Saturday, October 28, 2006

Invasive Miscanthus; the Challenge of Use and Definition

Miscanthus, landscape solution hero, or villain to natural area eco-systems? Trying to find an answer can help me demonstrate the problems inherent in the invasive species conversation. Just trying to get a handle on exactly how many areas of expertise will be involved in arriving at a knowledgeable position can be an interesting study in frustration.

I thought about presenting a simple dialogue between gardening and natural area preservation. I thought that this would be an elegant solution and would allow me to get a “buy” on understanding economic and development issues, import and export topics, quarantines, insect populations and bird life, non native earth worms and soil structure destruction, and pH consideration and agronomic considerations, as well as taxonomic discussions. Then of course I came across Miscanthus as a bio fuel source, and my plan fell apart.

Here is a tidbit to contemplate for a moment: “Using a computer simulator, Heaton predicted that if just 10 percent of Illinois land mass was devoted to Miscanthus, it could provide 50 percent of Illinois electricity needs. Using Miscanthus for energy would not necessarily reduce energy costs in the short term, Heaton said, but there would be significant savings in carbon dioxide production.” (source Molly McElroy, News Bureau) Other than wondering where the food to eat will come from, I was amazed to find that Europe is hot on Miscanthus production, and not too overly concerned about invasive tendencies.

Part of the problem can be found in trying to determine how, when, and where Miscanthus may be or is a problem and for whom it might or could be. There seems to be reasonable agreement that in sites where the plant is a problem it spreads by seed. Sterile varieties are recommended. Sterility itself, however, is an area of expertise I had failed to list above, and leads one down a new pathway of learning. Deciding which species of Miscanthus may be a problem continues the thinking process, and references to the evil ghost of “the species Miscanthus sinensis” which is the grandfather of all the escapees do nothing to clear up the confusion. Let me quote from the University of Minnesota: “Ornamental plantings of Miscanthus sinensis (the species, not a specific cultivar) are probably the source of the “wild type” Miscanthus sinensis that is now common in western NC; near Valley Forge, PA; and other areas in the Middle Atlantic States.” Of course we can add from HGTV’s site the following:

Given this level of complexity any hope of arriving at a definitive answer is fleeting.
I propose, therefore, if you are still with me, to outline the gardening values at work in making this plant a highly thought of solution for landscape and gardening challenges. Then, tack into the wind and explore a little of the harm the plant is causing in natural areas. If after that you are yet with me, I shall bring in the bio-fuel discussion and finish with a flourish announcing much and answering little.

So, let’s consider some information from a gardener’s perspective and examine the genus Miscanthus. This ornamental grass is comprised of several species all of which bring diversity to a landscape, variety on form, height and texture, and provide almost year around horticultural or visual interest. In addition to these attributes, this ornamental grass grows almost anywhere, especially in the mid Atlantic region. Growing almost anywhere is a significant factor in making a plant selection, and because it needs little help in getting established, minimal effort to maintain, looks good for ten months, and suffers fools gladly, it becomes a workhorse in the garden from a design perspective. Among the species commonly found in the trade are Miscanthus sinensis, transmorrisonensis, sacchariflorus, floridulus.

At Behnke Nurseries, we make an attempt to educate the consumer. Here is the buyer’s (Larry Hurley) abstract for information for the staff and his disclaimer:

(Personal reference notes by Larry Hurley taken from a variety of sources including books by John Greenlee and Rick Darke, various nursery catalogues, a lecture by John Hoffmann, the HGTV website, the Friends of the National Arboretum Newsletter, an article on research by Mary Meyers at the University of Minnesota in American Nurseryman, and so on. Not intended for publication, not proofed for publication....Suspect a lot of quotation marks missing): “Miscanthus and Invasiveness: Guidelines for Behnke Nurseries. Miscanthus is an invasive plant and has become a big problem in North Carolina and western Ohio, for example. According to Rick Darke, it forms dense stands in its native range, so it has great potential to damage wetlands in the US.

He says the keys are early season bloom, which give the seeds enough time to ripen, warm summers (which encourage earlier blooming) and wet locations. When these three aspects occur simultaneously, aggressive seeding can occur. One source also suggests planting only one cultivar to reduce the risk of cross pollination and seedlings reverting to a more aggressive “species form”.

Below is a list of species and cultivars that would seem to be okay, or at least low risk. Following is a list of “do not buys”. These lists comprise about half of what is available. For many, I don’t have enough information to render a decision, or, the cultivar isn’t commonly available at this time from our vendors.

Please encourage people to plant substitutes like Panicum, unless they are dead set on Miscanthus. Stick to the “okay to buy” list. Avoid cultivars that bloom in June, July and August. Okay to buy:
Autumn Light
Gold Bar
Hinjo aka Little Nicky ™
Kirk Alexander
Little Kitten
Little Zebra
Morning Light
Mysterious Maiden
November Sunset
oligstachyus (species)
Puenktchen (aka ‘Little Dot’)
Purpurescens (X)
Silberpfeil (Silver Arrow)
Super Stripe
Do Not Buy:
Grosse Fontaine
Kleine Fontaine
Kleine Silberspinne (aka ‘Little Silver Spider’)
Sacchariflorus (species)
Silberfeder (Silver Feather)
transmorrisonensis (species)

;“Conditions in the southeastern United States most closely approximate ideal conditions for miscanthus, and it is here, especially near moist, sunny bottomlands, that caution is warranted.”

From the longer and earlier, Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses by Darke;
“Antique cultivars, including ‘Gracillimus’, ‘Variegatus’ and ‘Zebrinus’ require very long, hot seasons if they are to flowers at all, and their seeds rarely mature in regions where they flower very late in autumn. Many modern cultivars, including some of the most beautiful, such as ‘Graziella’ and ‘Malepartus’ were developed and selected for their ability to flower is short seasons….Unfortunately, these selections bloom early enough to be prolific self-sowers in some warmer zones up into the mid-Atlantic states. They readily naturalize in and out of the garden, and can be a real nuisance in managed meadow gardens….Gardeners should use common sense when selecting miscanthus and considering its use in gardens adjacent to vulnerable native habitats.’; p 222
Moisture and heat are the key things required for spread; not a problem in California, for example (both Darke and Greenlee)

From FONA; in addition to the other data “In addition, the smaller variegated types of miscanthus were found to be “basically sterile”.”

HGTV Website; ”If you live in an area that’s conducive to Miscanthus spreading, avoid planting more than two cultivars. Research shows that cross pollination could mean that any progeny could revert to species.”

Twenty species, Asia to Africa. Clumpers and runners. African species sometimes broken out into a different genus.

Have skipped a few from the Encyclopedias that I, (Larry Hurley) deemed obscure,; e.g., ‘Mt. Washington’ , ‘Roland’, ‘Kleine Silberspinne’, etc.

