This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

My Thoughts on Invasive Species

My Thoughts on “Invasive Species”
By Alan Russo

   As a naturalist and as a person who teaches about Wild Edible and Medicinal plants, I am often asked the question “Is that a native species”. When naturalists gather and speak of plants and animals the same question arises sometimes several times in a single conversation. I have often thought about this “invasive species” thing and have, over the years, formed some opinions about the subject.
   A species is considered invasive if it doesn’t fit in the classification of what some human considers native to a particular area. I often hear stories and read stories about groups of people who go out on the landscape and pull invasive plants out of the ground or kill or relocate invasive species from a particular area. Organizations are formed around this very concept. Tee shirts are made and fund raisers are planned to get enough money to eradicate these evil weeds or aggressive animals. People earn prestigious degrees and become famous Biologists based on this very concept. Yet isn’t this concept a man made concept and not a biological one? Haven’t we invented in our own minds and in our own arrogance, the idea that one thing belongs in a certain place and that some other thing doesn’t?
  If people didn’t exist, neither would invasive species. When was the last time you heard a squirrel complain that a certain species of Hickory nut doesn’t belong in his neck of the woods?  The interesting thing is that most of the species that are considered invasive were moved by humans from where they originally were found in the first place. From Killer Bees to Starlings to Dandelions to Kudzu, the list goes into the thousands. Humans will spend countless hours debating, and spend millions of dollars on studies to figure out weather or not  Phragmites is a native species because it is taking over so much land, but then, they will go out and plant thousands of acres of corn or wheat or soybeans as a monoculture. Not to mention the fact that a field of Corn is about as natural as a Cactus at the North Pole. How natural is a monoculture of thousands of acres of a single plant species that never existed on the face of this earth till humans invented it through hybridization, or now even scarier, genetic modification  anyway? We will cut down and poison away all the indigenous species and natural biodiversity of millions of acres of natural unspoiled land and plant one single species. Nowhere on earth would nature allow something like that to exist naturally. Yet we have the arrogance to call a field of Purple Loosetrife, one of the most beautiful sites you may ever behold, an invasion of an aggressive weed.  Humans will spend millions of dollars and millions of hours trying to eradicate this invader.
  Humans will “cull” an animal species that has gone over a predetermined number per acre because this will upset what they believe should be a “healthy” number to maintain a “natural” biodiversity. Than, of course, they will go clear thousands of acres of natural biodiversity to raise thousands of Cows, way more than could ever survive in an area naturally. How do we draw the boundaries of where a certain plant or animal should live? Selfish arrogance or monetary gain is how. Why do we protest the killing of Harp Seals or Whales yet spend billions of dollars a year poisoning our homes and water supply to kill Dandelions, and other “weeds” or animals that aren’t considered “cute” by human standards.
  Humans have only been on this planet for a very short time, and for billions of years before we evolved life had no pre conceived boundaries. Boundaries were determined by things like Climate, Weather, physical and nutritional characteristics of the land water and soil. When a plant that is considered a native of Africa is found in America, humans call it an invasive species. But what of the plants that existed when North and South America were connected to Africa? Would it have been an invasive species then? What would the plants that once grew on Antarctica be called when Antarctica was close to the equator and connected to Australia and Africa? After all there have been no plants on Antarctica for as long as Humans have existed, so I guess this means that any plants that ever exited or will ever exist on Antarctica in the future will all be considered invasive species. Life is opportunistic, when the glaciers retreated the barren land became populated by plants and animal that did not exist there for over 100,000 years. Are all these plant and animal species invaders? After all they didn’t live there before!
   One of the latest invasive species “problems” we have on LI is the Asian Shore Crab. Now it’s pretty obvious just by the name it’s not from this part of the world. Debates have been going on for years trying to figure out; “what are we going to do about the Asian shore crab?” Well, we have already done it, we brought them here! Do you think there is ever a chance a 1.5 inch crab could have found its way 5000 miles across three oceans by chance?
  The biggest problem with human intervention, weather it be introduction or eradication of a species, is that in most cases it happens so fast that the other plants and animals in the area have no time to adapt to the new organism. In the case of eradication sometimes the method used to remove a species is more detrimental to the organisms they are trying to save than just leaving things alone. Sometimes they introduce a new species to eradicate the invasive species and this often causes a bigger invasive species problem.
   I now live in North Carolina and the people down here have a different perspective on what makes an invasive species. I was recently outside working on my Organic garden when I saw my neighbor driving around his property on his John Deere cart spraying poison on all the Thistle plants on his property. This troubled me on many levels, one being the contrast of me, barefoot in my Organic garden, and him spraying poison on the land, poisoning the soil, air and water because of this “invasive” species. One of the other things is that since the time I saw my first Bull Thistle plant on a trip out West I fell in love with the beauty and uniqueness of the Thistle Plant, it is one of my all time favorite plants. You see, people who graze cows and other animals don’t like Thistles, the cows don’t eat them, they have thorns and they are basically in the way. They use a lot of Roundup and 24D around here. Just as a side note, not 10 min. after he poisoned the Thistle and the ground around it, a Cow came over and started eating the grass right at the base of the Thistle. You might want to consider this the next time you eat other than Organically raised beef!
  My neighbor across the street came over to see my garden one day and when she looked at my field she said “Oh, are you letting your Thistles grow”. Very subtle but the meaning was clear. They raise Sheep and despise Thistles. They are concerned the seeds will blow into their yard. We have lots of Goldfinches around here and they love Thistle seeds, I even have a Thistle feeder for them where I have seen up to nineteen at a time. Of course I’m going to let them grow!
   I have always believed that all life is sacred. It’s not some plants fault that a human walking through a field in Europe hopped on a plane and carried that plants seed to LI or other part of the world, the plant is just doing what it supposed to be doing, surviving. You can’t blame the plant, and you certainly have no right to judge it by someone else’s idea of what is beautiful or useful.
               The real interesting thing about this whole debate is that humans are the ones doing the debating and making all the judgment calls on what other species should be aggressive and what plant or animal should live or die. Why is this so interesting? Well, what species is the most invasive species on the planet today? Homo sapiens of course. Humans will invade the land, the ocean, the rivers, the Lakes and the sky without concern for any other species including their own. They will wipe out millions of acres of perfect biodiversity for selfish or monetary gain without the blinking an eye. They will invade and kill millions of their own species for a false sense of power and dominance or for a specific commodity they might need. They will change the landscape to make it fit what they believe is beautiful and useful, planting plants from all over the world in their gardens and keeping “pets” of exotic animals to wow their friends. So, do we have the right to choose what in Nature is right or wrong or what belongs where or what is “cute” and deserves to live and what isn’t? I don’t think so, WE  ARE THE INVADERS.


