Although I’ve been a lifelong gardener, my interest and knowledge of plants has taken a new twist since becoming an eco dyer and printer. It turns out that many of the plants that I use in this practice are not native to the area I live in, but are from other countries far and wide, brought here mostly by means of trade, sometimes attaching themselves to ship ballasts or even as accidental migrants on the soles of our shoes. Often the seeds or berries are ingested by birds who travel long distances before excreting those seeds in other countries. The wind then spreads them even further.
While I love having access to some of these plants, I’ve become more aware of the hazards of misusing these plants, even now, after they’ve been here for years, even centuries and and have become invasive species, sometimes threatening to eradicate our own native plant life.
Garlic mustard is only one example of a plant that threatens to do serious damage to our land as we know it.
“Threats: Garlic mustard is currently displacing native understory species in the forests of northeastern America and southern Canada. Native wildflowers include spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodrot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, toothwortsm, and trilliums. It displaces native herbaceous species within 10 years of establishment. Garlic mustard can invade undisturbed areas as well as disturbed areas.
Garlic mustard is also a threat to species that depend on the native understory species. For example, the endangered Virginia white butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) uses toothworts as a food supply during the caterpillar stage. Garlic mustard displaces toothworts, and is toxic to the eggs of the butterfly. Similarly, the native American butterfly (Pieris napi aleracea) which commonly use native mustards as their host plants, tries to use garlic mustard, but their larvae die.”
I’ve always been an organic grower, but since becoming aware of the nature and extent of the invasion of “alien” species, I’ve begun to change my own bad habits that only serve to foster this danger to more protective ones that foster more environmental responsibility. Change begins at home.
Possibly the most important thing I can do is to isolate these weeds as I pull them up (by the root of course!) . I don’t just throw them in my compost pile now! I first place them in a heavy black plastic bag, close the bag tightly and leave it in the sun to burn up within the bag. As these pile up, I will burn them before placing the ashes in with the compost.
I’d say that on this property, the biggest danger is posed by Oriental bittersweet
(Celastrus orbiculatus). If you dig up the root, it’s very red.
This week I’ve begun a project to landscape my front yard with native plants. This could take a few years. So far, so good!
I’m sure you can guess that you’ll see more about this in coming posts!