Miscanthus floridulus is not grown in US, it is generally actually M. saccariflorus or hybrid M. ‘Giganteus’;
M. ‘Giganteus’; hybrid, Blooms very late summer, or not at all in short growing seasons. Generally does not self sow; loses lower leaves by midsummer
‘Little Big Man’; a seedling of ‘Giganteus’; similar in most respects but smaller
Hoffman talk: PPA 2007; leaves break off in winter and blow around, messy
M. oligostachyus: short; August bloom; generally does not self sow; open; smaller flowers.
M. ‘Purpurascens’; hybrid
“Because it rarely if ever self-sows, it is one of the best choices for gardens adjacent to natural areas in the eastern United States.”
‘Good version of Miscanthus”—HGTV Website, from Rick Darke
From John Greenlee: blooms July and August; best in zones 7 and 8
Blooms in July/August in warm climates; Darke; not at all in England; possibly an M. oligostachyus hybrid.
M. purpurascens ‘Autumn Sun’; Emerald Coast: Brilliant red-orange fall color
M. sacchariflorus: Silver Banner Grass; runner; August bloom; self sows. Aggressive in small gardens. A cv named ‘Interstate 95”! Loses lower leaves when dry.
Miscanthus sinensis in general (John Greenlee); clumping, prefers full sun and moist soil and usually tolerates standing or shallow water. Narrow-leaved types seem to better tolerate high heat and humidity
M. sinensis ‘Adagio’; August; Hoffman talk, PPA 2006; does not recommend for Asheville region due to invasive potential, only for the north
M. sinensis ‘Altwelbersommer’ (‘Indian Summer’); Bluemel catalog; blooms September and October.
M. sinensis ‘Andante’; Bluemel catalog says “the best Miscanthus on the market; strong mid-season bloomer; Hoffman talk, PPA: new cultivar, pink , late
M. sinensis ‘Arabesque’; Bluemel catalog says August bloomer; Emerald Coast says September
M.’ Autumn Light’, not in short Darke; zero germ Meyer; green, narrow leaves; blooms in September; Emerald Coast says September
M. sinensis ‘Bluetenwunder’; Emerald Coast; blue-gray foliage.
M. sinensis var condensatus ‘Cabaret’ Not in the short book; from HGTV website, quoting Darke; “The seed is sterile, so self sowing isn’t a problem”. Blooms in late September.
:Good version of Miscanthus”; HGTV website; from Rick Darke
Blooms in late September in warm areas.
Introduced from Japan by Skip March and John Creech.
M. sinensis var condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan’; flowers more freely and earlier than ‘Cabaret’; early September
Greenlee’ improved form of Variegatus
M. “Dixieland’: look at specs; zero germ in Meyer; not in short Darke; “similar to Variegatus but more compact”
Bluemel: dwarf form of Variegatus
Emerald Coast: pink-tinged blooms
M. sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’; Bluemel, September/October bloomer; Darke says mid to late summer; form of Variegatus.
M.sinensis ‘Flamingo’; Darke blooms late summer; Bluemel blooms September, October.
M. sinensis ‘Gold Bar’; Hoffman, PPA 2007; new cultivar; no notes but slide very nice, very heavy gold bar variegation; See Walters catalogue, slow grower, flowers mid-fall.
M. sinensis ‘Gracillimus’
“…is among the last to bloom…in late September or October…”
“Good version of Miscanthus”; HGTV Website; from Rick Darke
Not a clean clone, various variations over the years. Floppy
M. sinensis ‘Graziella’; a bad one, see Darke intro above; August or Early September
Bluemel blooms in August; “one of the best”
M. sinensis ‘Grosse Fontaine’; mid-summer flowers (Bluemel; early August)
M. sinensis ‘Hinjo’ aka “Little Nicky”, TM ; Compact Zebra Grass
Superb, much of character of Zebrinus; best choice of banded leaved Miscanthus for smaller gardens. Photo in mid-August in PA not yet in bloom.
“Good version of Miscanthus”; HGTV Website; from Rick Darke
Not floppy; Hines introduction
M. sinensis ‘Huron Blush’; Walters; flowers late summer
M. sinensis ‘Huron Sentinel; Walters; flowers late summer.
M. sinensis ‘Huron Sunrise’; Walters; “The most profusely blooming miscanthus.” Flowers late summer.
M. sinensis ‘Juli’: early summer flowering, probably a hybrid; Bluemel blooms in August, strong grower.
M. sinensis ‘Kascade’; midsummer blooms
M. sinensis ‘Kirk Alexander’; not in short Darke; zero germ Meyer
Better than Zebrinus, not as good as Hinjo (same banding form)
M. sinensis ‘Kleine Fontaine’; similar to Grosse Fontaine but smaller; assume mid-summer flowering
M. sinenis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’; Walters; green foliage; mid-summer blooms. The call it ‘Little Silver Spider’
M. sinensis ‘Little Dot’; Walters; see ‘Puenktchen’.
M. sinensis ‘Little Kitten’
Seedling of Yaku Jima; flowers sparsely; Low germ Meyer
Bluemel blooms late summer into fall.
M. Little Nicky TM, see ‘ Hinjo’
M. sinensis ‘Little Zebra’
“Good version of Miscanthus”; HGTV website; from Rick Dark; not in short book
Flowers late summer; Walters.
M. sinensis ‘Malepartus’: a bad one; see Darke intro above; blooms early September
M. sinensis ‘Minuett’; Bluemel; small, graceful, blooms in September
M. sinensis ‘Morning Light’
“Blooms late…and is not inclined to self-sowing, although it may do so in the warm, moist parts of the southeastern United States.” Blooms late.
“Good Version of Miscanthus”; HGTV Website, from Rick Darke
From John Geenlee: blooms mid-October; essentially a variegated Gracillimus
Darke: “Arguably the best all-around garden plant of the Miscanthus species and cultivars.”
Skip March and John Creech brought from Japan. Upright, doesn’t flop.

