Monday, January 18, 2021

 

A spider on the wall may frighten most people, but it’s not looking for trouble. Just catch it in a plastic bug box and place it outside, as the author always does.



ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon

 

Why Look for Trouble?



My mother used to refuse to go to the doctor’s office for check-ups. If you asked her why she did not want to go, she would answer, “Why look for trouble?”

 

Her attitude (which I do not recommend that you adopt) perfectly explains the behavior of many kinds of wildlife that people fear intensely. Folks tend to believe that snakes, wasps, spiders, coyotes, cougars, and wolves, for example, would just love to attack them, but nothing could be further from the truth. As far as these animals are concerned, it’s truly a matter of “Why look for trouble?”

 

It’s essential to understand that the wildlife that finds its way into your home via unsealed openings is not looking to harm you. Critters wander around to search for food and/or nesting sites, and will enter gaps in manmade, as well as natural, structures.

 

Seeing one or even a few spiders or insects inside does not automatically denote an “infestation”. You should just catch them and put them outside. Our wildlife is disappearing, so none of it should be killed unnecessarily. Being nature-friendly also means you can avoid exposure to pesticides on your premises.

 

Some insects you might see in large numbers, such as nonnative roaches, alert you to the presence of food where it ought not to be. Eating snacks anywhere except the kitchen can result in crumbs throughout the premises. A line of ants to a spot on the floor or inside a cabinet is a sure sign that you have either spilled food (liquid or solid) or have not secured it well inside a container.

 

It is your responsibility to clean up spills and to use containers that keep food fresh and unavailable to insects. You should not kill the messengers that keep you on your toes. After all, if they don’t alert you to the food that is exposed to the air, molds will let you know instead.

 

Spiders wandering around inside are looking for insects to eat. They are not looking to bite you. Occasionally, however, a wayward spider may find its way into your bed and underneath your covers. If you roll over onto it or in some other way threaten its life, you can get bitten as it tries to protect itself. To minimize that possibility, it would help if you made your bed each morning! An arachnid would then be less likely to end up on the surface of the mattress.

 

Perhaps folks have a huge fear of spiders because of the notoriety of the black widow spider (there is more than one species) that typically resides in very dark locations. Nowadays you rarely get to see a black widow, but in years past, an unlit outhouse provided the perfect place for these shy and reclusive spiders to make a web to catch insects. Unwary people sitting down on the toilet seat—and the spider—would get bitten, an outcome that shouldn’t be surprising when you consider the situation of the spider!

 

(Despite the urban myth that we have Brown Recluse spiders in the north-eastern and mid-Atlantic United States, this species is not native to this area. You might come across one only inside a home where household goods were recently transported here from out west. Sadly, many spiders are misidentified as this species, which makes the killing of them all-the-more unjustified.) 

 

Paper wasps are especially fearsome to most folks. However, these insects usually only interact when they feel that they must, and that is when they need to defend themselves or their young (presumably, you would protect your offspring, too). By being alert when you are outside, you can spot nests by noting where wasps are hanging around but not eating, or continuously coming and going as if following a route.

 

Wasps visiting flowers to feed should not be a threat. Remember, they do not want to look for trouble! I’ve taken many a close-up photo of many kinds of wasps when they are at plants and I have never been stung.

 

Wasp nests far away from areas of human activity should be left alone. These insects are “employed” to help keep in check spiders and various insect species by providing those animals as food for their young (how this is done depends upon the species).

 

Yellow jackets (there is more than one species) tend to make underground nests where there is a lot of aboveground plant cover. By preventing lush growth near walkways, you might keep them from nesting where they could frighten you.

 

However, yellow jackets are highly unlikely to sting anyone just walking by. You need to be threatening them by stepping into or otherwise bothering their nest. If you fuss with plants in the area, which is how I often discover them, they will, of course, buzz around you to try to scare you off. Immediately do as they wish!

 

Snakes and coyotes catch and feed upon rodents or other small animals. Coyotes (and human predators) could possibly go after unattended small pets and children, so you should never leave them alone outside. As for snakes, parents should teach their children (along with never sticking fingers into sockets) to never place hands and feet where they cannot see what might be out of sight.

