Invasive plants. Most people have no idea how dire the situation is. Most of our suburban yards here on Long Island are maybe 25% native plants. So much of Long Island was bulldozed Post-War for homes. Some trees were saved, but mostly these yards were planted with an amalgam of trees, bushes, grass, and shrubs from every corner of the world.
Starting with the Dutch, we have had non-native plants on Long Island. The Dutch brought their bulbs of course — tulips, daffodils. Before the oil spike in 1974, The South Shore of Long Island had hundreds of flower greenhouses. The Dutch, whether deliberate or not, also brought the dandelion. You can make a salad or wine from it, but it really seems hardly worth the trouble! I am more partial to the “seeds hitching a ride” theory.
The thing is, you will never find an insect bite on any of these Dutch natives. The insects here did not evolve to digest this particular plant. Find an insect bite on a dandelion. We buy ornamentals that we are told will not attract insects. They are always Not From Here.
The ideal yard in our culture consists of lawn, privet hedges, ivy. Very stately in a conventional way, and an aesthetic borrowed straight from England. We see this in our tonier neighborhoods. What we would see if we truly looked are lifeless moonscapes, the lawn a monocrop imported from Europe, the privet and the English Ivy terribly invasive, and again offering no nourishment to local insects.
Without insects, there are then no birds, lizards, amphibians. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can build habitat for nature right in our yards, and must, if we really want to take action against what is otherwise a global wave of extinction we are all facing for our local creatures. This is the core argument of Doug Tallamy, who argues in Nature’s Best Hope and elsewhere, that we must create native habitat locally and nationally if we are to blunt the impact of what is otherwise a global wave of extinction caused by the human activity of 8 billion people. For us to collectively survive, we need man and Nature coexisting, even in our yards. Especially there, actually.
First though we need to clear the ground. The first step for this country and for every community is to institute a program of invasive plant removal / habitat restoration. Involve local civics, the schools, the locals who all care about the local park. Get people to use apps like PictureThis! so that they know what they are looking at. Once people see it, they can’t unsee it: The gorgeous local park they walked for years was in fact lifeless, overrun with invasive plants. Bamboo, Wisteria, Grape, Mugwort, Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, Honeysuckle, Norway Maple, Burning Bush, Autumn Olive, Phragmites. The usual suspects.
The woods are silent.
There is so much to be done in every community, every yard. First off, we must win the war against invasive plants, one we are badly losing. Part of the problem is that people don’t understand that native plants are crucial to the survival of our native creatures. Without 70% native, ecosystems collapse. Non native plants — forsythia, I am looking at you! — is at best a missed opportunity for some plant of local ecological use. Invasive plants though — having no native enemies, no insects to stop them — not only take up space, but take it over, especially in areas where the native habitats have already been disrupted.
So what’s a nation to do? We need a Climate Conservation Corps. We need this locally based, and about a common effort — the local environment. Your hometown, your park. This is a true infrastructure investment — a natural one.
Build a road or a bridge, and depreciation starts Day One. Restore a forested wetland, and the value appreciates year by year.
Investing in local efforts to heal lakes and rivers, to reforest and replant, community by community, is how we build a sustainable future, in both an environmental and a civic sense.
America is being overrun. Let’s make America Beautiful again by rebuilding Nature.