M. sinensis ‘Mysterious Maiden’; Emerald Coast; new plant forum PPA 2006; Blooms of Bressingham; September; thin, gold banded, upright
M. sinensis ‘Nippon’; mid-summer bloom. Bluemel blooms late June to fall.
Flowers mid-summer; Walters.
M. sinensis ‘November Sunset’; late summer bloom. Bluemel blooms in November.
M. sinensis ‘Positano’; Bluemel blooms September October.
M. sinensis ‘Puenktchen’; Emerald Coast; small version of M. strictus. Walters; flowers in late August.
M. sinensis ‘Rigoletto’; not in short Darke; low germ Meyer
Bluemel, compact Variegatus
M. sinensis ‘Sarabande’; blooms in August
Emerald Coast: “An excellent alternative to ‘Gracillimus’ for the Appalacian region, as it produces sterile seed.”
M. sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ (John Greenlee); older selection, flowers in August
Flowers freely; even in England (Darke) Flowers mid-summer; Walters.
M. sinensis ‘Silberpfeil’; not in short Darke; 0% germ Meyer
Darke encyclopedia says nearly impossible to distinguish from Variegata
Bluemel blooms August September
M. sinensis ‘Strictus’
…blooms in September…”; low germ Meyer
From Greenlee; very stiffly upright, vs Zebrinus, which is floppy; September bloom
Blooms early fall; Walters.
M. sinensis ‘Super Stripe’: Emerald Coast; Blooms of Bressingham; gold banded; small clumper
M. sinensis ‘Variegatus’
“…blooms in mid-September…”; low germ Meyer
Best variegation but usually needs staking
Flowers early fall; Walters.
M. sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’; not a true clone; several similar selections; very low germ Meyer
Bluemel blooms August September, ‘Adagio’ improved form
M. sinensis ‘Zebrinus’
“Flowers copper tinted in mid-September…; ‘Hinjo’ is better.
Usually requires staking.
M. transmorrisonensis; Evergreen Miscanthus; from Greenlee and Bluemel; green until heavy frost. Almost continual bloom from June to November. Flowers shed in fall and are ineffective in winter.”

As one can see, the varieties, forms, bloom times and textures available, make this landscape ornamental important in current design solutions, But it follows that there are many opportune pathways for introduction to natural areas, most of which will occur because of limited or absent information at the point of purchase. The end user even the professional is confronted by a bewildering array of choices and information.

And in due course the definition challenge of invasiveness raises its head as in this posting from the Takoma Gardener Weblog site: “Wikipedia tells us that witch-hunting is the persecution of a perceived enemy with extreme prejudice and disregard of actual guilt or innocence; it's a type of "moral panic." Okay, I think I have the right term, but you be the judge.

My second example is from a talk I heard recently by a plant expert from the University of Maryland. When asked if ornamental grasses are invasive she declared that Miscanthus sinensis is, yesiree. At which point I jumped into the fray to ask, "Isn't it just the species, not varieties like 'Morning Light'"? And to my surprise she responded that yes, in our area it's just the species that's a problem. So why the hell didn't she say that in the first place? “

As the reader might note, understanding requires far more investigation and time than most people are willing to invest.. Checking reference sites, we read: “Chinese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis Chinese silver grass was introduced from Asia about a century ago for use as an ornamental plant. It is a showy grass that readily spreads in areas where the soil is disturbed, such as roadsides, forest edges and clearings, and can create a thicket that prevents the growth of other plants. Because it is highly flammable, Chinese silver grass can be a fire hazard. It spreads by wind-dispersed seed and locally through growth of rhizomes.” This would lend credence to the Takoma Gardener’s position, it would seem. As I look at several information sites on invasive characteristics, I see a tendency to gloss over species differentiations as well as limited information on cultivar habits. A few more minutes of searching and I find: “In the United States there are two species, Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus, that are of concern in being weedy or invading natural areas. Their differences are described below. Click on the illustrations for enlarged images” (© 2003 Regents of the University of Minnesota)

This should be a signal that there needs be a deeper investigation of the characteristics of this genus before claiming absolute knowledge one way or another. It is worth keeping in mind the resulting potential cost of a wrong choice. “According to the National Invasive Species Council, invasive plants cover more than 100 million acres in the United States and are spreading across an additional 3 million acres each year. The estimated cost of invasive species to the U.S. economy is approximately $137 billion per year.”(Kathy Reshetiloff)

I remind the reader of the idea to use Miscanthus as a bio-fuel, and one begins to see the reach of conflicting goals based on complete knowledge and science. And the always changing nature of information gathered by scientific research means that we need to make educated choices based on a continues flow of new information without the hammer of absolute scientific position. One needs to accept the current preponderance of evidence when making a gardening choice.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Frogs and chytrid/(chrytid(sic)), natural and exotic, evolution and succession. global warming and carbon sequestration.

The demise of the Panamanian gold frog to the unchecked spread of chytrid fungus brings several invasive species questions to light. One question would be the issue as to whether chytrid is in invasive species. A search online of the Global Invasive Species Database produced the following: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is a non-hyphal parasitic chytrid fungus that has been associated with population declines in endemic amphibian species in upland montane rain forests in Australia and Panama. It is causes cutaneous mycosis (fungal infection of the skin), or more specifically chytridiomycosis, in wild and captive amphibians. First described in 1998, the fungus is the only chytrid known to parasitise vertebrates. B. dendrobatidis can remain viable in the environment (especially aquatic environments) for weeks on its own, and may persist in latent infections.

As I continue to search for the “native” habitat of the disease, I begin to find that it is wide-spread and may, by definition lie on the fringe of the current definitions. Chytridiomycosis has now been reported from 38 amphibian species in 12 families, including ranid and hylid frogs, bufonid toads, and plethodontid salamanders. Although chytridiomycosis is found in a range of species and habitats (including African frogs in lowland regions in Africa) it has caused population declines of amphibians species confined to montane rain forests (Weldon et al. 2004; Daszak et al. 1999). The fungus prefers lower temperatures which may explain the high precedence of the fungus in high elevations in the tropics. In culture conditions optimum growth occurred at 23°C, with slower growth occuring at 28°C and (reversible) cessation of growth occuring at 29°C (Longcore, Pessier, Nichols, 1999, in Daszak et al. 1999).

The issue here whether this is truly a directly introduced by human activity invasive species, or whether it is part of the natural ecological evolution and succession. The claim is made that it is directly the result of human activity which is causing an unnatural warming. “Global warming is wiping out frog populations and threatening many species with extinction by driving epidemics of disease.” (Mark Henderson: The Times, January 12, 2006). If the spread of species by changes in weather is a criterion for defining an invasion, then what would be the paradigm for normal ecological succession? The hand of mankind can be seen in the studies of carbon sequestration. “Carbon sequestration refers to the provision of long-term storage of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere, underground, or the oceans so that the buildup of carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas) concentration in the atmosphere will reduce or slow. In some cases, this is accomplished by maintaining or enhancing natural processes; in other cases, novel techniques are developed to dispose of carbon.” (Office of Science: US Dept of Energy)

When multiple variables are introduced, the task of defining an invasive species becomes complex and ever-shifting. “Every species has a set of environmental conditions under which it will grow and reproduce most optimally. In a given ecosystem, and under that ecosystem's set of environmental conditions, those species that can grow the most efficiently and produce the most viable offspring will become the most abundant organisms. As long as the ecosystem's set of environmental conditions remains constant, those species optimally adapted to those conditions will flourish. The "engine" of succession, the cause of ecosystem change, is the impact of established species have upon their own environments. A consequence of living is the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt alteration of one's own environment. The original environment may have been optimal for the first species of plant or animal, but the newly altered environment is often optimal for some other species of plant or animal. Under the changed conditions of the environment, the previously dominant species may fail and another species may become ascendant.” To complicate understanding further, “(t)here is a concept in ecological succession called the "climax" community. The climax community represents a stable end product of the successional sequence.” So it could be said that invasive species control is premised upon the stability of the overall environment which is not stable and changes over time.

