Monday, February 26, 2007

Invasive species & Frankenplants: Biotech and the Garden

Genetically engineered garden plants are on the cutting edge of invasive species issues and of the billion dollar horticulture industry. “Frankenplants” to some; explosion of garden possibilities to others, this line of research is a logical extension of the work done for centuries by plant hybridizers on a long time line basis. The search for a blue rose, or, in the words of Bart Ziegler of the Wall Street Journal (Feb., 24th, 2007), “Petunias that survive frost.”, bring new worlds of gardening possibilities to the discussion of invasive species.

Demonstrating the environmental safety of a species, newly introduced from outside its native habitat or from a laboratory, is the silent gorilla, the 900 pound kudzu vine in the room. How we find the resources to support the presently lengthy research needed to investigate the invasive potential remains to be shown. The article presents the following statement for consideration: “Since most people don’t eat flowers, food safety is not an issue. And since ornamental plants are raised in much smaller quantities than corn or soy beans, often inside greenhouses, it’s much less likely that they would “escape” into the wild. But there is one legitimate worry: these new plants could crowd out naturally occurring varieties.”

So here we have the wicked problem (Invasive Notes) which is partly defined by stakeholders’ solutions. If the solution is that we want to have only native species, than the very idea of genetically engineered plants is an anathema to stakeholders who define the problem as the introduction of non native species. Because the gardening industry is late to the table, it has not clearly defined its solution and the resulting conversation will be loud and bitter.

Now this is not to say that there is not a middle ground. For instance, genetically engineered burning bush cultivars, which would be truly sterile, might be a viable project to undertake. For the native only stakeholder, this would still be horrid by definition, but at least a middle ground would be available to the garden industry.

The question of cultivars and sterility continues to haunt on going conversations. I believed that the Lythrum (voluntarily discontinued by Behnke Nurseries in the 90’s; see posting) which we sold in the 1980’s and early 90’s was sterile. We sold Bradford pears thinking that they were sterile. This tree is now the Prince George’s County tree officially and unofficially. There are reports that there may be sterile forms of barberry and burning bush. Researchers find the seedlings and are told that those must come from unscrupulous sources. Because the variables which help determine invasiveness are not well understood, the end users find themselves in a quandary as to exactly how much research needs be done before a new plant can be released.

It is important for natural area land managers and preservationists to understand that “new” sells. We can define “new” in many creative ways, but a driving reality of the industry is to supply the demand for new plants which can provide better form, color, or reliability to the land owners, who are more and more, not directly aware of the needs of the environment.. Rather, the buyers want gardens which enhance the value or quality of their life in the near term; that is, right now.

The horticulture industry potentially will find itself engaged in its own version of the organic food controversy, and may have to label products and use marketing dollars to explain its offerings. Finding solutions to landscape challenges with which all parties can agree will in the end be the only way to define and work on invasive species problems.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Invasive Species; Wicked Inconvenience: part two

The discussion of invasive species issues may be framed by the planning theory of “wicked” problems. [1] Rittel & Webber's formulation of wicked problems specifies ten characteristics, perhaps best considered in the context of social policy planning, 1- 10. Jeff Conklin Ph.D., a computer scientist expanded, or rather refined the definition, with 11-14, below.[2]

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but instead better, worse, or good enough.

4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.

5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.

6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.

8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.

9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.

10. The planner has no right to be wrong (Planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate). Further, the planner or designer (solving the problem) has no inherent right to solve the problem, and no permission to make mistakes.

11. The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution.
Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem

12. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time.

13. The problem is never solved.

14. Wicked problems are often "solved" (as well as they can be...) through group efforts.

15. Wicked problems require inventive/creative solutions.

16. Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences, and may cause additional problems.

That stakeholders approach invasive species with radically, sometimes absolutely, different world views is a crucial challenge in the effort to bring parties to the table, and even, once the interest groups arrive, given “the information needed to understand the problem depends upon one's idea for solving it”[3] , the conversation may rapidly degenerates into harden contentious disagreement of a subjective ad hominem nature.[4]

From the internet, I am able to find the following definitions:

1. Invasive plants are non-indigenous species or strains that become established in natural plant communities and wild areas, replacing native vegetation. [5]

2. Invasive plants are species that show a tendency to spread out of control. Although not synonymous with "exotic plants" ("alien plants"), invasive plants often are plants that have been introduced from other regions. Once introduced, such plants spread like wildfire, partly because the insects and diseases that plague these invasive plants in their native lands are often absent in their new homes.[6]

