Sunday, July 25, 2010

Invasive species confusion confounds

Invasive species are everywhere. One man’s invasive species, feral animal, or weed is another one’s native plant, garden favorite or cherished pet. And even more troublesome are aggressive wandering opportunistic species that come with multiple uses for mankind. Kudzu, Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr. var. lobata (Willd.) Maesen & S. Almeida, loose-strife, Lythrum salicaria L. and burdock, Arctium minus Bernh. were brought to North America for their medicinal, aesthetic and culinary uses. Kudzu, the invasive species, can provide a biofuel source, fiber for textiles, food through its starch content, forage and feed for cattle and other farm animals, pharmaceutical potential, arts and crafts, and a fragrant flower on a vine that could cover unsightly disturbances in landscape settings.  Purple loose-strife, an invasive species, has given the ornamental gardener a beautiful flower and garden workhorse that blooms through out the growing season oblivious to the damage of insects and diseases, withstanding a wide range of temperatures, and growing through flood and drought. Lesser burdock is also a medicinal and food source but interestingly enough gets classified as a weed rather than an invasive species.

The weed or invasive species question is a reflection of one’s point of view. If you are standing in a managed landscape, a garden or a farm, then a species that invades and reduce your harvest or your view, is a weed, and invader a pest to be removed. If you are standing in a natural area, park or wilderness than a species that comes in from other ecosystems, and is not native, is an invasive species that needs to be weeded, culled and removed. In both cases the best strategy is to detect the plant early and remove it at once. This is called is an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy in managed landscapes and is called Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) in natural landscapes. And while we are speaking about plants, the idea of perspective extends to animals. For example I have written about the third rail of invasive species issues, the feral cat (Are cats an invasive species - a wickedly inconvenient conversation), and I have also noted that the problem of invasive species context extends to insects too.

Invasive species are those that are transported by human activity easily and readily establish in new ecosystems. Taking advantage of our global trade they hitchhike on our human provided pathways. In this way they have spread with humanity across the earth. Mankind is perpetually disturbing or “plowing” the land. This chronic disturbance favors certain companion species that “travel” with us. Some of the species come with our knowledge and some come unbidden; the ability to survive and reproduce within a large range of conditions allow these invasive species to take advantage of and work with mankind’s grand disruption of local native or natural ecosystems.

It is easy to chastise ornamental gardeners for introducing new species of colorful plants that may escape or to rail against pet owners that discard over grown species into supposed natural recycling systems (Invasive issues and complicated species) The cost of mitigating the impact of invasive species has been calculated to be around 132 billion dollars) plants, animals, disease); the size of the nursery industry is approximately 140 billion dollars setting up a perfect storm of competing interests. However, things get more complicated when basic human need such as food or fuel is involved. We quickly forget that the major impetus behind kudzu and its spread was the search for a legume that could survive in the US southeast. The collision of desires that surround our pets and our interests, wants and needs clouds the issues of invasive species. Do we save the charismatic non indigenous swan (Wicked Invasive Swans) or save the native flora long the water’s edge? Considering the problems of invasive species is to take a look at our human activities and our place in the world. How will we resolve the conflict between our immediate needs versus our long term wants?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Southeastern Community College, North Carolina, speaker serious about invasive species

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Invasive species talk - Southeastern Community College (announcement)

Southeastern Community College – Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Environmental Issues – Invasive Species

2010 Summer Science Enrichment Camp

Evening Seminar – SCC Main Auditorium

Tuesday Evening – July 27, 2010

7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

“The Rise of Ornamental Invasive Species: A History of Landscaping”

Featured Guest Speaker:

John Peter Thompson

Invasive Species and Sustainability Consultant

Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Invasive species are everywhere - pushing out our prized garden plants as well as our favorite lunch time vegetables. As weeds, they crowd our gardens and overwhelm the plants we so carefully planted. And, even worse, some of the plants we choose to buy turn out to be among the worst invasive offenders spreading death and destruction beyond our garden fences into our parks and woodlands. And, if that was not bad enough, they can help hitchhiking insects and diseases spread into natural areas completely changing the environment.

How did the gardener who tries to bring beauty to the world become the unwitting agent of such change? How can it be that some of the most useful plants in the garden could become eco-criminals? What is the history behind some of our cherished garden traditions that may unintentionally lead to plant choices with dire consequences to our ecosystems?

We will explore the art and science of gardening and horticulture from the time of Eden through the Rennaissance and Romantic Eras - right up until today, in a whirlwind conversation that will focus on the collision of desires and the unintended consequences that face the gardener today.

