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Invasive Species

The Autumn Olive flower

Just now the Autumn Olive flowers and their fragrance are fading around here. Pretty soon our woods will be fragrant and pretty with honeysuckle and multiflora rose. All of these are invasive plants that we have in abundance in the woods and wild places in Missouri and I suppose that is true in many parts of the U.S., as well. They choke out the native species, honeysuckle wraps itself around all kinds of other plants, and bush honeysuckle springs up just about everywhere, crowding out the understory in all the wild areas. But they are all pretty and I have been chastised for loving the fragrances they add to the spring air. You can’t love the fragrance because that plant is bad! Well.

Bush honeysuckle is one of the first to put out leaves and last to lose them.

I always think about this a lot in the spring. I certainly do get the point. But I have to think–isn’t this the pot calling the kettle black? After all, aren’t we the most invasive species on the planet? Haven’t we driven multitudes of plants, trees, animals, birds and insects, not to mention people, out of their rightful places on Earth? Who is checking us? And who is responsible for these non-native plants showing up where they don’t belong in the first place? It’s not like those plants got on boats all by themselves (like we did), showed up and shoved the others out of their way, and took their land and resources right out from under them (like we did).

So I get the point and I won’t plant Bradford pears, honeysuckle, Autumn Olive or any of those others that don’t belong, and I will do what I can to rid my little corner of the world of them. I do work at eradicating bush honeysuckle from my yard, a never-ending job. A lone man spends hours of his own time chopping it down in the woods I go to, clearing out great swaths of understory so that the native plants can gain purchase. I admire him for doing it and I always think I should help, although it does make for less cover when one has to pee in the woods. 🙂

Native red honeysuckle in my yard

I met a guy at an art show who turns bush honeysuckle into beautiful furniture. “[Earning money] is not really what I’m trying to do. It’s to teach people . . . You take (the table) home and you’re planting the seed for conversation about the damage bush honeysuckle does.”

And I just read that one can eat the berries (not olives) that Autumn Olive puts out in the fall and even bake them into tarts! Can’t help liking that! A little whipped cream on top might not be amiss, either. Of course, if one eats the berries, there are less seeds going into the ground.

And can’t I still love the heady fragrances that greet me in the spring? (Yes, we’re back to that.) I think yes! I just cannot hate the hapless plants themselves, as some would have me do. At the same time, I can try to be less invasive myself, and more careful of what I do and how I interact with the less hardy species all around me. We all can do better at that, I think.

“Do not worry too much about your lawn. You will soon find if you haven’t already that almost every adult American devotes tremendous time and money to the maintenance of an invasive plant species called turf grass that we can’t eat. I encourage you to choose better obsessions.” — John Green

So what do you think about all of this? Do you want your Autumn Olive Tart with or without whipped cream?

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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