3. The World Conservation Union (IUCN): “Alien Invasive Species” means an alien species, which becomes established in natural, or semi-natural ecosystems or habitat, is an agent of change, and threatens native biological diversity. Convention on Biodiversity (CBD): “Invasive Alien Species” means an alien species whose introduction and/or spread threaten biological diversity. Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP): “Invasive Alien Species” are non-native organisms that cause, or have the potential to cause, harm to the environment, economies, or human health. The National Invasive Alien Species Implementation Action Plan (NIASIAP 2006 Samoa): “Invasive alien species” are species introduced into an area in which they do not occur naturally, usually as a result of human activities, and which threaten environmental or economic resources, or human health, due to the damage they cause, or are likely to cause.[7]

4. The term invasive species refers to a subset of those species defined as introduced species or non-indigenous species.[8]

5. Invasive plants, often referred to as weeds, are introduced species that can thrive in areas beyond their natural range of dispersal. These plants are characteristically adaptable, aggressive and have a high reproductive capacity. Their vigour combined with a lack of natural enemies often leads to outbreak populations.[9]

6. By definition, Invasive Species are newly arrived plants or animals and unless they make two or more plants or animals totally extinct (an unlikely and statistically remote possibility) they INCREASE BIODIVERSITY. This is so entirely self-evident that no further explanation is required.[10]

7. Executive Order 13112 and the National Invasive Species Council Management Plan (NISC, 2001) define “invasive species1” and "alien species2." The Heinz Center Non-native Species Task Group adopts the definition of “invasive species” from the Executive Order and Plan, and its definition of “non-native species” is functionally equivalent to the Executive Order and Plan definition of “alien species” with one important exception: the definition excludes species that are not self-sustaining; i.e., that cannot survive without human intervention.[11]

8. Definition: Invasive species are certain plants, accidentally or intentionally introduced, that displace(sic) native species and adversely affect wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation and biological diversity by crowding out beneficial native species. The policy will provide consistent guidance for any TBG activities that involve planting, soil or vegetation disturbances.[12]

It is important to note that these are definitions from stakeholders who recognize a problem even as they cannot quite agree on a definition. There are stakeholders who have not yet envisioned the problem, and therefore, have not yet arrived at a definition.

Definitions number 6 and foot note 4 require sometime for me to formulate a reply, so will continue this line of discussion in a later post.

If you have a personal favorite definition, please send it to me, or post them to this discussion.

[1] Rittel, H., and M. Webber; "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning" pp 155-169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc., Amsterdam, 1973. [Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 135-144.]
[2] Jeff Conklin Ph.D., a computer scientist, while expanding upon IBIS [2], developed gIBIS ("graphical IBIS") while at the Microelectronics & Computing Consortium (MCC) in Austin, Texas. The gIBIS prototype was subsequently turned into a product called QuestMap by Corporate Memory Systems Inc., a spinoff from MCC. This has subsequently evolved into the Compendium hypermedia concept mapping tool. During QuestMap's product life, Conklin also developed Dialogue Mapping as a facilitation skill for using tools in meetings, designed to help groups further understand, and help solve wicked problems. Dialogue Mapping was subsequently integrated with work in knowledge representation and business process re-engineering (Al Selvin and Maarten Sierhuis, originally at NYNEX Science & Technology) to create Conversational Modelling which Compendium is designed to support. Compendium's development is coordinated at the Open University's Knowledge Media Institute, and its source code is freely available[From Wikipedia]
[3] From: Foreign Affairs Table
[4] Some bills are going to hit the United States Senate this year that, on the surface, sound like good ideas…until you start to dig deeper into the proposed legislation.
The biggest problem with these bills is the “Invasive Species” language they contain and the definition of the term “Invasive Species.” Again, on the surface, elimination of “Invasive Species” may sound like an important initiative…until you see that “Invasive Species” is defined as “a species that is