Biographical Sketch. John Peter Thompson grew up in the family nursery and garden center business (Behnkes Nursery) in Beltsville, Maryland. His formal education was in music composition and historical linguistics at the University of Maryland. After returning to the family nursery business in 1988, John Peter managed Behnkes’ perennial production and sales, and eventually served as the Chairman of the Board until 2008. He was awarded the Perennial Plant Association Retailer of the Year award in 2000. He is a past President of the Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association, as well as a founding Director and President of the Mid-Atlantic Exotic Pest Plant Council. He served as the Vice-chair of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee, and is working on invasive species issues with the Maryland Invasive Species Council and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Agriculture’s nursery industry outreach project. He also works as a volunteer advocate for the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. On the local level, John Peter is a former Chair of the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce. He serves as the Vice-Chair of the Prince George’s County Historical Preservation Commission; as a trustee of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System; and as a director of the Prince George’s County Community Foundation.

Camp and Seminar Information: Rebecca Westbrooks (910-642-7141, Ext. 291)

Seminar Registration for Continuing Education Credits: Brenda Orders (910-642-7141, Ext. 419)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Invasive species - Russian pickler versus American Caterpillar - & the winner is?

Invasive species issues can be confusing, obtuse, complicated, ill-defined and contentious. And invasive species problems and their solutions become vaguer the closer one looks. Can a native species be invasive, and who defines this invasive quality?  Are all invasive species bad?  Are pet cats that become adapted to the parks and natural areas around our homes and fields invasive species?  If an invasive species has a economic or social benefit is it still an invasive species?  How long does an exotic alien have to be in the country before it becomes naturalized?  Sometimes it is helpful to limit the scope of inquiry so that the imponderables do not overwhelm the questioner.

In our garden, my wife carefully cultivates three non indigenous plants so that she can make home made organic Russian-style pickles; cucumbers, garlic and dill.  She also plants fennel, onions, tomatoes and peppers some of which, though American species, are not native to our east coast Mid Atlantic ecosystems.  With the exception of fennel, she has to yearly disturb the land in her small garden (cultivate) and re-plant each year from seed or bulbs she has collected the year before.  The fennel might be considered somewhat aggressive as it invades small sections of the flower bed nearby, but it confines itself only to those areas already massively altered and no longer in any sense a native species habitat.  From her pickling project point of view, the invaders are weeds and insects - insects we call by words not suitable to polite audiences; colorful vocabulary known well to organic and ornamental gardeners.

From the picklers point of view, even the aggressive non native weeds can be tolerated to some extent, but when the American caterpillar appears, it is a no-holds battle to the finish. The game is on; we have my Russian wife in a life or death match with the American champion tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata, (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae).  The ability of the hornworm to devour 5 foot tall tomato plants in a single bound (gulp) gives proof through the night, and day, that enternal vigilance and steely determination are the only tools. The voracious appetite of the caterpillar is matched by the eagle eyes of the organic gardener who refuses any and all chemical aid. Out she goes, her arm up to the elbow enclosed in the day's newspaper's plastic bag, to the pickling patch. Round one, sees her grab the hornworm; round two sees him grab bag; round three sees her jump a kilometer; and so on until the iron resolve of Russia conquers the stubborn American fighter. It is a classic collision of desires; natures systems arrayed against man’s needs.  (and makes it hard for me to know which side to cheer for)

Picture from: Moths of Southeastern Arizona: Sphingidae ( Hawkmoths )

In the case of the hornworm, the end game is "... a brown moth that rarely shows up on the top ten wish-I-had-in-the-garden list. The adult moth, sometimes referred to as a "sphinx", "hawk", or "hummingbird" moth, is a large, heavy-bodied moth with narrow front wings. The moth is a mottled gray-brown color with yellow spots on the sides of the abdomen and a wing spread of 4 to 5 inches. The hind-wings have alternating light and dark bands."    Relegated to second class oblivion and adult obscurity without the protection of charismatic status, the hornworm lacks a fan club clamoring for its immediate local victory.  The tomato hornworm caterpillar is labelled invasive because it comes into this little patch of Russian pickling heaven and negatively impacts, or drastically disturbs the carefully planned interconnections between selected plants and human dinner. The caterpillar is a classic, traditional example of an invasive species from a gardener’s point of view.

Photo by Fred Goodwin - 9/6/2002 Massachusetts Audubon Society  Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary Male

This limited area of consideration in our investigation of invasive species quickly turns fuzzy when we look at the dill plants next to the tomatoes.  For here yet another American champion with a photogenic quality and a fan club is chomping through promise of  the morrow's Russian dill pickles.  And so the charismatic black swallow-tail causes consternation when I gently point out the potential loss of beauty as the pink army of the kitchen methodically removes and destroys the black swallowtails, Papilio polyxenes  that are devouring the one meter square patch of dill.  The ferocious American insect onslaught is match by the focused determination of Russia to have a harvest, and if I want to eat, my thoughts are best expressed to the mocking bird above.