 

Although mistakenly thought of as predators of mankind, cougars and wolves are inclined to run away from people. Wolves and cougars were killed off by the white man because they went after his livestock, which he should have watched over to protect them from predators, just as American Indians stayed up all night to protect their crops from plant-eating animals.

 

Wild animals routinely flee from unnecessary confrontations with other organisms. Otherwise, they risk injury or death, which is exactly why they practice my mother’s philosophy of, “Why look for trouble?”

 

NATURE ADVICE: You can prevent paper wasps from nesting around your home by looking for recently started nests in the spring. When early-morning temperatures are 50℉ or below, wasps are sluggish and unable to fly well. You can then knock down with a stick any small paper nests upon your house or other structures. Please note that if the nest is high up underneath an eave where the insects will not be coming and going close to people, you should leave it.

 

Monday, January 4, 2021

With neither a hint of use by people nor wildlife, huge lawns represent an enormous waste of land.

 

ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon

 

REMOVING “INVASIVE” PLANTS FOR...MORE LAWN?!

 

While channel-surfing (on December 26, 2020), my husband came across a TV program called “This Old House: Trade School”. The host of this program, Kevin O’Connor, guides the viewers through home improvement projects.

 

To be honest, I cringe watching these kinds of programs. Whenever I’ve seen these folks engaged in what they call “landscape architecture”, which is typically employed to mean the design of outdoor areas to achieve aesthetic outcomes, I am saddened by the complete disregard for the environmental outcomes of their “beautification” projects.

 

In this case, the man in charge of the landscape project talked to Kevin about removing the shrubby growth at the back edge of the yard to give the owner 25-30% more lawn, even though there was already an abundance of lawn to be seen behind the men. The presence of “invasive” vines growing up some of the trees provided them with a virtuous spin for removal of this wild space; a big deal was made of the vines’ supposedly negative qualities, such as strangling trees, pulling them down, and killing them.

 

This situation exemplifies a very real problem with the push by activist scientists, environmentalists, and government entities to get people to remove supposedly invasive plants. Somehow, these nativists don’t understand that the vines and the other undergrowth cut down provided extremely acceptable habitat for mammals, birds, reptiles, salamanders, and insects and other arthropods.

 

The folks creating the big ruckus over so-called invasive plants also don’t grasp that removal of these plants does not automatically guarantee a replacement of them with native plants growing in a structured manner that will sustain wildlife. As in this case, where lawn was replacing a thicket, we witness yet another disastrous setback for the environment that is already reeling as a result of people’s activities.

 

“Invasive” plants are vilified, as if they have no redeeming qualities, which simply isn’t true. In the TV program, for example, bittersweet and grape vines were seen only as attackers of trees, as if that were oh-so-wrong! But vines exist because they are useful to many animals in many ways.

 

The flowers of these two vines feed pollinators and the resulting fruits feed mammals and birds. If the twining plants did indeed kill some trees, well, bravo! Woodpeckers and wood-boring insects can’t exist without standing dead trees. And reptiles and salamanders can’t exist without logs on the ground. Every bit of this dead wood provides sites for each of these animals to reproduce.

 

I should also point out that it appeared the removal of the woody plants was taking place in late spring or summer, as they were fully leafed out. What that means is that the environment was taking yet another hit as adult animals and their eggs/young in that area were chopped up by a humongous brush-cutting machine.

 

As for the soon-to-be-planted lawn, its presence would increase the burden placed upon the environment. In addition to the loss of habitat, there’s the weekly mowing that might keep the “invasives” from returning (as stated by the man in charge) but which spews small-engine pollution and noise upon the air, land, sea, and people. And, of course, we mustn’t forget all the chemicals applied to grass.

 

It’s never been clear to me why people prefer practically lifeless lawns over the natural environment with all its fascinating critters. If you are lucky enough to own nature-friendly habitat, be bold enough to keep it! You can feel proud that you’ll be helping wildlife that is desperately in need of your assistance.


