Sweet invasion and the return of a native

Posted on May 15, 2009

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A few days ago I learned, from a lovely post at Flandrum Hill, that the myrtle growing in my yard is not just an unkempt inheritance from a previous owner, but periwinkle, a native plant that belongs right where it is, holding my sandy slope in place. Good on it. The sweet woodruff growing beside the house is likely a cultivar gone wild and might become invasive. But I love its sweet smell, and I’m not sorry I set it loose. So far it’s behaving itself.

Then there are the volunteers, neither “native” nor “invasive” but simply garden plants brought to the property by enterprising squirrels or careless birds: grape hyacinth, raspberries, money plant. I say it’s all good. When I visited Costa Rica on an “eco tour” I asked our guide what he could tell me about the whole question of invasive species there. He laughed. “So many things grow in Costa Rica,” he said, “that anything that comes – there will be something here to eat it.” And that’s what I think works admirably. Diversify the ecosystem and it becomes invulnerable.

A wonderful professor at Michigan State University used to lecture on the subject of heirloom plants. He argued that we should save as many different kinds of seeds as we can, on a global basis, so that no matter what adversity comes, there will be something that we can grow that will survive it! There is a lot of work being done with seedbanks today, but that professor was ahead of the curve, and I’m ashamed that I have forgotten his name.

Diversity is healthy. For the point of view of a grower, read John King’s post on the King Orchards blog, where he describes their crop diversification strategy. It makes so much sense to me. Variety spreads risk for growers and expands markets.  From a purely selfish point of view, it also creates a deliriously desirable banquet of local foods! 

Here’s a sample of the diversity we’ve seen on our walks this week. For larger photos, click on the thumbnails. And does anyone know what the “tiny yellow flowers” are?