1. non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and

2. whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

“Invasive Species” can be plants, animals, and other organisms (e.g. microbes). Human actions are the primary means of invasive species introductions.”
Even this doesn’t sound so bad, until you learn that “non-native” means anything that wasn’t here in 1492 when Columbus came. The lists of plants and animals that fall into that category are long and shocking! Brown trout, rainbow trout, sea bass, large mouth bass, pheasants, and chukkas are targeted.
It also shifts the focus away from the need to control all pests, regardless of origin. In addition, elimination of an “Invasive Species” cannot be done without drastic measures such as massive chemical spraying and the negative effects of fully removing a species from an ecosystem are not being considered. Further information on the serious problems of this definition is included below.
Since these bills are active in the Senate there won’t be much time for the people in the communities who will be negatively impacted by these bills to react. That is why I am contacting you now. I am hoping that we will be able to pull together and mobilize now so that when the time comes for us to contact our senators and demand the removal of all “Invasive Species” language from these bills we will be ready.
Following the segment on the flaws in the definition is some additional reading. You are also welcome to contact me directly if you have further questions. Thank you for your time, and hopefully your support as we stand strong to protect our environment and our rights.
Serious problems with the official “Invasive Species” definition:
Obviously controlling species that are causing serious damage to our environment must be done. And at first glance the Invasive Species movement may seem like the way. However, when examining the definition behind the “Invasive Species” movement the flaws and gaps in logic become readily apparent.
The non-native definition shifts the focus away from the need to control all pests, regardless of origin. It also blacklists beneficial non-native plants and animals. In addition, according to University of Maryland scholar Dr. Mark Sagoff, ecologists have to conduct paleoecological studies and other historical research to determine which species are non-native. They cannot tell by examining the current state of an ecosystem.
“Likely to cause environmental harm” is not measurable, has no scientific definition, and is completely subjective.
There is no process defined for determining the environmental impact of plants, animals, and other organisms. In fact, small groups of bureaucrats are able to add items to the nationwide blacklist for plants and animals.
State by state variations in plant and animal concerns are not taken into consideration.
Other things that aren’t apparent in the definition are:
The groups behind this movement want to take the U.S. environment back to pre-1492 conditions by eliminating plants and animals that were not here at that time. This would mean ignoring over 500 years of scientific progress. "Invasive Species" is now an industry in itself, with over $1 Billion being spent by the Federal government alone, most of it in the form of grants, slick publications, and bureaucracy-building.
Pre-Call To Action Alert: “Invasive Species”
[5] Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin
[6] David Beaulieu, About: Landscaping
[8] invasive species: Information from
[10] - "Invasive" Species? Make Up Your Mind - James M Beers
[11] Groups/Nonnative/DEFINITIONS_06.pdf

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Invasive Species – A Wicked Inconvenience

The invasive species issue involves many diverse stakeholders. Land managers and environmentalists, botanists and biologists, farmers and gardeners, zoning authorities and private developers, the Department of Defense and the Department of State are but a quick and extremely cursory recitation of stakeholders involved. Many know or recognize each other’s claim and involvement on and with the issue; many are unaware of each other’s existence. Native plant societies may not think about recreational boating associations when thinking about their own specific stake in the complex world of invasive species. The depth of complexity and, accordingly, the information needed to understand the problem is self referential, and depends upon one’s ideas, level of involvement and scope of understanding in order to find a solution or solutions. How one chooses to define the problem colors the solution matrix.
The gardener thinks about weeds, and is in sympathy at some level with the farmer, but the ecologist may at first be thinking about self sustaining eco-systems. The property owner may be focused on near-term valuation, which itself is partially based on accepted normative thinking, and is partnered with the developer in maximizing the short horizon societal valuation outcome.
In addition, since invasive species issues are continuously evolving and changing to meet the flow of new information which is constantly being produced, the issues have no objective criteria for ending. There is no final solution, and the issue will never go away until the stakeholders lose interest, deplete available resources needed to continue tackling the concept or decide that the current results are subjectively acceptable under conditions at that future time.

Since there is a generally accepted impulse to attempt a linear solution by all parties, quick term fixes such as legislation are promulgated with an expectation that the problem will be thus be solved. No importation of exotic species is seen as primary defense strategy, but this can create unintended consequences. Ban something without a market correction and a black-market is rapidly created which now is beyond regulation and which will begin to deplete the available societal resources allocated to the initial problem.

As stakeholders are drawn into the controversy, the starting point for the discussion of the issue is usually a counterproductive tactic which is revealed by the fight for right or wrong answers. The discourse, based upon a particular point of view requiring a true or false answer can lead to fights over lists which may or may not contain exotic aliens. The assumption that everybody at the table, or near the table, agrees on the basic definition quickly leads to inaction. The truth or rightness of any particular answer in accepting or rejecting answers or information pertaining to the issues is strongly dependent upon the stakeholders’ point of view. This would suggest that invasive species questions are a matter of better or worse, not true or false.

Each stakeholder is right in his own mind, and has an obligation to understand that all the stakeholders are right to some unquantifiable degree. So we have stakeholders who work with basic assumptions such as the possibility of invasive natives. And what are we to make of invasive earthworms, especially when it comes to the received wisdom taught to the next generation that earthworms are our friends?

