Spoiler alert: It wasn’t These aliens:
Having to weed a prairie is just not right. I blamed the morning job on the blamed fool that decided that Sericea lespedeza would make a great import to northeast Missouri. “It’s very hardy!” they said. “Animals will forage on it!” they said. “It will grow well in so many soils!” they said. They were right. But they forgot the part about “It’s bitter though, so animals will only forage on it after they run out of the tastier native species” and that’s kind of a big deal.
Once lespedeza gets a foothold, it grows well, spreads easily, and gets eaten less. So it crowds out natives. We lose the flowers, along with their pollinators with their honey and herbal remedies. We lose the blackberries and gooseberries that feed people, deer, foxes, and birds; and provide cover for quail and rabbits. We lose the diversity that brings abundance to a habitat. The only option is to remove it, and it’s a bear to remove.
Some of you have bug-out locations (BOLs) or bug-in locations that you are developing. Others may have eyes on public (or ‘no obvious local owner’) land in your vicinity, contemplating a little ‘guerilla planting’.
If this is you, I implore you to be very, very careful about what non-native species you may bring in. There are really only three outcomes in such a situation: 1) The new species can’t take the new habitat and dies. Effort wasted. 2) The new species can live in the new habitat, and to boot has no effective predators or parasites. Its population explodes at the expense of a lot of native species one would have wanted to keep and you’ve done more harm than good. Or 3) The new species works out and native species deal with it well enough to make it behave in a civilized way. If you’re betting on option 3), I want to play poker with you. (insert greedy smile)
I almost fell for this trap. I first learned about autumn olive from a prepper site, where it was touted for its hardiness, quick growth, and attractiveness to wildlife. When I mentioned the idea of planting it to my sister (a conservation biologist), she looked at me like I’d just suggested protecting the house from mice by importing rattlesnakes. Which I pretty much had. See the line of trees in the pic below? It was taken by the side of a recently constructed road, and all the big greenery is autumn olive. It sure does grow and spread great; it took over that open land in two years flat!
Autumn olive does feed songbirds. (Yay, I like those!) The seeds can, with lots of effort and sugar, be made into a palatable fruit leather or jam, or so I read. It does that while replacing the oak trees that feed songbirds, deer, and turkey; and by replacing the prairie species that are medicinal, support pollinators, and provide tastier food for all (me included). Not yay. Not even a little yay. Die scum tree!
By the way, it’s not just plants. The wrong fish can eat the bottom of your lake’s food chain. The wrong ‘desirable hunting’ species can wreck the hunting for other species and degrade the production of the whole forest — and even bring disease or a real threat of attacking your children. (I’m looking at YOU, you evil feral hogs!)
For The Place, I researched further and went to Plan B. Plan B was to use management practices that promote species that naturally occur there and do the things we want the land to do: Support plenty of wildlife, including the best huntable species such as deer, turkey, and quail, and produce human food, fuel, and building material directly. We are adding a few food species; but they’re ones proven to cooperate well in our area if you can keep the deer from eating them early. This plan will take some work up front in prescribed burns and removing less desirable tree species, and even weeding the prairie for all love until the lespedeza gives up, but we’ll end up with a BOL that produces a bounty for our needs with little ongoing effort and no environmental disaster.