NATURE ADVICE: You can almost effortlessly replace at least some of your lawn area with plants useful to wildlife. Lawn does not persist without constant care. If you leave it to its own devices, other plants will quickly begin displacing most types of lawn grass. Hillsides and slopes are especially good areas to transition away from lawn as they can be dangerous to mow.


It’s fun to identify the plants that show up without any effort on your part, and once you do, it’s your choice as to which ones you want to encourage by pulling out the others.

Friday, December 18, 2020

If you purchase today’s version of the “perfect” Christmas tree (seen here), you may find it is much too densely branched for ornaments to hang freely. Instead, tinsel and decorations will lie upon the branches, which isn’t nearly as attractive as in days of yore when they hung between them.




 

ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon

 

At What Price, Perfection?


“Perfection” means free from flaws or defects, and it’s a state of existence many people relentlessly chase these days. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, $15 billion dollars was spent in America alone for beauty procedures in 2016. And the Japan Times reported that $10.7 billion was spent in 2017 on just the materials and chemicals practitioners used to perform these cosmetic procedures worldwide.

 

The price of physical “beauty” is not just in terms of money, but also in terms of real pain and risk for those who choose surgery, not to mention the price of wasting your life (time is something I consider more valuable than almost anything) on something that is ridiculously overvalued.

 

Presumably the point of beauty is to be admired and/or to find someone to love you, yet being beautiful is not in and of itself likely to bring you genuine happiness; it’s likely that even the most gorgeous woman and handsome man have been cheated on. That says a lot (or, at least, it should) about the value of great looks alone in terms of endearment to others.

 

People nowadays are even concerned with how their pets look. According to the New York Post, dogs are getting nose and/or ear jobs, face-lifts, and even testicular implants so male dogs “can regain their masculinity”! Although some procedures, as with people, are done for medical purposes, they are far fewer in number than those for simply aesthetic reasons. In 2011, pet owners—more often known these days as pet “parents”—forked over $62 million in plastic surgery for their pets.

 

Folks are free to decide how much money they want to spend and how much pain they are willing to endure for their own sense of flawlessness. But is it ethical to subject animals to aesthetic surgical procedures they get nothing out of except great discomfort?

 

This infatuation with “physical excellence” in human society borders upon madness. It not only places at risk and brings pain to pets going under the knife for invalid reasons, but it has also come at great cost to the quality of everyone’s everyday lives.

 

Decades ago, when I was in my twenties and had fallen in love with the man of my dreams, I received a dozen long-stemmed red roses from him for my birthday. Oh, the fragrance of those roses! It was divine. Less than a decade later, when I had to undergo serious surgery that I was terrified of having, a dear friend also chose to send me a dozen long-stemmed red roses. The cut flowers still held the marvelous rose essence that was able to carry my thoughts away from the hospital and the intense pain of my surgery.

 

But by the end of the 1990s, the scent was gone. I couldn’t believe that this emblematic feature of roses had so thoroughly disappeared, and I also couldn’t imagine how it could have been allowed to happen. It was perhaps my first brush with this new world in which physical “perfection” plays such a dominant role in so many aspects of everyday life.

 

The rose fragrance was sacrificed on the alter of “beauty”. Gardeners growing their own roses preferred new pastel colors that were not biologically linked to the heavenly scent of red roses. Florists who wanted access to roses from around the world needed hardier specimens that could withstand travel and last longer in the customer’s hands, and the plants bred to meet these standards lost their scent in the process.

 

There has been equal demand for looks over substance in the food industry, with equally regrettable results. Apples are especially noticeable victims of this trend, with most of the commercial varieties looking like the artificial wax fruits that adorned my mother’s dining-room fruit bowl when I was growing up. Their “perfect” looks belie their loss of great apple flavor, not to mention nutrition.

 

The lack of robust flavor and aroma in strawberries ranks right up there with the rose situation as a truly lamentable development. Time was when you would bite into a strawberry that was fully red inside and chock-full of sweet juice. Now these fruits tend to be mostly white inside—even if bought from a local farmer—and, not surprisingly, flavorless by comparison.

