Thursday, October 12, 2006

Invasive traditions; burning bush

Adrian Higgins, garden editor for the Washington Post, has an excellent article on invasive species in the Thursday, October 12th, 2006, “Home” section. He brings to the great gardening public a clear, concise message about unintended consequences that could arise from gardening choices made without complete information about certain plant species proclivities.

One plant mentioned is Euonymus alatus, the ubiquitous “burning bush”. Driving to a meeting near Annapolis today, I was treated to rows and hedges of this plant. A standard of the landscape design tradition for many years, its fiery red fall color, and its willingness to accept free form or manicured appearances, to survive with little effort or cost, and to provide linear demarcation and screening make it a powerful choice for gardeners. The fall coloring is a powerful extra in the selection this plant.

The problem then is one of too little information, for most who plant this species will not see the casual chain from stalwart of the garden to natural area invader. And even if many do see it in a woodland setting, especially in the fall, the reaction is not one of immediate revulsion and rejection.

Herein is the gardeners’ dilemma. Urban and suburban gardeners and landscape managers who plant look for function, form, texture, and color. This plant is spectacularly well suited for the many missions assigned to it. The result is that this species is a fundamental building block for non-competitive garden designs. Referring to my first posting, one can see that the very cultural attributes of this species as well as others described by Mr. Higgins, lend it and them to being recommended by government agencies as potential landscape solutions.

One challenge seems to be increasing our culture’s definition of beauty to include self- sustaining natural areas. More directly, the challenge would be to find a way to redefine our expectations of traditional beauty. In other words, have gardeners and landscape managers see a burning bush in full autumn glory, and get a negative reaction.

And then there is the cost of removing existing stands, and the political impossibility of removing private plantings. I hope to write about some of the various state solutions in a future posting, but for now we should give Mr. Higgins a big well-done for his efforts at continuing the conversation.

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