(presented at the Native Plants and Permaculture Conference, Lost Valley Educational Center, Dexter, Oregon, in May 2007.)
Let me tell you about the invasive plant that scares me more than all the others. It’s one that has infested over 80 million acres in the US, usually in virtual monocultures. It is a heavy feeder, depleting soil of nutrients. Everywhere it grows, the soil is badly eroded. The plant offers almost no wildlife habitat, and since it is wind pollinated, it does not provide nectar to insects. It’s a plant that is often overlooked on blacklists, yet it is responsible for the destruction of perhaps more native habitat than any other species. Research shows that when land is lost to this species, native plants rarely return; they can’t compete with it. It should go at the top of every native-plant lover’s list of enemies. This plant’s name: Zea mays, or corn. Corn is non-native. It’s from Central America. Next on my list is the soybean, with 70 million acres of native habitat lost to this invasive exotic. Following those two scourges on this roll call of devastating plants is the European invader called wheat.
Wait, you say: these plants are deliberately spread by people; that’s different! But to an ecologist, it is irrelevant that the dispersion vector of these plants is a primate. After all, we don’t excuse holly or Autumn olive, even though without bird dispersal, they could not spread. Why are corn, soy, and wheat not on any blacklists? Because we think of them differently than plants spread by non-humans. This suggests that an invasive species is an idea, a product of our thinking, not an objective phenomenon. When we restore land, we restore to an idea, not to objective criteria.
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