 

I used to make strawberry ice cream following a recipe that suggested you might want to add red food coloring, but the naturally red and tasty juice made such an addition totally unnecessary. I can’t even imagine making my own ice cream from the strawberries on today’s market.

 

Then there are the Christmas trees. I’ve always adored these decorative icons of the month of December, whether they be the fake tree we had during my youth, the Eastern Red-cedars cut for free from a farmer’s pasture during my college years, or a field-grown White Pine Christmas tree bought from a parking lot when I was a young adult.

 

The beauty of these trees came from their openness. Ornaments hung down in all their colorful glory in the spaces between branches, and free-hanging shiny tinsel augmented the glow of the lights, be they big or small. The trees looked as real (albeit decorated) as when they’d been growing in a forest or field (unless, of course, they were the pink, white, or blue aluminum trees some folks liked in the ‘60s), and even the fake ones mimicked the airiness of natural trees.

 

These Christmas trees gave you a sense of connectedness to the environment, a little bit of the outdoors brought inside for a special holiday. In contrast, today’s overly sheared trees evoke the hand of man, not nature.

 

The trees are pruned to make them grow in a “perfect pyramid” shape (Christmas tree-grower lingo for "much wider at the bottom than at the top"). If they aren’t “full enough”, the lateral branches are sheared to increase density. But the thickness of the branches doesn’t allow tinsel and ornaments to hang freely as they are supposed to do, making the trees far less attractive because the ornaments instead lie directly upon the greenery.

 

I’m guessing that someone decided that live Christmas trees should look as they are drawn in cartoons and on cards and other stationery. Indeed, they now do, which means they look as artificial as Christmas tree-shaped jewelry.

 

Perhaps artificiality is to be expected when such a large percentage of the populace spends a good deal of time living in a virtual world instead of a real one. But folks should be careful about “improving” Mother Nature. In many cases, they end up eradicating the very qualities that made things extraordinary, making the price of “perfection” way too high.

 

 

NATURE ADVICE: Before bringing your live Christmas tree into the house, be sure to check it over for mantid egg cases. Otherwise, immature mantids might hatch out (due to the heat) inside your home, where they will have nothing to eat and will die.

 

When you find an egg case, cut off the entire branch. Do your best to position it within the branches of a shrub, with the egg mass in its original orientation. Try not to leave the egg mass obviously exposed because birds feed upon mantid eggs.

 

You can visit the site below to read descriptions of the mantid egg cases of three commonly encountered species.

 

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/mantids-mantises

Friday, December 4, 2020

Tiny hover flies in the author’s yard in Virginia flock to Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) for food in November. This “invasive” flowering plant is one of the last to hold blooms that serve as a lifeline for insects out and about on warm, late-fall days.


ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon


Tallamy’s Talking Points Miss the Point


A friend sent me a link to a YouTube video of a presentation for the Santa Clara (California) Native Plant Society by Doug Tallamy.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esNIhiWWr84

His basic message continues to be that the best way to save birds is via caterpillars, which he expects you to accomplish by landscaping your property with native woody plants.

 

The problem with Professor Tallamy’s directive is that it’s simplistic at best and destructive at worst. He ignores a whole host of injurious human activities to focus on the one (gardening) that may be the most palatable to people to act upon (because they enjoy this hobby), but it's actually the least helpful for the perpetuation of wildlife. 

 

And although Dr. Tallamy avoided mentioning pesticides in his talk to Californians who are presumably more sensitive (and thus more enlightened) to the pernicious effects of putting these chemicals into the environment, he has previously made clear his support for employing them to get rid of so-called invasive plants that he mistakenly believes have “pushed out” native plants. [Please see “Invasion Biology: Perception Trumps Reality”, posted here on October 6, 2020.]

 

In other words, Doug Tallamy’s talking points miss the point; he’s not going after the real obstacles to maintaining insect and bird numbers, but rather is trying to get folks to apply a band-aid that will not make much difference. Even if everyone on the planet landscaped only with native plants, it still wouldn’t increase the populations of caterpillars and birds because a dearth of native plants is not the main reason for the dearth of caterpillars. The main reason there are so few caterpillars (the larvae of moths and butterflies) is due to the ubiquitous lights found in human environments.