In a garden patch of several square meters, the world of invasive species problems is lit by the harsh light of the infinite choices of complex systems with all the human values and physical complexities easily seen.   Invasive species in a general sense are species that, due to human actions, disturb a complex adaptive biological system, causing a turbulence that can lead to unexpected outcomes or even the collapse of the system.  What belongs in a system is defined by humans; what is expected from the system is also defined by humans.  What seems like a strict scientific investigation is overlaid with human value judgments and therefore politics.  Even ideas of native take on a fuzzy vagueness that is based upon expected or desired outcomes.  Should native caterpillars be eating Asian dill planted by legal alien Europeans or naturalized Americans?  Is there any sense to the question at all?  Are there any truly “natural” areas left or has the fragmentation of the landscape in the lower 48 states left behind a mosaic of novel ecosystems that need to be managed (even if the management decision is to leave them alone)?

In the world of invasive species all of us are stakeholders and all of us have a duty to be part of the conversation bringing the “rightness” of our positions to the debate. In the end science cannot provide policy and value answers but rather it can give us the tools for identifying the limits of our knowledge.  It is up to each of us to address the value system that best supports the world we want to live in and how much we want our children to pay for our actions and our dreams.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Terrific Tree Tour Along the Patuxent River, MD Sat., July 10, 9 a.m.-11:00 a.m. updated water restriction information

Invasive species problems are the flip side of endangered and native species challenges. If we did not think our natural areas were worth saving, we would not be concerned about the impacts and effects of invasive exotic aliens on our local ecosytems. So it is important to get out and mingle with the natives and see what we are trying to protect and preserve.

Terrific Tree Tour Along the Patuxent River -- Sat., July 10, 9 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
Pigtail Recreation Area 5500 Greenbridge Road, Dayton. 301-206-8233.

Free and open to everyone. Learn about trees from MD DNR Forester James Eierdam. Sponsored by Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, this tour will show mature trees that are native to the mid-Atlantic region and can add beauty to any landscape.  
Join your neighbors in Prince George's, Montgomery and Howard counties in helping to keep the watersheds along the Patuxent a delightful home for wildlife and a wonderful place to visit. These watersheds are under the stewardship of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Brighton Dam is at 2 Brighton Dam Road, Brookeville, MD. 

Have you joined our "Friends of Brighton Dam" or our "Friends of Western Branch" Facebook Pages? By becoming a fan, you'll get all of the latest information about environmental education events and cleanups around WSSC's property on the Patuxent and Western Branch. Check us out!!/group.php?gid=56844268643&ref=ts


UPDATE July 5th  
Don’t Start Watering in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties Yet

WSSC’s mandatory watering restrictions are still in effect. This applies to all WSSC customers, both residential and commercial in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The earliest that the mandatory water use restrictions could be lifted is Tuesday, July 6.

Mandatory watering restrictions include no outside water use, use only full loads for clothes washers and dishwashers, limit flushing toilets (do not flush after every use), and use water only when necessary (shorter showers, turn off faucets after washing hands, etc.)

For more information, go to:


For my local readers please note that there is a water restriction advisory in place that affects our water use and therefore our gardens.

 Tips on Keeping Your Plants Happy
During Mandatory Restrictions

Contact: Kimberley Knox (301) 206-8100

WSSC’s Mandatory Restrictions require that WSSC customers NOT use WSSC water on their lawns, gardens and other landscaping. But here are some ways that your landscape can still keep green during the mandatory water restrictions:

Place one to two inches of mulch around your plants.

Use water from bathing or washing dishes. Soap will not harm plants

Use water from cooking vegetables or pasta.

Collect rainwater and use it on the plants that need the most help.

Collect water from your shower rather than letting it go down the drain.

While waiting for you shower to heat up, collect that water in a bucket for your plants.

In the kitchen, rather than letting the water run until the water is cold (or hot), collect the water and use it for your plants.

Use water collected from your dehumidifier on your plants.

For the future, drought-tolerant plants make a lovely garden. For an example, go to WSSC’s demonstration garden at Brighton Dam Visitor’s Center’s parking lot.  

Have an idea of your own? Go to WSSC’s “Friends of Brighton Dam” Facebook’s Discussion Page and share it with others.

Suggestions Courtesy of:  Wanda MacLachlan, Area Educator - Residential Landscape Management,
University of Maryland Extension