So a reduction in the reach of the invasive species definition to direct human introduction may lead to a more manageable set of parameters. Species introduced by climate change may not be invasive. As in my previous post, the fuzzy, changeable edges of definition makes invasive species issues difficult to explain to a general audience. And the nature of scientific inquiry would demand a flexibility in the definition depended on current and on-going research.

The necessity to accept a changeable definition causes reluctance by the public to take action for a lack of “definite” science. This stance in turn causes friction and misunderstanding about the concept of invasive species as a whole, and therefore limits the finding of further research and control programs. Activists straining to protect ecosystems as currently occurring rush to push legislation, while others reject action until there is definitive science, which is in itself a misunderstanding of the scientific process. We wind up in a quagmire of a definition conundrum..

Invasive definitions: native and exotic

I would like to finish my information gathering about Miscanthus, but I find myself side-tracked by my political writing on a local issue, which consumes much time. However, as I read through postings under the heading of invasive species, I continue to discover tangential topics for conversation and discussion. While reading about Miscanthus as a bio-fuel source in an article entitled "Adding Biofuels to the Invasive Species Fire?", I stopped short when I read the following:

“Although invasive species are traditionally thought of as introduced species, a native species also can become invasive through alterations to the environment, Wiedenmann said. One example: the removal of oak and chestnut trees along much of the east coast has led to sugar maples becoming invasive in some areas.”

Taking into account that the description above may be a natural areas succession sequence or, in fact, the makings of an invasion and resulting biological desert, this is my old friend, the fuzzy definition. Let me quote the federal definition as explained in a white paper (April 27, 2006) for those of you who have not moved on to something more exciting:

“Preamble: Executive Order 13112 – defines an invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” In the Executive Summary of the National Invasive Species Management Plan (NISMP) the term invasive species is further clarified and defined as “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

This is the native versus alien controversy that derails many attempts by differing interests group to come to some agreement. The native only sub goal rides under the radar of invasive species issues. A few years ago, the thought of placing a native on an invasive list was taboo in some circles. Today, a realization that any species can become invasive, a definition held by some, demonstrates the ever-evolving nature of understanding the science of invasive species. What this means for mortals, not daily involved in the discussion, is shifting perceptions of what an invasive species is, and therefore, at best, skepticism that there is a problem. When the definitions change so fast, coming to terms at a basic level is unclear in the best of circumstances. And further, trying to legislate, with fuzzy goals, leads to unintended consequences. Politically, a conservative, cautious stance is the usual response.

This caution in turn produces its own challenges. What we need is an early warning system and eradication special forces, a new eco-green-beret, ready to quash an invading species before it becomes to large to handle and a detriment to our environment. But fuzzy definitions blur distinctions for decision makers who control the financial purse and economic priorities. They do not see at best more than twelve months into a financial reporting document, whose balance sheets and profit/loss statements make no allowances for fuzzy futures and changing ecologies.

And while I am on this, let’s look up the definition of weed. I happen to belong to a long-winded, generation which feels compelled to use big words usually of a Greek or Latin origin when a simple plain good old Anglo-Saxon word would do just fine. And so the definition of a weed from PennState:
“A weed is a plant out of place not intentionally sown; whose undesirable qualities outweigh its good points. Some crop plants even can become weeds when they grow where they are not wanted. In contrast, a number of plants usually thought of as weeds may actually be helpful in controlling erosion or serving as food for wild animals and birds.”

For the general public, this just about sums it up. What about you? Any thoughts?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Invasion of Ladybugs: Friends or Foes?

Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children aren’t home

As with many homes near wooded lots, our house is prone to the little lady bug invasion just about now. A recent article in the Washington Post, highlights the challenge of this invasive species. For me, the challenge is sorting through competing societal understandings and confusion.

I learned that the ladybug was my friend, that it devoured plant pests, which is very good if you are in the nursery business. Then I learned that there were many ladybugs, followed by the revelation that the bug in the rug inside the house was most likely not the native. In addition there were actually bad lady bugs, such as the Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle. Now the question for some was whether any bug in the house was good, and for others whether the house guest was the native or the non native. I wanted to know if the non-native devoured aphids too, as well as the native did. Already things were getting out of hand.

Can an invasive species be both good and bad? If the alien devoured food crop pests reducing the need for pesticides, wouldn’t it be good? And the invasion of the house, which itself is invasive as far as natural areas are concerned, is that of concern as far as the invasive species discussion goes?

So first an abstract from Iowa State University “the multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), has become common throughout the United States and all of Iowa. It is well known for the annoying habit of accumulating on the sides of buildings and wandering indoors during the fall. Asian lady beetles are a beneficial biological control in trees during the summer, and in fields and gardens during the fall, but can be a severe household nuisance during late fall and winter. Wooded residential and industrial areas are especially prone to problems.
The origins of the Asian lady beetles are not clear, although it appears the current pest species was not purposefully released in the United States or in Iowa. Beetles that arrived by accident in ports such as New Orleans in the late 1980s have crawled and flown all by themselves to all corners of the country. “ Notice the reference to beneficial, except as a pest for the non-agriculturally inclined. Now recall that the newspaper article mentioned invasive in the article, and one begins to see confusion rise like early morning mist. Is invasive bad? Is it neutral? Is it good?

Trying to educate the public as to which beetle is good and which is bad is an exercise in futility. Trying to pin the spot on the beetle as to how it came to live in North America is an ongoing lively game. Compare the article above with the following from a Purdue University website: “The species found so abundantly is the multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, common in Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia. The name "multicolored" refers to tremendous color variation in this species, ranging from black with two red spots, to red with 19 black spots, and about every combination in between. They were introduced by USDA Agricultural Research scientists in the late 1970's and early 1980's as a biological control agent for pear psylla and other soft bodied insects.”

And wouldn’t you know it but my friends at USDA get the spotted finger pointed at them. I guess I will meander over there in the next few days and see what they have to say at BARC (Beltsville national Agricultural Research Center). Of course, in an earlier posting I noted that you must be very cautious when using the web as your sole source of information.
So a review; there is an invasion by a bug which purportedly kills our enemies in the garden, but, is also our enemy, even though it looks from afar like our friend, which, also kills our enemies in the garden, but does not move into our house as a winter guest, and, therefore, is both benign and native, and not subject to the vacuum cleaner.