 

Most of the caterpillars you’re likely to spot are immature moths, and what do many of them do nowadays as adults? Instead of mating to perpetuate the species, many spend the night flying around outdoor lighting along streets, in parking lots, and around homes and businesses where they are more easily caught and consumed by owls and bats. They also will remain on the outside surfaces of windows in which nothing blocks indoor lighting from escaping. When moths don’t get a chance to mate, caterpillars are not created.

 

When Dr. Tallamy penned his first book, he showed a nighttime composite photo of the United States that he employed to point out “the extent to which we have converted natural areas to developed landscapes”, rather than discuss the real danger illustrated in that picture: lights! Thirteen years later, he’s finally come to recognize the danger posed by lighting, but does he suggest that the Californians listening to his program shut off unnecessary lights and employ curtains or blinds to shield their glow from insects outside? Nope. His answer is to keep the lights burning! Just use yellow lights that are less attractive to insects.

 

Of course, keep unnecessary lights on and you are especially guilty of contributing to the warming of our climate. However, global climate change is somehow not high on Doug Tallamy’s list of environmental concerns, even though a real problem for many insects nowadays is that—thanks to warmer winter temperatures—they are active in months when they should be hibernating. With nary a bloom in sight, they can’t feed to replace the energy they are using. Run out of energy reserves and you die.

 

Then there’s the lawn. While showing a photo of a house with a humongous lawn, he blithely tells folks to just get rid of half of their lawn, as if wasting the remaining 50% of the sizable amount of land in the photo would be acceptable. Why doesn’t he tell folks that a manicured lawn—dosed at regular intervals with deadly chemicals and kept “weed-free” (i.e., no flowers, such as dandelions, for butterflies, bees, etc.) doesn’t help our wildlife? After all, aren’t the people listening to him supposed to be ones who care about doing what’s right by the environment? Or are native-plant folks flocking to his lectures only because he’s the spokesman for their raison d’ĂȘtre?

 

At the end of his presentation, the Santa Clarans were able to ask questions. One person wondered if it was okay to grow a close relative of a native plant instead of the actual plant native to California. Professor Tallamy’s answer? You should be more concerned with the function of a plant in the landscape rather than its origins—even though neither he nor nativists (people who prefer to see native plants being grown by gardeners) will ever make this statement when discussing purportedly invasive plants.

 

Doug Tallamy’s overall message perfectly meshes with the current push by native-plant societies to get rid of many alien-plant species. But, as exemplified above, this effort is contradictory. Everyone knows that when calling a plant “native”, it’s not supposed to have been imported from somewhere else. Yet plenty of nativists want to have it both ways, and Doug Tallamy isn’t going to incur their wrath by disagreeing with them.

 

Lastly, Tallamy has a bad habit of making comparative evaluations of both plants and animals. He has no problem denigrating the animal species he doesn’t believe are as “valuable” as caterpillars, and he implied that 85% of native plants are essentially useless because they “aren’t supporting that much in terms of food webs”. Of course, this suggestion is ludicrous.

 

First, as every creature exists for a reason (otherwise, evolutionarily speaking, it wouldn’t be here), it’s an improper concept to posit that some kinds are more valuable or important than others. Second, and perhaps more critically, people are already overly prejudiced against many lifeforms, which is hugely detrimental to the environment. It’s hard enough to get people to accept nature in its entirety without having an authority figure convincing them to favor some kinds of animals/plants over others.

 

If you listen to Doug Tallamy or read his books, I highly recommend you employ serious critical thinking. This scientist’s training is in entomology and it shows. He espouses a worldview that is far too narrowly focused, disqualifying him as a spokesman for the environment in its entirety.

 

NATURE ADVICE: With global climate change already occurring, consider growing nonnative plants that bloom as early as March and are still blooming in November (the Common Dandelion is a cheery flower that will bloom even in winter sometimes if it’s in a sunny spot and the temperature is warm enough). Many of these plants may be classified as “invasive weeds”, but they are crucial for assisting a variety of insects to survive the current conditions on Planet Earth. 



