entertaining, as always) post. And I agree with Claude about the anonymous thing. Why is Mr. Anonymous hiding?

Diana/ Garden on the Edge said...

You covered almost all the points that go through my head during discussions of native and invasive plants. The one you missed is Global Climate Change. Let's face it, we're changing the climate (not to mention local changes like changing water flow, adding pollutants to the ecosystem, carving up habitats into small pieces) and the natives may or may not be adapted to survive in the new conditions.

I could write a whole blog post answering your questions.

As far as choosing new, possibly invasive plants I ask myself a couple of questions:
1) how likely is it to become invasive HERE (in Massachusetts as opposed to South Florida)
2) is it good for local wildlife like birds and insects

The woods near my house is already full of invasive plants so if my possibly invasive plant is good for wildlife I am less likely to reject it. Birds and insects are already struggling in this man-altered ecosystem and I want to give them any help I can.

My current concern in the new Gold Hakone Grass. It's advertised as easy to grow and it will spread in the garden and it's gorgeous! Sadly this one is not getting planted in my yard. Yes, it's golden leaved so that means it's probably less hardy but what are the odds of it reverting to green and heading back to the woods behind my house?

Good, thought provoking posts.

Liza said...

He's a total douchebag.

Greensparrow said...

I think you should start calling Mr. Anonymous Mr. NOID so we could start proposing all sorts of possible identifications. I personally think he is Blowhardus assholensus

Lance said...

1 - some of them yes, but I tend to agree with Diana, many of them have been here for 50-100-x number of years and are really necessary to help other species survive
3 - yes, but only if it wasn't a danger in my area. I had water hyacinth in my pond one year. It wouldn't last the summer, much less our winter.
4 - Absolutely - and I echo the comments about anonymous. And love the NOID idea.
5 - I prefer to reserve that to what humans do usually.
8 - nope, I don't think you are wrong

mr_subjunctive said...

Claude / Water Roots:

I suspect the anonymity was less because he didn't want to stand up for his convictions and more because he couldn't be bothered to sign up for OpenID or whatever. I mean, yeah, it's annoying, but I don't think it was exactly purposeful. And even if he weren't anonymous, I don't think it'd change either side of the argument much.

Diana / Garden on the Edge:

Question 7 (why can they be mass-produced in Florida) has really been bothering me since I started thinking about these posts five months ago. It seems like such a no-brainer.


That's in the Douchebaggeriaceae (DOOSH-baj-air-AY-cee-ee), correct? Of the order Phallocephales?


Water hyacinth kind of freaks me out, even if it wouldn't be invasive here. I'd be so worried that some kind of mutation would surface that would allow it to survive in zone 5 and then I'd be responsible. I don't worry about this so much with a lot of other plants: it's something specific to water hyacinth. Probably at some point long ago, I saw a super-dramatic picture of a lake overrun with it or something. I don't know.

Lance said...

Well, I understand. I've seen quite a few of those horror shows about kudzu too. The plant in question didn't survive, and the pond is now gone too.

Ivynettle said...

Too tired to say anything about the post itself, but the Douchebaggeriaceae and Phallocephales made me laugh more than I have in days. Once I'd stared at 'Phallocephales' for a bit and puzzled out what it meant.

Thomas said...

Ginkgos are beautiful and thrive in urban areas, but are only native to two small areas in China. Hard to say if they would be invasive because generally only males are propagated (they produce alot of fruit - looks like Rainer cherries, and smells like really ripe cheese.) Here on the West Coast Himalayan Blackberry supports a lot of wildlife, stabilizes soil, and is a pain to clear when landscaping. I get so pissed off at people like Mr. NOID (btw, like that =) who take something so complex and mangle it to fit in a little black & white box to beat others with.

I wonder if he realizes the standard of living he enjoys is dependent on Florida's serious amount of agro, including floral & ornamental. You are not wrong, if those greenhouses stopped exporting those invasives, they'd probably fold, and that'd be tragic for the people who depend on that trade, and Florida's efforts to take care of business, including controlling invasives.

And I really don't like his dramaQ use of "rape", it diminishes what each victim feels. He's a clueless toolbox.

Great post. Thanks.

Aerelonian said...

Complete douchebag. I hate those people that appear on you're blog with a bunch of angry useless 'info'. At least you composed two posts to tear him/her to shreds and feed us the remains! :)

BTW, why can't you just be happy with native plants? :P Please don't attack my blog.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for two great posts. We all agree: there's a problem. But it isn't due to houseplants per se (I doubt that yours or mine will be the culprits in the eco-mess). Spending a few hot hours pulling (chopping, grubbing etc.) plants is no excuse for ignoramus attacks. When your gov'mint says I'm here to help you - as in kudzu, multiflora rose, etc. - tell them no thanks. I go for the NOID bit and if I want to insult someone I'll do it under my own name (Mr. NOID excepted!) And if you see that Ardisia sneaking out the back door, Mr. S., whack it.

Anonymous said...

A few comments: I'm lazy so I'm anonymous. This guy went way overboard, and I hope he gets over it. I don't like the word rape used in any other context because you never know who's within hearing range. And you kick ass, as always.

hippolyta said...

LOL Phallocephales! Love it. Gonna use that.

Charlotte Driving Safety Tips said...

Excellent plant photos. The white veins in the last plant are intriguing.

Daniel said...

1 - Generally, yes, but it's a matter of management, though, not eradication. Typically, public lands are managed with some goal or function in mind. If that goal is recreation or light forestry, then maybe some invasives aren't so bad. But if wilderness preservation and/or endangered species habitat is a concern (like in the Everglades) then removing invasive species is worth the pulling (and the money for the pullers!). Eradication is a lofty and impossible goal, but local ecosystem goals can nonetheless be met.

5 - Against it!

6 - Lots of things are lost when a species goes extinct. I'm sure of it! It's hard to think of what, exactly, other than the populations of the species itself. This question has dogged me ever since I perused a pamphlet put out by an Amazonian rainforest eco-charity. They had a Q&A page that included "Why do we care about species extinction?" Their answer, as I remember, was three-fold: We lose (1) reversability, (2) valuable future resources (to-be-discovered cancer cures, etc.), (3) ecosystem function (e.g. nitrogen doesn't cycle correctly when the one legume in the forest goes extinct, etc.) Their answers seem pretty good, but I can't help but feel that the list was incomplete.

Great book on invasive species in a scientific context, but with excellent layman prose:

Demons in Eden by J. Silvertown