Monday, January 15, 2007

Invasive: thoughts and threads

Recent invasive species web log additions have caught my attention. Hybridization and Sexual Reproduction in the Invasive Alien ..., which examines " hybridization may influence the sexual reproduction of the complex in Belgium and to determine how it may contribute to the dispersal of the species” and UCR Researchers Examine How Some Invasive Plants Gain a Foothold reports on research into the relationship of population size and relatedness to species spread and the potential implication for control and regulatory measures. The idea submitted would be to regulate the distribution of only one genotype of a particular species.

In the mid 1990’s, while I was still personally propagating and growing perennials for the landscape and home trade, I was introduced to Lythrum spp. and was told through the grapevine that research in Canada had found a sterile cultivar: Lythrum “Morden’s Pink”. In the background of day to day production activities, I heard rumor of the plants’ invasive tendencies. With in a few years, I began to notice, Lythrum seedlings coming up in corners of the production farm, and working with our propagator collected seed from our sterile cultivars. We were astounded at the germination rate. I chose to unilaterally discontinue the sale of the plant, assuming that the self sterile plants has crossed with naturalized invaders, and that, as with Bradford pears and other “sterile cultivars”, the cat had left the barn with the entire chicken coop in paw, so to speak. The two articles, at a basic level, support my non-scientific observations from 15 years ago.

The nursery industry supports research into cultivar sterility and hybridization which would lead to a “minimulization” of invasive traits. Defining and researching invasive traits is an important step in the right direction. The problem would seem to be one of practical control unless we find a way to either subordinate the “invasive traits” or eliminate the species ability to reproduce without human interaction. Further, we should be reasonably certain that an introduced “New-Improved-Less-Invasive” does not quietly help in the reproductive processes of related genotypes already loose in the landscape.

There would seem to be two approaches to the challenges of invasive plants, the first entailing early detection and rapid response, with a modicum of prevention, and the second comprising genetic modifications which would disable invasive traits. The intersection of short term economic goals with long term environmental needs can give rise, of course, to the obverse of these lines of investigations, such as the pursuit of a better Miscanthus for bio-fuel sourcing giving rise to the interesting possibility of intentionally adding more know invasive species to the palette. If we add to this the claim of sterility, we are back to my uninformed observations of 15 years ago.

All of these scientific pursuits are needed, valuable and on-going. Bringing the strands of inquiry together in an environmentally sympathetic manner is a work in progress.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Invasives, cancer & forget-me-nots

Help fight cancer, the seed package states: “Recognize the Potential Signs & Symptoms: Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma”. I have sometimes been amazed about the disconnects we face when we try to do too much in our complex world. A seed package is a helpful, harmless way of spreading the word and saving life. In a way, an invasive species in a natural system is a cancer, spreading without control and over-riding the complex balance of the established systems and processes.

And why, do I bring this to my web log? Because the well intentioned effort to help contains the seed of Myosotis scorpioides L. forget-me-not. At least that is what I think is in the package based on the photograph on the seed package; there is no information about the seed on the package, but plenty of very helpful information about these deadly diseases.

All we read is the poignant instructions under the beautiful flowers: “As you plant these seeds, remember all the children and adults who are counting on your help to fight blood cancers.” I am hesitant about posting this as it is not my intent to stop the campaign or hinder it in any way; this would be extremely counter productive. To the contrary, to me this is a small piece of the difficult process of education which ultimately guides each individual’s plant choices. Of all the flowers, this one has the “correct” common name to market the information which would save lives. This would seem to be the right plant at the right place at the right time. But a plant can also be the wrong plant in the wrong place at the wrong time.

To me landscape choices follow a similar decision pathway built less on knowledge than on received wisdom. We use certain plants in specific places without consideration of the species effect on neighboring ecosystems.

You can reach and help the cause of blood cancer awareness at their website Please do not use this posting to complain to them, but do consider this as a tiny example of daily landscape and garden choices and how they are made.

I shall post a picture of the seed package this weekend.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Invasive(alien) bad: Native(not exotic) good

January 5, 2007

Invasive and native, the issue gets blurred, when we fudge definitions to suit agenda. Of course, definitions which we do not like are easily set aside. A copy of an e-mail below captures a philosophical position on invasive species. I find it interesting that the author, in obvious frustration, suggests that government agency researchers are unaware of their surroundings. I have found that trying to find common ground establishes dialogue which in turn generates forward motion.

However, I do find common ground with many of the author’s points. The public is disconnected with land management. They are mostly unaware of plants in general, not just natives. The connection between food and the plants and animals which provide the originating source is distant. The public does grasp a concept that green is good, and therefore, we have exotic groundcovers which at first meeting are deemed a good thing.

Wanting to be surrounded by the familiar is, I submit, a human condition; defining the familiar is marketing. A sense of security and serenity is a sought after ideal for life is complex and random and humanity needs a certain safe zone.

I would have found a way to note some of the success along with the failures, such as the Delaware Department of Transportation’s roadside program which encourages native and non invasive self sustaining low maintenance designs.

“There's a distinctive gap between botanists, National Parks managers and most of the rest of America. Most people are barely aware of the local native plants or exotic plants in their wildlands (sic) surroundings, because their lives almost never touch them or interact with them.