 

Friday, November 20, 2020

If you’ve wondered how trash ends up in our local waterways and then the oceans, you’ll find the answer in this photo of a discarded mask near a river.

 


ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon


COVID CRAZINESS


On my daily walk recently, I came upon yet another disposable mask on the ground. It was disturbing for many reasons, one of which was that it was quite close to my local river. This refuse could easily be wind-blown into the waterway, beginning a journey to the Chesapeake Bay and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.


Movies or television series (especially, it seems, those from Europe) often show people discarding all kinds of things directly into large bodies of water or the tributaries leading to them, as if such areas represent just another wastebasket. Apparently, quite a few people are oblivious to the fact that many forms of wildlife reside within these liquid habitats and human refuse poses serious harm to those organisms.


The number of disposable masks I’ve seen in parking lots and along roads is sure to rise because “disposable” equates to “one use” in our wealthy society—even when an item could easily be reused. My husband and I bought two disposable masks when the pandemic began over six months ago, and we are still using them. When we get home from shopping, I flatten the masks and leave them out so any COVID virus organisms on them will become dehydrated and less virulent or completely harmless.


Additionally, we wash our hands at least once while out-and-about and immediately upon arriving home, and we practice the six-feet-apart rule as much as is practical in public. But, what I consider most important of all, is that we do not touch our hands to our eyes, noses, or mouths unless we’ve cleaned them first. If this one bit of reasonable and effective advice was impressed upon the public, we would not have had to shut down businesses, many of which will never reopen. Instead, we’ve had pandemonium, a chaotic situation in which government and medical officials alike have responded with fear and overreaction.


Yes, this illness is quite infectious and needs to be taken seriously. However, it never meant we needed to put people out of business, depriving owners and employees alike of their livelihood. Individuals can take their own proactive steps to protect themselves from COVID-19 while still visiting restaurants, museums, grocery stores, etc.


The one reaction by government and medical officials that has been proven to be overkill—as evidenced by the relaxation of government insistence for it—is the sanitation of virtually everything in sight. Just because we’re able to spread these chemicals everywhere does not mean we should. Common sense should tell us that inhaling chemicals not meant to be ingested can never be good for one’s wellbeing, and yet people have been subjected to that experience.


I got to the post office a bit early one day before the service section opened. As I waited in the lobby, a man came around to sanitize every wall and object in the room. He wasn’t near me, but—much to my dismay—his spray filled the lobby and I ended up breathing those chemicals.


Another time, my husband and I stayed at a hotel that offered breakfast with the night’s lodging. We got into the dining room first thing to eat, and only one other person was having his breakfast. Yet, the moment he left, an employee came around and wiped every single table in the room, rather than just the used table, with sanitizer. We weren’t only unhappy about having to breathe sanitizer and wonder what ill effect it could have on our health; we also could not enjoy the rest of our breakfast due to the fragrance. This experience did nothing to encourage us to travel again, which would be a help to the industry, from hotels/motels and restaurants to gas stations and other kinds of businesses.


I complained to the hotel chain, which blamed it on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines they were required to follow. It’s sad but true that those in charge with the power to impose rules rarely think through their edicts to be sure they are logical and don’t go beyond what is absolutely required and suitable. Of course, those in government have guaranteed income and employment, so they are immune from the consequences of the rules they impose upon the rest of us. Thus, they probably don't concern themselves with the repercussions. Craziness can be defined as “something that is totally unsound”, which I would suggest has been the case with the extreme sanitation requirement in the general public realm (rather than just in medical settings).


 NATURE ADVICE:


The COVID pandemic has been disastrous for our environment. Think of the tons of additional waste, thanks to restaurants that had to offer take-out service only (with its plastic utensils and Styrofoam containers that are hard to recycle) in order to survive. Think of all the people throwing away disposable masks after a single-use. Think of all the sanitizer chemicals that make their way to wastewater treatment plants and then to waterways, yet have not been proven to protect you any better than using plain soap and water and keeping dirty hands away from your face. It’s a fact that outside of a hospital, most people catch respiratory illnesses directly from infected people, not contaminated surfaces.


https://www.rush.edu/news/does-hand-sanitizer-work


Speak out against lockdowns that harm people financially by keeping businesses shuttered and sanitary measures that bring unnecessary harm to our natural world.







