Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weeding--An Expression of Love or Intolerance?

The New York Times has published a couple curious opinion pieces recently about introduced species. The general conclusion offered is that we should learn to live with all the introduced weeds rather than try to counter those that prove destructive and invasive. One opinion piece, entitled "Mother Nature's Melting Pot", actually suggests that people who fight against any non-native species are nativistic and xenophobic.

It's strange to see such naive and fatalistic thinking finding space in the newspaper of record. Weeding my garden the other evening, I found the act to be informed not by xenophobia but by love. When I was done, hundreds of nut sedge (non-native) and silver maple seedlings (native) were lying in a heap. Spared were a dozen far less aggressive species that would have otherwise been lost in a weedy tide. I have nothing against nut sedge, which has a beautiful inflorescence, or silver maples, which when not producing a million seeds are providing shade and air conditioning. It's just that I like other plant species, too, and experience shows that the nut sedge and maple seedlings in my backyard have imperialistic tendencies.

On a much larger scale, the Friends of Rogers Refuge have been fighting a several acres' infestation of Phragmitis (non-native) which would if left undeterred eventually turn a richly diverse wetland into a monoculture of greatly reduced habitat value.

The paradox is there for anyone to see. People who love plants spend a lot of time killing some of them in defense of the plants and diversity they love. A ready analogy is the act of editing, in which the love of writing leads to an unsentimental excision of weedy words.

The new conceit, expressed in the above-mentioned opinion piece and a subsequent one entitled "The Price of Liberty: Weeds", seems to be that we should abandon largely futile resistance and open our minds to an agreeable acquiescence. Since some weeds introduced from other continents are relatively benign, or even have positive attributes, it is then argued that we should accept any and all introduced species wherever they want to grow. The result of this laissez-faire approach, promoted as a liberation from intolerance, is actually the promotion of "intolerant" plants--the subset of weeds whose aggressive behavior diminishes biodiversity over time.

Though dressed up in a newspaper as synonymous with tolerance, this "let it be" approach plays out in the field as just another form of neglect.

1 comment:

  1. You are not alone. Some of those in my Master Naturalist group here in Arlington were similiarly displeased by the unchallenged arguments put forth here (and also on Science Friday) of acquiescence to invasive plants.