So we have confusion over benefit and identification, as well as conflict between a beneficial use versus a domicile pest. I am making light humor about a serious topic and hope I have shown the challenge I find in getting audiences to stay with me when I try to explain invasive species. However I also hope you can see why the entirety of the question so intrigues me. And one more thing, even the old nursery rhyme seems to be exotic and not native: “The English word ladybird is a derivative of the Catholic term " Our Lady". The tradition of calling this rhyme was believed to have been used as a seemingly innocent warning cry to Catholic (recusants) who refused to attend Protestant services as required by the Act of Uniformity (1559 & 1662). This law forbade priests to say Mass and forbade communicants to attend it. Consequently Mass was held secretly in the open fields. Laymen were subject to jail and heavy fines and priests to execution. Many priests were executed by the terrible death of being burnt alive at the stake or, even worse, being hung, drawn and quartered. The most famous English recusants were Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot Conspirators.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Barberry, government, education, invasive or pervasive

Once again, I find another example of the intersection of conflicting goals when it comes to landscape choices, invasive species, and landscape solutions. The Mid Atlantic Exotic Pest Plant Council’s list-serve has been alive with posts about a public school property and the landscape decision to plant Japanese barberry, Berberis thunbergii. Here is the original posting:

I am writing from Harford County MD. Bel Air High school is scheduled to be rebuilt. Athletic fields and parking lots are being redesigned. This is county property. There are several things about this project which are very disturbing to me but I will limit this msg to only one. The county has hired a designer who plans to plant Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, scores of them. An executive order was signed at the White House several years ago. Does this only apply to Federal Property? Does Maryland have any such provision for individual counties? I understand that the state has rescinded JB from its noxious weed list. Can anyone quote or provide a link to some authority with some teeth in it that I can pass on to the designer to prevent planting JB while this is still in the planning phase?Sam Jones

Among the responses was this comprehensive one from Kerrie Kyde, which sums up the current state of confusion.

“A couple things...Japanese Barberry has never been on the MD state noxious weed list. That list is six species long, mostly thistles and Johnson grass and Multiflorarose as an associated species. The state currently has no existing laws or regulations that forbid counties, individuals or companies from planting species or cvs that most of us would rather not see planted. In most cases, the county planning boards or zoning boards, or the local governmental agency that oversees development and enforces Code, has a list of OK species to plant. Most developers use those lists. In many cases,those lists are not up to date with respect to species now known to be or become problem plants in natural areas. Or even in gardens. When you refer to the federal executive order, are you referring to Clinton's executive order from February 1999? I am not aware of anything inthat Order, which set up NISC and encourages federal agencies to make decisions incorporating planning about combating invasive species, nor anything in the National Invasive Species Management Plan, that specifically forbids any federal agency from using invasive or even simply exotic species in their planting plans. I would be most happy to be corrected on this point, and have someone show me language in these documents that limits federal activities with respect to plant species. But I think you're out of luck on legislative or regulatory back-up to your position, unfortunately. Can you get the ear of a member of the County Council, or speak to someone in the county DEP or similar agency?”

Many others also responded with calls to support and web-sites to visit, but in the end, the only remedy is a persuasive assault on the better nature of the planning group, the developer and the landscape architect. Of course political support from the neighborhood would be an excellent way to get attention, but requires a Don Quixote to spend personal time tilting at the plan.

As I wrote in an earlier posting, professionals and the public need to be educated so that they can make decisions in an informed fashion. Further, the question as to species versus cultivars will come up. Is it only the species which is invasive or are there sterile varieties? There is some considerable work being done to find true sterile cultivars. However the list of cultivars is lengthy as is the landscape use of this species as this list copied from the Clemson extension web-site shows.

Var. atropurpurea – The leaves assume reddish to purplish shades. The yellow flowers are tinged with purple, but the fruits are the same bright red as those of the species.
Var. atropurpurea ‘Crimson Pygmy’ – This is the most popular Japanese barberry selection. This low, dense plant grows to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The foliage color is best when grown in full sun.
Var. atropurpurea ‘Rose Glow’ – The new leaves are rose-pink, mottled with deeper red-purple splotches. The colors gradually mature to a deep reddish purple. This variety has become extremely popular in the South. It grows to about 6 feet tall.
‘Aurea’ – The leaves of this dense, relatively slow-growing shrub are bright yellow. It does not flower or fruit heavily.
‘Kobold’ – Its habit is similar to that of a compact Japanese holly or boxwood. The shrub grows to 2 feet at maturity and forms a perfect mound without pruning.

A plant that is remarkable for its abilities to spread in its natural setting is usually a plant that needs to be thought about in an exotic setting.

Ok, enough for now, I am off to try to complete my Miscanthus posting before I lose your attention

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wetlands (Ballona) saved for invasive species; jail for invasive (van de Hoek) predator

Sometimes, it is easier to make my point with facts that seem stranger than fiction. In earlier posts, I tried to show how one branch of government works hard to eradicate or at least control invasive species while other agencies of the same government promote the very same species. Now comes an article from the L. A. Times about an environmental activist, Roy van de Hoek, who, not for the first time, apparently faces prosecution for removing invasives from a protected area. One wonders from what, exactly, the protected area is protected. And here is the stark presentation of the dilemma, of when different agenda collide, summed up eloquently in the article, "But did environmentalist Roy van de Hoek go too far when he took his pruning shears to a nonnative tree and plants in the Westside nature preserve? " Now we can all feel safe that the Ballona Wetlands are safe, as the activist is banned and the invasives safe.

My industry is sometimes spotlighted as the source of bad plants that threaten our natural areas. I think, rather, that the conflicting ideals and limited understanding of the issues is a greater challenge. I suspect that the removal was done without a permit, perhaps to make a point. No permit gave an opportunity to someone somewhere to engage the legal system in a process of control, not of a botanical invasive species, but rather the human species.

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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fall flowers and garden myths; ragweed & goldenrod

Today, armed with camera, I thought I would find inspiration for my next philosophical meandering. I found, however, the simple joy of a late summer day, perhaps the last truly warm day of the season. As I walked through the flowers looking for something unusual to photograph, I overheard a conversation between two customers, which got my attention. As they came around a corner and spied the Solidago “Nag’s Head’, I heard one say to the other, “Oh no they are selling ragweed!” Quickly, they backed away reaching for modern medications and somewhat pleased that they had identified the enemy.

Too bad that they, like many before them confused the two plants, goldenrod pictured on th right with ragweed on th left. As I do a web search, on ragweed, I am stunned to see what I think is goldenrod. How quickly we look to assign absolute blame without first asking some general questions abou the source and authority.

So I meandered on. I was encouraged by staff to feature Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, the Higan cherry, as a wonderful all year interest tree for me to promote. A small alert signal went off in the corner of my mind. Where did I put the notes concerning this species invading the Potomac gorge? A quick check of one page on the internet, - and three seconds (most certainly not definitive) -, yielded a mostly all clear from the experts, and a cautionary note from a business. Nope, I needed to find out more about this before I wandered off target, and committed the sin of the second paragraph above.

