I was taking a hike through a national park in Hawaii when I realized I was seeing the same weeds as back home. Tourists like me had carried the seeds over on their 5 hour flights from the mainland in their shoes, clothes and even hair, and were spreading plant species in a way that millions of years of tides and winds never could.
The hedge between my parent’s house and their neighbors in Atlanta isa happy place this time of year, with robins, starlings, jays, and finches fluttering in and out of it all the time. This hedge has been around since before they bought the house in 1972. The thing is older than me. It still merrily puts out fruit and leafs out raggedly. The raggedness of the thing is more from bad pruning over the decades than age. The birds love the fruit, and come through the morning and evening to eat it and then fly away to other yards, parks and woods.
The hedge is a privet hedge, and it is one of the most invasive weed species in the understory of America. Birds love it, and they spread it as far as they can fly and poop, which is often miles, in their search for food.
Another species birds love even more is Multiflora Rose. An innocuous looking, small flowered thing, it grows in thick thorny hedges. The reason birds love it is that snakes and raccoons don’t. It is a great place to establish a nest to avoid eggs and chicks being eaten before they can fly. Multiflora rose spreads even faster than privet, and replaces ground cover substory plants in thick carpets.
I do not want to catalog plant weeds for you. That would be tedious, repetitive and depressing, but suffice it to say that weeds spread because they are good at getting around, growing anywhere, and growing faster than they are eaten.
I’m more interested in solutions.
The heroic thing to do is to get in there as a volunteer along with dozens of your fellow travelers and uproot the stuff. But you are overcome by mechanical and numerical obstacles.
Privet develops a strong, coiled woody root. If cut down to the ground, its hard 4” stumps can re-sprout repeatedly, growing just as vigorously as before To get at the root, you have to put a lot of force on a “privet bar”, a six foot long crowbar with a flat end that your try to pry the root ball out with. Killing even ten plants with a privet wrench can wear you out; it takes real teamwork to kill the hundreds that usually pollute the understory of most urban and suburban forests. And I won’t raise the worse spectre of Bamboo.
Even if we killed all the Privet today, it would still spread, because birds love the fruits. Many different birds love the fruits in fact, so you can’t even overfeed or eliminate one species of bird to deal with the spread.
It is kinda like the Chestnut Blight, which has killed off a once major species of tree from America’s forests. The reason the disease hasn’t did off with the Chestnut is that it also infects Oaks, but less fatally. Diversity begets durability.
So let me try that solution again:
Why not use our economic needs to solve this problem? Use invasive weed species for fuel, heating or even pulp production.
Consider that a lot of weeds, like privet, multiflora rose, kudzu, forsythia, and bamboo, come in thick monocultures. Energy or pulp industries could target these as cheap and available feedstocks. With this economic good, we could go a long way towards dealing with the problem of invasive weed species.
As an added bonus, Kudzu root is used as a seasoning in its native Japan. While we brought it over here for erosion control, I’d love to see it in restaurants as a garnish.
As for food, I’d love to see Asian Carp, Snakehead, or Lionfish anywhere in restaurants or grocery stores. They are not as dirty as rats or pigeons, but they are even more dangerous than those every day pests. The Chinese are clamoring for the millions of pound of Asians carp that have taken over the Mississippi River. Snakehead is a Vietnamese delicacy, and I’d love to try some for the taste as well as the cause.