There’s More to Invasives

There’s More to Invasives

A true lover loves all of the beloved. Even when they are changing and the things we thought we loved the most are going away. A thriving native ecosystem, a symphony hundreds of millennia in the making is an outstanding beauty. When we decide one fine morning to take a boat out onto one of the islands in the Boston Harbor, we become visitors to an ecosystem. This system, even on one of the smaller of islands is comprised of millions of individuals and thousands of species of a tremendous variety of the branches of life’s tree. These living species don’t act and interact in robotic ways, but rather they have spontaneously improvised sweet romances of symbiosis, games of mortal chase and escape (as with the raptor and the rabbit), the strange sadness of disease and parasitism, and the most fascinating if not morbid art of death, decomposition, and birth-anew. The character of all of these species and their interplay is inspired by the character the regions rock, soil, and mineral constitution. Furthermore, the song of the ecosystem is set to the meter of local and global climate patterns; especially so in this region where ice ages have come and gone, scouring the earth to desolation. This happened here 16,000 years ago, and the living soil and vegetation we see today is the result of long and arduous ecological succession. I say this all to demonstrate the inconceivable magnitude of these native ecosystems, and the validity of horror when some plant or bug from far away so effectively causes the living cogs of the ecosystem to jam. While it is true that no ecosystem ever stays unchanged for long, the introduction of invasive species is thoroughly testing the integrity of the Boston Harbor island ecosystems. 

This all being the case, I think it is even more important that before we become fearful or even hateful towards invasive species that have taken root in our favorite places, we must first take the time to connect with them and understand that they have not come here purposely or maliciously. All species have long histories which should be acknowledged, even the invasive ones. Indigenous scholar and ecologist Jessica Hernandez writes:

 

“Removing invasive species without good intent or connecting with them causes scars”

 

 

Invasive mile-a-minute vine discovered with signs of herbivory, evidence that a bio-control weevil has appeared on the island — exciting stuff!

I have the pleasure of being part of the team here that leads volunteers in invasive plant management once a week. On Grape Island this past Saturday I gave a talk with the aim of establishing a bond of acknowledgement and respect towards the invasive mile-a-minute vine that we were there to address. The vine’s Latin name is Persicaria perfoliata. Its Chinese name is Kang Ban Gui, meaning ‘The person who carries the board back’. It is called this because it has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat snake bites. A person bitten by a snake would be carried to the doctor on a wooden board. Upon treatment with Kang Ban Gui the person would be well enough to walk back, carrying the board by themself. Beyond this, modern clinical evidence suggests that it has impressive effectiveness for all sorts of ailments. Another plant that is severely invasive on many of the islands is Roundleaf Bittersweet. I similarly found that this plant has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, and that clinical evidence supports many medical uses. Garlic mustard, widely invasive in the US has its own uses (it’s quite tasty!). A little research shows us that many of the plants that we may have come to hate, have histories of value in human society, as well as ancient evolutionary roots in their own native ranges. Even though invasive plants can bring great damage to ecosystems, they are beautiful in their own ways. Jessica Hernandez writes: 

 

“Yes, invasive species harm an entire ecosystem, sometimes outcompeting all native plants in this same landscape; however, we are taught as Indigenous peoples that regardless of whether this plant belongs there or not, we must ask its spirit for permission.  We acknowledge them as displaced relatives rather than invasive species, since at the end of the day, they are also someone’s plant relatives

Majestic trees  at nearby Minute Man National Park

Once we have acknowledged our invasive species and seen who they are, we can more healthily address the damage that they do and implement mitigation strategies like pulling, cutting, and spraying. If we don’t take the time to make a connection with an invasive species, we are more likely to be filled with anger, fear, and stress because they are a faceless enemy to us. The reality is that the invasive has beauty if you have the eye to see it. Even its invasion is filled with a kind of tragic beauty. 

I love the boat rides to and from the islands

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