Not all aliens are evil

2010-06-26 00:00

“GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may” is the first line of a poem by Robert Herrick, but quite unrelated to plants or gardening. But for some reason these words came buzzing into my mind as I read Clive Bromilow’s page of words and photos­ in The Witness (June 8). While each photo depicts an alien species that can and has become a threat through neglect, why has this threat of alien species to our land reached such damaging proportions during recent decades? Are the alien species alone entirely to blame?

Weeds have always been on the land and for good reasons. Time was when they were treated with regard and disciplined. Green manuring was practised and before seeding weeds were turned over and dug into the soil. This was an asset to the land. Many weeds were and are a rich food for poultry, rabbits, pigs and other animals. Many plants and weeds are credited with medicinal and healing properties. Many plants and weeds have the power to prevent soil erosion. Blackjacks and stinkblaar were used as a deterrent for fleas in dog kennels and on wooden floor boards in homes during earlier decades. Perhaps some research on weeds and their beneficial properties will yield some positive feedback.

Yes, I know alien species may be a threat (just as native ones can, too), but I fail to see why a blanket ban should be put on all the listed plants when they are out of control in only certain parts of the country. Another point to be noted by gardeners is that two of the alien species, the Ipomoea purpurea and the Lantana camara, have acceptable relatives that are a joy in the garden. Ipomoea, the morning glory, is a summer annual with beautiful blue flowers and are easy to remove when their season is spent. Lantana montevidensis fills and enhances many spaces in gardens with its small posy flowers of mauve, yellow, pink and white. It is sterile and offers no invasion.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” was saying to me, tell your garden readers to buy, plant and enjoy lovely specimens before they are declared dangerous. Being policed are granadilla. Personally I have never gardened without a granadilla. What a joy to gather ripe fruit for so many culinary delights.

The police are watching statice (Limoneum). It is a special flower, a market product and they are widely enjoyed.

Particularly lovely is S. latifolia­, with tiny, close-gathered flowers. They make a little blue-mauve mist, a work of art. S. perezii, with large, flat leaves and tall, papery, purple­-blue flowers, is a good perennial. Bees, butterflies and birds all need feeding, but aren’t some of these alien species providing this service, especially where the soil is eroding badly and becoming desert-like? Is this not part of nature’s purpose?

Some alien species are food and shelter for small creatures and animals that are becoming extinct through hunting and capturing. Other­ points to consider in this banning are what methods of eradication are intended. Will the relatively easier method of spraying with herbicides­ be adopted? Robbing the soil of nutrients is put forward as a reason for the damage and danger from alien species. How about the long residual effect of herbicides drenching the soil? Is this not damaging and dangerous as well?

Some of my joys of childhood were watching fireflies and glow-worms at dusk, telling ladybirds to fly away home, watching the careful tread of chameleons and enjoying the fascination of stick insects, praying mantises and bagworms. Do your grandchildren know these little creatures that are a delight in the garden?

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