And then I saw the mums, asters and pansies. For an overwhelming sight-sensation, the intense concentrations of color produced by these plants are stunning. Not so long ago, these plants were everywhere in commercial and private landscapes. Now, the idea that one might plant something for a moment’s enjoyment has receded. Today we plant for instant long-term results with minimal effort. But I take pleasure in the knowledge that gardening runs in cycles and someday we will return to planters’ paradise.

So on to home, and a quick stop at what we called when I was growing up, the government farm, BARC. When the light is just right, Walnut Grange , situated on a hill overlooking the research fields, can make one forget that he or she is right in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington metropolis. Built in the early 19th century, its semicircular bays gave rise to the name, the butterfly house. A little research and I find that even as a historical preservation commissioner, I cannot get exact information, as my county resource list says the house was built in 1805, but the United States government says 1790’s.

Well, maybe I was being a bit hard on the shoppers. Seems trying to get the facts is not easy. Sometimes we need to take a breather from our strongly held positions, and smell the roses before winter comes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Homeland security; E. coli, and diminished funding & BARC

The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center with research facilities spanning all areas of food, horticulture and agriculture is in trouble. The facilities constitute a national laboratory comparable with Los Alamos, but the federal funds are stagnate and have been for the past decade. Increases have totaled 2.7%(per year; or 33% fpr the ten year period correction made 11/18/06) while the consumer price index has risen 26%. Energy costs have risen 40% even with a 20% reduction in demand. Today we are afraid of our fresh greens. Who is researching the science behind the problem?

Now withstanding spinach and E. coli, among the achievements of the people and programs of BARC are the following:
· viroids and spiroplasmas—two new life forms shown to cause many previously puzzling plant diseases
· previously unknown protozoan parasites that cause human and livestock disease, and is developing means to control them
· “spray-can” technology for insecticides
· DEET, 50 years on arguably the best topical mosquito repellant on the market
· artificial insemination for poultry, swine, and cattle
· non-destructive instrumentation for measuring fruit quality—and a technology that revolutionized the world’s grain marketing
· Phytochrome – the molecule responsible for controlling the effect of light on plant flowering and germination
· Plant breeding programs (e.g., New Guinea impatiens ,’Atlantic’ potato (the number one chipping variety in the U.S.), Roma tomato, and reintroduction of the American elm)
· Super-critical cold stage electron microscopy to determine snow flake and ice structure, which has tremendous impact on the worlds’ hydrologic cycle for quantitatively predicting water runoff from snow, packs.
· For the chocolate industry: Identifying individual clones of the global coca germplasm collections
· The scientific citation index ranks approximately 20% of BARC’s scientists among the top 1% of agricultural scientists worldwide. One scientist has been the-most cited scientist in the field of animal health globally for the past ten years.

The research authority of BARC is such that the scientists working there are in the top percentile for having their work cited by other scientist worldwide. Now for fiscal year 07, 1/3 of the research units will not be able to meet their salary budgets. Because of this federal atrophy, the number of PhD’s has dropped 18% in the last ten years.

And why should you care? Honey bees under attack, spinach unsafe, turkeys and pork suspect, beef and milk safety, and the list goes on. And funding does not. Why? Because we take the science behind food safety for granted, and do not worry about what invasive or native organism may attack. We worry instead about explosives at airports, because that danger is immediately tangible, and makes great headlines. Withering potatoes and dying citrus trees are hard to explain in 30 seconds.

The major areas of study at BARC include:

Crop & Animal Production and Protection
Natural Resources & the Environment
Human Nutrition Research
Mission Critical Databases
Leader in the Systematics of insects, fungi, nematodes and parasites of agricultural importance
Fast Response to New and Emerging Concerns, e.g. perchlorate in milk, soybean rust
Developing Organic farming technologies

We propose to spend hundreds of millions to build a wall to keep neighbors out; we strangle work which identifies and attempts to stop the importation of diseases and insects which could disrupt our food supply as well as our natural areas and home gardens. World class collections of pathogens, animal parasites, insects and plants and seeds are seriously under funded; on is stored in the basement of a 60 year-old barn sustained with a minimal budget.

Politically, BARC falls within one congressional district with in one state. This means that earmarking looks like pork, and for the White House, there is no political gain in funding one district. The concentration of effort at one site allows the research programs to take a broad, systems-based approach to solving problems. Politically, it seems to be the strategy today of the federal government to break up this concentration and spread the research among many congressional districts. This stratagem makes sense if you are one of the districts getting money for research facility, but it destroys the cohesiveness of the whole, and limits the power of multi-disciplinary approaches.

BARC stands at a crossroad. To continue as the nation’s premier agricultural research center BARC must: attract and retain highest quality scientists; also update and upgrade its facilities, modernize its equipment, and acquire cutting-edge research tools. If BARC is to continue its historical leadership, adequate funding must be there. Yet trends are not encouraging for the following:

BARC needs to continually add new scientific methodology to keep up with rapid developments in science that push technology forward. Developing these methodologies are essential for the research workforce to stay at the cutting edge of technology development. BARC must add new capabilities as program directions emerge through redirection of existing program resources or through new resources. BARC must also maintain and grow its critical mass of scientists in order to holistically address the needs of farmers and ranchers as well as the American consumer.
b. Core Capabilities
BARC’s core strengths— dedicated expert personnel, specialized infrastructure, modern equipment, a supportive and facilitating research community, etc.—must be maintained, and continually modernized to keep pace with national and international research standards. In particular, core staff capabilities must be continuously re-energized as scientists retire and the work force changes.
Impact on business operations
Without significantly increased funding, research programs will be cut further in order to operate the aged facilities. The ability to follow new research leads or initiate new high priority research direction will be drastically curtailed unless other programs are reduced or eliminated.
BARC has 1100 federal employees and a total workforce of about 1800. About 290 employees are PhDs on the permanent staff. BARC also hosts visiting scientists and students from around the world. The BARC salary budget is about $90M/yr. This has an impact of about $250M on the local economy. About half of BARC employees live in Prince Georges County. BARC also spends tens of millions of dollars each year on supplies, equipment, and construction.

If you are interested in helping, or for more information, please write me at I am trying to facilitate a meeting on November 17th , 2006 in Beltsville. Reports will be presented and a tour of the facilities will be included.

I hope to present a history with pictures at a later time. '

Til then, remember that sometimes we need to look further than today; we need to reach and set a distant goals built on current dreams to solve tomorrows' problems.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ballast water issues face Maryland General Assembly!