Sure, people can see the big picture, like the towering Coast redwoods, or the huge Sierran Sequoias---but what's all that stuff underneath the trees and covering all the hills of California that catches fire each year? Gee, it is almost 99.99% solid, three foot tall, exotic annual grasses from Europe!

And there's also the 490 year old philosophical concept here in North America, from 1492 to about 1982, where you never brought local native plants into your lives---everything from the front year lawn to the trees, shrubs and flower garden were all imported from some other continent, usually your own continent of origin, like Europe.

For 400+ years, we have wanted to be surrounded by what was familiar. If you are not adding parts of the local native ecosystems around your own home, how can you ever develop any awarenesses (sic) of your surroundings?

Plus, there's still a HUGE amount of RESISTANCE from some gove
rnment agencies to stop using exotic plants when planting things on their lands, and start the conversion to the use of local ecotypes of natives, like most State DOTs and the BLM in most states.

Every state DOT has an environmental division, but almost none of them are using local natives along their roadsides, and plant exotic plants each year instead.

The USDA, Agriculture Research Service and Cooperative Extension services HAVE botanists and ecologists, but unaware of their surrounding, they are still importing and releasing new exotic invasive plants for our wildlands (sic), like the new "kudzu" of legumes that has been tested to successfully invade California's rangelands, a group of 14 new
annual exotic legumes: 12 Medicago species and two Trifoliums.

The Department of Interior HAS botanists and ecologists, but unaware of their surroundings and the public lands that they manage, they are still planting each year up to a million pounds of exotic seeds onto our public lands in the Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, etc. Here's what the fall 2002 seed-buying contract looked like:

(Sol. No NAR020155, P.O. Box 25047, Denver, CO. 80225-0047) issued
8/27/2002, shows the following staggering annual amounts of exotics:

Crested Wheatgrass.......Total bulk pounds......28,200
Siberian wheatgrass......Total bulk pounds......29,200
Intermediate wheatgrass..Total bulk pounds...... 5,500
Pubescent wheatgrass.....Total bulk pounds......66,100
Russian Wildrye..........Total bulk pounds......70,000
Smooth Brome.............Total bulk pounds...... 4,300
Orchardgrass.............Total bulk pounds...... 4,400
Annual ryegrass..........Total bulk pounds......16,500
Triticale................Total bulk pounds......12,500
Alfalfa..................Total bulk pounds......47,200
Yellow sweetclover.......Total bulk pounds...... 7,100
Sainfoin.................Total bulk pounds......11,100
Small burnet.............Total bulk pounds.....128,300
Forage Kochia............Total bulk pounds......23,200
Persistent exotics being sown on BLM land......453,600

So unless this exotic-seed-tsuname isn't stopped by the State DOTs, the US Department of Interior, and the USDA stops importing and releasing new exotics, all the discussions about the importation of new exotics might become academic, when millions of acres of North America are annually being converted to weeds?"

Sincerely, Craig Dremann, Redwood City, CA

Monday, January 01, 2007

Unusual or common invasive pathways?

Invasive species enter new ecosystems through a plethora of pathways. Some of the entry points are obvious such as direct importation of plants or pets for resale to the public. Some pathways are hidden in plain sight, such as organisms which quietly cling to packing materials or clothing or vehicles and drop off without notice into new areas for colonization. Sometimes, invasive species are less obvious arriving disguised as packing materials in, on and from pallets manufactured overseas.

Our very own Christmas shop offered a faux bird’s nest holiday accessory/ornament which looked like feathers or down. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be made from a grassy material which we thought was Miscanthus spp. This was bad enough, and we notified the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which in turned notified USDA, which immediately sent an inspector. The experts at USDA trumped our own expertise and declared the material to be Phragmites; most likely species australis. The seeds would fly suspended like paratroopers in the air right in front of us. The slightest breeze would move them to a beachhead for invasion. Of course, Phragmites is already here in force, so nothing more was said officially. We took all the potential invaders from the shelves and placed them in a sealed bag, and, quoting my colleague, Mr. Hurley, "This was akin to treating it like radioactive waste with similar disposal challenges. "

We were able to address this item as a potential problem because of our efforts and time devoted to the issues of invasive species. This knowledge and reaction is not to be expected from the general public as the very definition is barely accepted by the community of cognoscenti, and has not reached the public at large. How many other holiday gifts were potential Trojan horses? A few years ago, we carried bags of pine cones for sale; they were from India and potentially contained a beetle. Here are the notes from the Maryland Invasive Species Council meeting, December 16th, 2003:

Pine Cones from India - Fred Mann
• in Iate November, beetle larvae found in decorative pine cone display
• national recall - Franks, Dollar Tree, K-mart, Walmart, Target
• need help finding infested material in marketplace, APHIS is coordinating volunteer effort
• Target and K-mart have programmed UPC code to display message to stop sale.
• Maryland has found infested material - pupa and adult in display case (sample box displayed)
• APHIS Web page, cone beetle/pinecones.html, will
list UPC codes
3 of 3
• only one lot number is in national recall
• much product has already been sold
• pine cones in w/ Christmas trees in garbage - disaster waiting to happen
• probable emergence in homes in next couple weeks, low risk for establishment
• fumigation stickers on product from India into Canada where re-packaged??

Unintentional introductions play a role in the invasive species discussion, and there are many pathways which provide both intentional and unintentional possibilities. Choosing when and where and therefore how to respond becomes an economic decision since it is cost prohibitive to try to seal the borders from every possibility.