Critical Plant Theory

I have become interested in growing plants that are native to Kentucky, with a fairly large patch of my former lawn now dedicated to native wildflowers and grasses.

I am warned of planting certain species that have been labeled “invasive.” One of those is Lythrum Salicaria, commonly known as Purple Loosestrife.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife has been labeled an “aggressive invader” that can overtake native plants and damage wildlife habitats despite its beauty.

Where did it come from? According to the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council: “Purple loosestrife was introduced to North America from Europe and Asia during the early 1800s as a contaminant of European ship ballasts and as a valued medicinal herb for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, bleeding, wounds, ulcers, and sores. For nearly a century it occurred as a pioneer species on the northeastern seaboard. The range then expanded further inland in the 1880s as the construction of inland canals and waterways increased. The continued expansion proceeded with the development and use of road systems, with commercial distribution of the plant for horticultural purposes, and with regional propagation of seed for bee forage. Purple loosestrife reached the upper Midwest by the 1930s. The plant now occurs in scattered locations across most of the U.S. with the heaviest concentrations in the glaciated wetlands of the northeast. Numerous populations have been found in the midsouth area.”

Many studies debunk the justification for the hatred of this plant, as explained in this brief video from naturalist/botanist Adam Haritan.

I’ll not be planting any Loosestrife, but it has become clear to me that strongly-held beliefs about certain species in nature can be compared to the same nativism expressed toward human immigrants. Get enough people riled up against a group and you end up demonizing it into an unwanted pest.

I have seen this often with nature. One person’s clever, cute squirrel is another’s “tree rat.” What one may call a sweet little bird is someone else’s “pesky House Sparrow.” And everyone knows that bats just automatically swoop into women’s hair where they get tangled and bite their way into the brain in a rabid fury.

As a strong advocate for native species, I don’t recommend planting a stand of Purple Loosestrife, but I can still appreciate them as I did this week in August, their gorgeous purple bouquets shouting to the bees against a backdrop of cattails. I am learning not to let mythology or hard-nosed nativism prevent me from seeing the beauty in all living things.

Thought In Memory Of Thomas Brown

Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.

Victor Hugo