Protection of natural resources, invasive species issues, and ballast water has a long history in the State of Maryland. It is interesting to note the regulatory complexity which was assign to the issue of the destruction of water ways in 1663. Direct economic consideration most likely was the prime factor in the enactment of this legislation.
The following extract was copied from the Maryland Archives site.

Assembly Proceedings, September 1664. 533

Acts made att a Session of Assembly begun September
the fifteenth 1663 and Continued by adjournment till
September 6th 1664 by the Honble Charles Calvert Esqr

An Act for the preservation of the Seuerall Harbours within
this Province

Whereas diuers persons as well the Inhabitants of this Pro-
uince as Forreignors hither tradeing in Ships of great burthen
as alsoe in other Smaler uessells haue hithertoo Customarely
used to cast out of their said shipps and other uessells their
ballast in such Creekes and Harbours where they Comonly
Ride to take in their ladeing which Custome if not timely pre-
uented and Redresse found therefore will in short tyme proue
to the decay of most of the Chiefest harbors in this Prouince
Bee itt therefore Enacted by the Right Honble the Lord Proprie-
tary with the Consent of the Upper and Lower house of this
present Generall Assembly That all persons whether Inhabitants
or fforreigners here tradeing in shipps of great or Lesser
burthen or any other uessell with a Deck that shall after the
Publicacon of this Act Cast out of their said shipps or other
vessells any kind of Ballast into the Harbours or Creekes where
they Comonly Ride and doe not Carry itt to the shoare and
lay itt aboue high Water marke shall for every such default
forfeite and pay two thousand pounds of Tobacco the one
moyety to the Lord Proprietary and the other moyty to him
that sueth to bee Recovered by accon of debt or Informacon
wherein noe wager of Lawe Essoyne or protection to be
allowed or admitted And Bee itt further Enacted that Every
Master of a ship or vessell bound to take notice of this Act
shall att the tyme of the Entry of his said shipp or vessell haue
a Coppy of this Act delivered him by the Secretary for write-
ing of which Coppy soe to be delivered as aforesaid The Sec-
retary shall haue fiue hundred pounds of Tobacco out of the
Publick Leauy paid this yeare and noe longer.

Friday, October 06, 2006


"INVASIVE SPECIES COUNCILS - WHO KNEW?Anybody out there know who sits on the National Invasive Species Council? You may be surprised to learn its industry representatives are Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, UAP Timberland, and our old fave, Monsanto. What the f*ck??? Monsanto even heads up its Control and Management Workgroup. Maybe that explains the wholesale promotion of "Roundup" by the EPA and other government sources. (And it doesn't stop at the federal level - state invasive species councils are similarly populated. Monsanto's everywhere.)"

Well let’s see, the National Invasive Species Council is, actually, composed of 13 Federal Departments and Agencies. The Secretaries or the Administrators of each Department or Agency are the official Council members. However, their designated technical representatives carry out the day-to-day work of the Council. These representatives meet several times a year. The official Council generally meets two times a year.

Depending on your state of mind this is either a disaster waiting to happen because nothing worthwhile comes from the US government, or reassuring because the government has the funds to actually study the problem and do something about it.

The National Invasive Species Council (Council) is an inter-Departmental council that helps to coordinate and ensure complementary, cost-efficient and effective Federal activities regarding invasive species. The Council was established February 3, 1999 by Executive Order 13112.

I think, however, the group under attack here is the Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee. Executive Order 13112 calls for the creation of a Federal Advisory Committee to provide information and advice for consideration by the Council. The ISAC is composed of approximately thirty stakeholders from state organizations, industry, conservation groups, scientists, academia and other interests.

I am unsure as to whither came the observation of membership by Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, UAP Timberland, as I know of no direct connection with these companies on the present Committee. As for Monsanto, yes, indeed, they had a seat on the first ISAC. This is in keeping with the directive to have a broad range of interest groups on the committee. Let’s be clear here: Monsanto had one vote out of thirty. Current membership included representatives of environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Academic research representation is provided by Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, Pacific Science Association, Bishop Museum, and Florida Gulf Coast University, Whitaker Center for Science, Math and Technology Education as examples.

Many industries have an interest financially in invasive species. Some like Monsanto will benefit if we need to chemically control a weed. I f we decide that we can afford the time to hand pull, or perhaps just ignore the problem, Monsanto will not benefit. But, there are industries like shipping and fishing represented on the committee, such as the Chamber of Shipping of America, which have a stake in the control of invasive species which inflict potential costs on their abilities to do business.

This is but a small indication of the broad range of interest groups at the table. For the retail consumer whose interests cross a wide range from gardens to pets and recreation we have the American Nursery and Landscape Association, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, and the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council. We even have a rancher.

All of us on the committee come together with cross-disciplinary expertise or interests. The fact that I am on the Invasive Species Committee, representing, interestingly enough, no one but my self, means that gardeners have two horticulture votes, while other equally involved industries have but one or even none. This loose aggregation of individuals and organizations comes together across political lines and deeply held preconceptions to find common ground on the issue of invasive species which affect all Americans and the world.

Gardeners tend to get excited at the thought that someone is thinking about keeping them from being the first person in the area to have the newest North Korean vine, but I do not hear much controversy over the federal government’s attempt to control the spread of the emerald ash borer or "sudden oak" death. We want our government to protect us except when individual greed overwhelms us.

By its very diverse nature, the committee effectively brings different opinions and solutions to a variety of issues, which concern us from the preservation of natural landscapes to the containment of insects and diseases which adversely harm our food supply and of course our ornamental gardens. And do not forget our need as a society for recreation. Bad bugs, bad plants and bad animals can ruin a vacation.

This committee takes seriously the impact that federal regulations can have on individual’s rights and short or long term financial gain or loss. The issues surrounding invasive species are multi-faceted and do not give easy answers without close inspection. The science is on-going, the effects are clearly visible, and the solutions are harder to spot.

I am proud to serve as Secretary of this committed group. On the issue of invasives, I usually find that if everyone is displeased or even mad at me, I can take solace that I have found the center of the controversy.
The call to arms to do nothing is strong. The will to think takes energy and time.
The complexities inherent in the challenge of invasive species touch almost every aspect of our lives.
The very nature of this complexity makes those who contend in this arena an easy target for negative asumptions and aspersions.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Invasive Species; Nothing Important is ever Simple

English ivy, Hedera helix, and Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, are but two of the Mid Atlantic’s natural area invaders. Invasive species spread rapidly uncontrolled by natural predators or diseases thereby out competing local, native flora. The result is a reduction of plant species and eventually animal species. Occasionally, these plants can form “biological deserts” or mono-cultures.

The pathways for introduction vary from direct human transportation and cultivation to hidden hitch-hikers found in packing materials and ballast water. The speed of international trade and the ease by which resources from around the world travel has significantly increased the flow of species from their natural self- sustaining environments to new ecosystems around the world.