 




 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Numerous pollinators, such as this Tiger Swallowtail, obtain nourishment from the blooms of Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata). Their feeding fertilizes the flowers, which then provide fruits by late summer for birds and mammals.


ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon

 

Invasion Biology: Perception Trumps Reality

 

One definition of perception is “a thought, belief, or opinion, often held by many people and based on appearances”.

 

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/perception

 

It’s the perfect description for the field of invasion biology that deals with plants. When particular nonnative plants became noticeable in number alongside roadways, trails, and in fields, folks suddenly became aware of them and concluded these species had “pushed out” the native plants they felt should be in these locations. But their assumption was based only upon what they were seeing. While seeing can sometimes equate to believing, seeing can be quite deceiving, especially in regards to this issue. I can make clear this point by sharing a true story from my life.

 

I made the decision to work for a year before going to college. My parents did not have money to pay my way, and I didn’t want to end up thousands of dollars in debt by leaving for college when I was 18.

 

My one-year delay turned into five long years. Although I worked sixty-plus-hour weeks, I realized hostessing/waitressing in a restaurant and cashiering in a department store were not going to get me the money needed for college. Therefore, when a managerial position became available at a store 45 minutes away in another town, I jumped at the chance to get it, which I did.

 

Within my first few weeks there, my sister asked me to pick up diapers for her recently born baby. As I was only about 21 and this was the very early seventies before the term “Ms.” had taken hold, I was addressed as “Miss” because I wasn’t married. Immediately word got around that I was a single mother with a baby!

 

Obviously, appearances can be deceiving, and people should refrain from reading too much into them without further investigation. Although it may be difficult for older and younger people alike to grasp how our natural world became so full of plants they mistakenly believe to have “invaded”, that’s no excuse for jumping to conclusions that are, indeed, erroneous.

 

How can I know (and I do know) that the field of invasion biology is way off track? I know because I’ve paid very close attention to the environment throughout my life, which now adds up to many decades of observations.

 

The reason many of the so-called invasive plants exist in the United States is because they were deliberately brought here from other countries. They were known to be effective for preventing erosion by covering disturbed areas (such as that caused by road construction) where most native plants couldn’t possibly return because the soil conditions weren’t right for them. Plants (e.g., Kudzu) continue to grow in such sites, and in developed areas cleared for new construction that has been long delayed or never happened. Invasion biologists overlook the fact that all plants have soil requirements that must be met for them to grow; to home gardeners, it’s known as “right plant, right place”.

 

It’s said again and again that alien plants crowd out native species, but the reality is that they first come up where no, or very few, native plants are already growing. Ground that is compacted and nutrient-poor (either due to construction, trail use, or hundreds of years of cows treading over the landscape) is where nonnative plants fulfill the important role of colonizers that rehabilitate the soil. Over time, native plants can come in, and they do.

 

Invasion biologists must not be gardeners. Otherwise, they couldn’t possibly ignore—as the entire field has done—the truism that environmental conditions dictate which plants can grow in disturbed soils.

 

NATURE ADVICE: When I first moved into my newly built house 30 years ago, the topsoil had been graded away and the landscape was as gray, and every bit as devoid of life, as the Moon.

 

By working some of the yard while allowing nature to take its course in other areas of it, I soon had a nature-friendly garden that consisted mostly of non-native plants, some of which are known as “invasive.”  But every one of these plants contributed to a wildlife habitat that has become a haven for a huge diversity of organisms.

 

People are being made to feel guilty for allowing plants to grow that are well established in this country and are providing the structure necessary for superb wildlife habitat. Don’t allow yourself to be dictated to by friends and neighbors misguided by the invasive-plant movement that is, itself, misguided by scientists.

 

 

  A spider on the wall may frighten most people, but it’s not looking for trouble. Just catch it in a plastic bug box and place it outside, ...