  1. 99% of all the species that have ever existed on the planet are extinct. There's no reason to expect that this will be any different if we were looking back from some distant future date.

    Humans are a part of nature just like everything else and will most likely be extinct at some point in time.

    As for invasive plant species, the ones that are harmful to us or our needs will be fought against.

    What makes something "invasive" is its introduction into an environment that hasn't evolved alongside of it. Therefore there are no adaptations locally to keep it in check.

    Much like insects with no natural predators that finds itself with a continent full of tasty trees to wipe out.

    No matter what we do (short of actually becoming powerful enough to blow up the planet into chunks of debris) the earth will still be here and resilient or new species will fill the void left by others.

  2. "What makes something "invasive" is its introduction into an environment that hasn't evolved alongside of it. Therefore there are no adaptations locally to keep it in check."

    I agree 100%, most of the time, in nature, this happens slowly and thing can adapt. The point is, we can't blame the plant/animal for doing what it was meant to do and that is survive. Poisoning our water, air and killing frogs, fish and giving our children cancer to get rid of a plant/animal that WE transported across a continent is just insane. Not to mention you are supporting those murdering scumbags at Monsanto and their whole paradigm.
    Certainly there are many ways to look at "Invasion Biology" and I'm not saying my way is right, don't forget, these are just my "Thoughts" on invasive species. Like anything else we look at things through our experience and preference filters and choose to live by the things we have learned.
    Good to hear from you, Peace