The general public is at best only partially aware of the issues of invasive species. The complexity of the invasive species discourse requires understandings from the fields of history, geography, botany, biology ecology, meteorology, agronomy, agriculture, horticulture, architecture, art, politics, economics, and law. This list is in not complete.

‘Invasive’, ‘alien’, ‘exotic’ are words which may be heard with pejorative meanings which complicate the public discourse. Current political debates color subliminal interpretations; End goals and agenda may lead to conflict: Native only, free market, and property rights are but a few intersections of contention.

Gardens from Edinburgh, Hampton Court Palace, Butchert Gardens, and Inverewe Gardens are powerful, seductive examples of a great garden type and provide a brief sample of gardening design and desire. The juxtaposing of form, texture and color are all primary features of a modern American garden. Because of ease of travel, and of low transportation costs, any plant may be secured to fill specific design challenges or fancy. The European Age of Exploration brought an explosion of interest in plant types which went far beyond basic medicinal, food or commercial needs. Plant collecting and speculative acquisition projects fuelled western passions for new and interesting plants.

One effect of consumerism today is the need to buy the newest or latest of a type. This consumer drive is found in commodities such as new cars and extends into the fashion industry of which gardening is a subset. Historic western agricultural and horticultural concepts are incorporated in present garden traditions. Western hardening practices stretching over 1000 years are deeply imbedded in the public perception of beauty, and therefore, “correctness” of design.

Horticultural and landscape needs select species for abilities to acclimate to multiple environments, (hardiness), ease of reproduction (cost), and acceptance of growth patterns influenced by human interventions. Species which do not adapt readily to variances in humidity, temperature, and soil types do not become landscape standards, but are relegated to the niche market of garden collectors and enthusiasts.

The urge to find the newest or acquire the latest market offering is one of many pathways for the introduction of invasive species. The market for “new”, starts the process of observation, trial, culling and selection. The widespread importation of plant species can include the unintended consequence of disease or animal introduction.

Gardens have been and are used to signal authority and power. Landscapes send strong messages of authority and domination. A message of control is imparted from grand landscape presentations; those who control nature, surely controls you. The ability to alter and re-form nature powerfully conveys messages to the beholders.

Well tended and manicured edges are methods of control and require the cooperation of specially selected compliant, usually very easy-to-propagate species. The nature of horticultural selection and the needs of some landscape solutions are predisposed towards choosing potentially invasive species.

Natural landscapes which from a distance seem to limit diversity impart a sense of serenity, peace, and tranquility. Too much clutter creates a disturbing image; landscape prescriptions tend to limited species palette. The need for security is most likely hard-wired into mankind, who clears the immediate area at an exit by reducing the species palette to an absolute minimum. Lawns consisting of one species are an example of a security solution which tends in turn impart feelings of serenity, security, and success.

Present landscape solutions address the public’s need for security and accepted current standards of beauty by reducing species diversity, controlling plant growth through cultivar selection. The resulting plant palate may contain plants which are chosen for reasons of hardiness (cold, heat, humid conditions), easy reproduction (speed, success rate, cost), large growing range, and botanical competitiveness. These same criteria are hall-marks of invasive species.

The public right to plant in a personally satisfying manner collides with the need to protect diverse, self-sustaining ecosystems which filter water and clean air and protect biological diversity. The long term responsibility of government to enforce standards to maintain property values and public safety is off set by short term attitudes and tastes. Adding to the invasive discussion are property rights issues, such as zoning, which are layered with the force of centuries, and spiced with current misunderstandings and misperceptions.

In addition there is an intuited presumption that planting “native” is the answer to all or most horticultural challenges. The definition of native and its problems notwithstanding, going native does not in all cases reduce care and maintenance, guarantee survival, or offer short term availability and cost benefits.

Invasive plant species address near term landscape goals for cost adaptability and maintenance. The result of the use of these species which are aggressive and can escape the garden can be the creation of monocultures. Mono cultures or biological deserts contain one species which out-competes all other species. Further, monocultures provide little or no resources for the previously existing ecosystem. Many invasive species are not fed on by existing insect populations the decline of which can reduce bird populations and therefore the overall diversity needed for a self-sustaining ecosystem.

The unintended consequence to eastern woodland edges of the introduction of the Bradford pear, Pyrus calleryana, is substantial. The public is entranced by the white-flowered beauty that most consider natural early in the spring in the mid-Atlantic urban areas. The hybrid off-spring of Bradford pears fill already disturbed former farmland which is in the process of returning to some level of a “natural” state though probably not a self replicating ecosystem given the limited area and biological diversity. In addition, long term exposure to the tree in urban garden settings have convinced both the horticultural industry and the gardening public that this is a “bad” garden plant which fails to live up to current minimal expectations as a ornamental specimen choice. The short-lived nature combined with a proclivity to self destruct in wind and ice storms is not yet realized by all agencies local government.

Local government propagates regulations to enforce development standards. Governments assisting citizens to make informed plant choices through research grants, which address specific needs, such as: erosion (Kudzu), urban street tree hybridization (Bradford Pears) and transportation (Crown Vetch).

Local zoning or land-use regulations proscribe in detail plant species choices and site specific horticultural solutions. Commercial property landscape buffers are mandated from lists which may be many decades old. These lists can contain invasive species. Developers and builders retaining engineers, architects, lawyers and accountants look for cost savings. These saving are not likely to be found in fighting a local government’s plant list. So, the private interests specify the easiest to obtain, which is usually the cheapest, plants on the list.

In the mid-Atlantic this list may contain Norway maples, Acer platanoides, Japanese barberry, Berberis thunbergii, burning bush, Euonymus elatus, and English ivy, Hedera helix. Given this list, many growers will happily comply and provide these plants.

The three levels of governments differing positions present a tension in the market place and a challenge to natural area land managers. While strategic management plans are in place at the federal level, the states are grappling with agricultural weed laws and environmental and recreational needs, and recognition through the creation of State Invasive Species Councils. Local governments which tend to deal with immediate needs are constrained by limitations on their authority, by limited available funds to create management plans, and by direct constituent demands.

Creative use of the confusion among government agencies can be helpful to both the desires invasive species issue community and the private interest needs. The cross purpose of short term land use and long term environmental repair can result in a positive win for both sides. The removal of the invasive species from the above-pictured site allowed the client to obtain the views of his commercial investment; the retention of the native trees gave the community a sense of woodland setting softening the edge between the hard commercial building and the passer-bys.

This year a renowned national company famous for its depiction and stories of earth is selling a small tree from Australia in the United States, Wollemi nobilis. This species is endangered and was thought lost, but through modern horticultural techniques small clones have been produced. The original stand is protected and the question now becomes one of ethics. Is it alright to propagate species and move them among the continents in order to assure their survival? Should mankind encourage the propagation and movement of plants from around the world? Who decides which species can move and which are confined to their “native” area.