Invasive species defy both immediate and ultimate solution tests. Any project enacted as a solution will, in fact, create rippling casual reactions many of which will be unintended, unpredictable, and spread over a significant period of time potentially generating their own set of challenges, issues and problems. Without an opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly and generates its own set of problems This slide towards the idea of infinite, undefined solutions without end is in itself a cause of new stakeholder vertigo. The inability to count a finite number of problems to be solved and solutions to be gained is a problem outside of the issue of invasives, and yet integral to any conversation.

Because the purpose ultimately is not to discover a revealed truth, but to improve some characteristic of the world inhabited by people, each stakeholder defines particular causes uniquely generating multiple definitions. Piled onto the complexity of the process needed to begin a discussion is the revelation that invasive species issues are bound up with other equally contentious challenges such as global warming. Remove a forest; change the weather. The hierarchy of intertwined related complex issues becomes a hard to conceptualize issue in its own right.

. “Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them” – Laurence J. Peter Here then is the key I think to begin a conversation about invasive species. The more I learn the more I know how much I do not know. The issue is one of constant learning and willingness to update and change a closely-held world view. By now some of you may have determined the epiphany I have had, as I found out about the science and theory of problem solving and realized that I need not reinvent a vocabulary and process for working on and with invasive species. I am deeply indebted to the following web sites especially the first one I tripped over, , which led me on my further search:

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pyrus calleryana, aka Bradford pear: Ornamental Excellence or Invasive Infamy

The Bradford pear, Pyrus calleryana, found on many invasive species sites, won an award as “Urban Tree of the Year for 2005”.

An invasive moment of stunned silence now follows.

In suburban Maryland, the ubiquitous tree lights the roadscapes in a blaze of white spurring spring gardeners to action. Many have no idea what the tree is, and a few people, who garden on a part-time basis, may think it is a native dogwood. Home builders rush to plant the tree in the spring as a sure enticement to new home sales. In an interesting ironic twist, horticultural service providers, nurseries and landscapers, both offer to sell and plant the tree, and to remove it when it splits and falls apart during a future storm. The callery pear should be given an award as the poster species for short term desires versus long term effects.

In an earlier posting, I wrote about the disconnect, which seems to occur regularly, between public agencies and their service suggestions. On the one hand, landscape manuals list the flowering pear as a legitimate planting choice, while on the other hand, natural resource departments struggle to remove the same tree. The horticulture industry is more than willing to both supply the tree and remove as the market demands.

The following information on this species is taken from the Delaware River Invasive Plant Partnership: ”The species Callery pear is native to China; in 1918 seed was brought to the United States for potential use as rootstock for cultivated pears. Of the initial batch of 100 pounds of seed that was planted at the Plant Introduction Station at Glen Dale, Maryland, one vigorous, non-spiny seedling was selected and named ‘Bradford’. The 'Bradford' callery pear proved to be an attractive landscape specimen with a neat growth form, attractive flowers and foliage, and no pests. Furthermore ‘Bradford’ was not self-pollinating and thus no fruit or seeds were produced. The landscape industry popularized it and before long it was being planted in urban and suburban settings from parking lots and streets to home landscapes. In 1982 the National Landscape Association voted 'Bradford' callery pear the second most popular tree in America.

However, with time other callery pear cultivars were developed and introduced into the nursery trade. With several cultivars in circulation, cross-pollination could take place and the trees began to produce fruits and seeds.

The spread of callery pear along roadsides, rights-of-way, and in successional old fields was first noticed in southern Maryland and around Washington, DC. In Pennsylvania naturalized populations are known in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. Naturalized populations generally exhibit characteristics of the species including wide-spreading branches and thorniness. Fruit size may vary from ¼ inch to nearly 1 inch in diameter.” [Ann F. Rhoads and Timothy A. Block, Morris Arboretum, University of Pennsylvania]

The point of sale information provided to the public usually does not mention the species’ rabbit-like tendencies. “If it's a street tree you want - or even a specimen for your landscape - the best all-purpose callery pear is probably ‘Chanticleer,' which was introduced in 1965. A fairly narrow, upright tree, 'Chanticleer' matures to a pyramidal or oval form up to 35 feet in height but usually spreading less than 20 feet. The glossy green leaves make it attractive even when the flowering is over, and in fall the leaves progress through shades of red, yellow and orange before reaching their ultimate burgundy color. 'Chanticleer' has performed well as far north as Minneapolis (Zone 4). Proper pruning when the tree is young can eliminate most problems caused by brittle wood.” [Flower & Garden Magazine, Feb-March, 1996 by Becke Davis]

