Nativists’ main argument is competition based. However, current natural theorists are abandoning the competition model for the interdependent life-compounding model. Basically, life helps life to increase life. It is in the best interest for all. The main competition arguments of Nativists are: there are no natural predators, invasives are unrecognizable to native fauna and they take space from natives or they send native landscapes out of balance. All of these are more false than true. Before I begin dismantling invasive theory there is one asterix to all this. *I do not doubt systems can be overwhelmed with biology. However it is an issue of scale. I do not mean to lead the reader into the land of life is all nice. Do we think letting the ego run free introducing new plants is ok? Do we think we are at perfect health and that that would allow us swim in freezing water in the winter?! Life isn’t, never has been, or will be in perfect balance. Life is always refining the balance. And the more delicate a system the easier it is for Nature to topple it and try for a better balance.
Aliens could wage war with bananas. Our whole Earth could be smothered in 100 feet of them. No one would survive. No macro fauna would survive. Life would have to begin again from humble beginnings. However, this is not the scale of, or even close to, invasives in our landscape. In fact the only thing that comes close to this scale is our use of the environment. Many people have already beautifully detailed how every nook and cranny of the Earth is inundated with industry-assured harmless substances, frequencies or forces. Sadly, invasives look much more like a scapegoat than a culprit. It is like we tacked a picture of them up on the mirror that is supposed to show us our actions. Let me stop us right there… clamoring on about the harms we have perpetrated is another ego exercise.
Very briefly I will explain why all Nativist arguments fall over. They actually have the same micro and macro predators. We don’t often see invasive plants getting attacked because of how healthy they are. Put a pioneer in a suburban sprawl and you’ll see one sick cowboy. Out on the range that cowboy is happy. Invasive plants are no different. They do get attacked by both insect and microbe. Spray Round-up on a invasive or native plant and it dies. Why? Round-up doesn’t kill plants directly. It is a broad spectrum mineral chelator (that means it grabs what is essential for life). If you spray a sterile plant in a lab with Round-up it doesn’t die; it wilts. Round-up needs an ever present soil pathogen to finish off the plant, fusarium. Our native fusarium kills invasive plants! Local nature recognizes invasives! The bigger take away is how plant health works. Plants need a certain mineral balance, like people, and when it is missing they get disease, like people. Invasive plants just happen to need more Round-up because they can exist at more of a fringe land balance: our current land. Round-up actually makes the land more imbalanced! it ripens it for invasives! The chelation doesn’t just effect the target plant and stop. It continues to grab minerals for a time scientists are sure about. Contrarily, when I manage for better mineral balance in the soil around bittersweet I can get it black spot while the more delicate plant I plant there next thrives. Insects decompose low performing plants. I can get aphids to eat invasives by improving the soil health. Basically, I increase the soil carbon and manage for a better mineral balance. These healthy metrics for soil are known. They are inconveniently hard to put a label on and sell. Invasives are pioneers of harsh terrain. Make the terrain more broadly liveable and they wait in the seed bank. Many questions arise: Q: How long do they wait in the seed bank? A: Until they are needed to help mellow the soil again. Q: Are you saying all land infested by invasives is really unhealthy land not fit for our natives?! A: Yes. Until the health improves it is better to have a high performing plant than a low one (and we’ll see why later). For most this elicits a sad but untrue realization. It means the plants that are getting bugs or are being overgrown aren’t perfect. This is not true. The land health is not perfect or, better yet, at a better balance. The perfect expression of our Native seed bank is waiting for better land health. Insects use infrared to detect inflammation. Why do so many non-native vegetable crops, that we spend a ton of money spraying and engineering with God knows what still get attacked by insects?! Those are not native plants! They get attacked because they are not healthy and insects are Nature’s cleanup crew. In fact insects are a gift. They can eat crap we shouldn’t and life grows better from the rubble insects leave behind (think compost).
Ok but what about big animals, they can’t possibly eat invasives. Not true. High performing invasives, like any high performing plant is only palatable to an equally high performing animal. Wild rabbits don’t eat vegetables with luxury silcon levels. Maybe invasives aren’t edible yet. When their population bubble bursts and they stabilize they will be edible (when the improve the soil too much for their own good). They will then until they are needed. Should there come a time when land is as worn out as it is now then they will come again.
Humans are even learning how to use invasives. Workshops on how to identify and prepare invasives for eating are popping up. Livestock are getting nutrition from invasives. New eco-building materials are being made out of them. Lyme disease is being treated with them. As I will illuminate, a huge proof of their worth is in the measureable ways they are restoring the health of our land just by growing! I hope we don’t wait to appreciate them only after some company starts exploiting them more than they currently are. Native plant campaigns that promote the use of heribicides are exploitation in this direction.
Back to disproving Nativists: Invasives take up space or push land out of balance. Invasives only take up space where the land is out of balance. When I get land into balance the geometry of the plants change. The pioneers, weeds and invasives, now express shorter inter-nodal spacing; they are stunted. More delicate plants, such as heirlooms and rare natives, now grow in closer proximity to Nature’s laws of balance: the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series. Basically, they grow more beautifully to us because they resonate with the same architectural design our eye, heart and brain uses! At this point the very keen observer will have a question for me: Q. What if the balance gets too balanced? What if all of our invasives and even all of our natives stop expressing themselves well or at all?! I don’t know but I would love to see us even get close! Maybe seeds we never knew existed will come out of dormancy. Maybe in the genetic back closet of our most delicate life are rare expressions that are waiting for the broadest balance to better express themselves.
At their heart Nativists are yearning for our primal past: that time of balance, innocence and dependability: when a meadow was just milkweed, little blue stem and fescue. We can let that love of beauty be our guide in managing for an even better expression of the land. People are already co-creating that better land: mob-grazers, permaculturists, mineral balancers…
People, plants and cultures leave the growing stage. We are already spending more energy than ever understanding our connection the Earth. We are finding ways to not only save the planet but how to make it healthier. We are giving back what helped us grow: Earth resources. Invasive plants are no different. Like we are becoming an adult so to are invasive plants. Some of the best soil on my property comes from years of invasive plant soil building.