Even our universities get into the act. “Chanticleer pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’) The 'Chanticleer' Pear is an upright-pyramidal tree that is much narrower than other ornamental pears. This tree makes a valuable addition to the landscape and is a good choice where lateral space to spread is limited. It has attractive flowers, foliage and fall color. 'Chanticleer' is less susceptible to early freezes than other Pears. It will grow up to 40 feet high and 15 feet wide. The 'Chanticleer' Pear is very adaptable to many different soils and it tolerates drought, heat and pollution. Plant in full sun. Prune in winter or early spring. Hardy to zone 4. Because of its shape, the crown is less prone to branch breakage with heavy winter snow. This variety of callery pear is resistant to fireblight” [© CSU/Denver County Cooperative Extension Master Gardener 1999-2007]

It should not come as too big a surprise then that the industry grows and sells this tree, nor should too many be amazed that the public’s first reaction when informed that callery pears are potentially disruptive of natural areas, be one of incredulity; after all the people who know are singing the praises of the tree. To make things even more interesting, and in keeping with good marketing strategies, there are many cultivars from which the discerning gardener may choose. Among the offerings: 'Select', 'Cleveland Select', 'Stone Hill.', 'Redspire', ‘Capital’, ‘Aristocrat’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Whitehouse’ and ’Autumn Blaze’ (developed in Oregon in the 1980’s). The horticulture industry prides itself on being able to offer a tree for every purpose or need, tall, short, narrow or wide.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the garden gate, a withering condemnation of the tree continues to grow. Yet another award is from the United States Forest Service, “Weed of the Week” - Ecological Impacts: Callery Pear is often found growing in the company of many other nonnative plants and competes with both the native and nonnative species.
This tree has a tendency to split, fall apart or uproot under wind glaze and snow events.”
[Produced by the USDA Forest Service, Forest Health Staff, Newtown Square, PA. WOW 09-26-05]

To ad to the confusion, recommendations contain advice which seems to suggest more exotic ornamentals as substitutes for the troubled flowering pear. From Alabama Cooperative Extension comes the following suggested alternatives: “Chinese Elms are an excellent choice, although consumers should be careful not to confuse these with Siberian Elms, which are often passed off as a poor substitute for Chinese Elms," Musgrove says.
To ensure you’re buying the right elm, Musgrove says consumers should look for "small, reddish-brown, pointed leaf buds and beautiful cinnamon patches of bark." Siberian Elms, by contrast, have round, black leaf buds. In addition to being long-lived, Chinese Elms, are resistant to Dutch elm disease and do not have the pest and dieback problems associated with Siberian Elms. Other fast-growing alternatives include the Chinese Pistache and Japanese Zelkova. Crab apples and Japanese cherries are also good alternative flowering ornamental trees, although homeowners should remember fruit can cause branch stress on some cultivars. Red maples also are a good choice.” [Alabama Coopeerative Extension System, Auburn May 10th]

Demonstrating that there are alternatives can lead one down the road of unintended consequences. The above list includes only one non invasive species. Part of the problem is that until a species is widely and repeatedly distributed, it may not be currently demonstrably invasive, and yet there are warning signs to be found.

“Zelkova serrata is regarded as an invasive weed by many municipalities, though it is not as aggressive as Chinese Elm. There may be local restrictions, regarding its availability in nurseries, in some areas.” [Copyright 2006-2007 The Knowledge of Bonsai Forums]

“Chinese Elm, Ulmus parvifolia is an ornamental tree in urban areas planted for tough
durability, interesting bark and yellowish to reddish purple fall foliage as well as being
resistant to Dutch elm disease and air pollution. It has escaped intended plantings to
invade native plant communities. The aggressive root system absorbs water, nutrient, and space.” [Produced by the USDA Forest Service, Forest Health Staff, Newtown Square, PA. WOW 04-18-05]

“Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis is only moderately invasive. However, every rural population of this tree studied eventually escaped from cultivation. The continued widespread planting of Chinese pistache coupled with the high rate of escape of the tree indicates that Chinese pistache will become widely naturalized on upland sites in Texas. The term cultivasion is used to describe this highly predictable horticulturally accelerated invasion.” [E. L. McWilliams, Horticultural Science, Texas A&M University]

Crabapples and some Japanese cherries have shown invasive tendencies also, but the good news here is the recommendation to plant the native red maple, Acer rubrum.

With flowering pears, the conflicting streams of information become readily apparent. The end user, the public, is understandably in a confused position when experts seem to disagree. Because the challenge of invasive species is more complex and does not readily lend itself to simple discrete choices, and , because the conversation includes research in progress and traditions in place, as well as problems of event time line horizons, the public tends to find itself captive to shifting aggregations of wisdom.

A link to a paper by the comment author is provided 4/3/08: