It’s a good beargrass year. The slopes on either side of Hwy 83 are filled with their tall, crazy looking flowers. It’s worth taking a drive or hiking up a trail to witness how beautifully their white blooms decorate our forest-covered mountains.
Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) is in the Lily Family. Each stalk has hundreds of flower buds, which start blooming from the bottom of the stalk and bloom upwards to the top. Blooming patches of beargrass light the forest up as if they were torches. The fun thing is you can enjoy their display from early June into July by going up to higher elevations.
It takes years for one clump of beargrass to store up enough energy to create a blooming stalk. Once it blooms the clump dies back but the energy stored in its tissues is passed on to an adjacent clump. Colonies of beargrass bloom every 3 to 7 years, sometimes all the plants in the colony bloom at same time.
Bears eat the tender leaf shoots in early spring, but by summer those leaves get tough with sharp edges and the only ones brave enough to eat them are mountain goats. Rodents, elk, and bighorn sheep eat the flowers and seedpods and pollinators frequent the flowers. The large leafy clumps provide great overstory habitat for rodents, and grizzly bears sometimes use their leaves in their winter dens.
Beargrass leaves are an important weaving material for Native Americans. Native people used fire to revitalize landscapes and beargrass benefited from this practice. It is quite fire hardy. The new shoots, which sprouted up quickly after a fire, were sought after for weaving.
The purple flower currently blooming in the flat lands is camas. As you drive along Hwy 200 through Potomac you can see several purple-tinged fields off to the north. The purple is the camas flowers.
Camas, Camassia quamash, is in the Lily Family. The root of purple camas was a main food source for Native people on the western side of the Rockies up into British Columbia. It was a highly prized trading commodity, especially with tribes who lived where camas did not grow. The bulbs could be eaten raw but were usually roasted in a pit from one to three days, which turned their starches into fructose making the bulbs sweet.
A word of caution: There are two kinds of camas – purple and death camas – and they grow in the same habitats. Death camas contains strychnine and will kill you if eaten. You can only distinguish between the two plants when they are in bloom – death camas has creamy white flowers and edible camas is purple. So please don’t dig any up. It’s absolutely not worth the risk.
Camas was cultivated by Native tribes. Families “managed” the same camas fields for generations. The bulbs were harvested with digging sticks, the land burned with low-intensity fires, and death camas weeded out. Under this intensive care the camas prairies thrived.
But when white settlers moved West and began plowing under camas prairies, it robbed tribes of a major source of sustenance and presented a real threat to their survival. The whites' destruction of camas prairies on Nez Perce lands in northeastern Oregon and the US government's efforts to move the Nez Perce away from their lands onto a small reservation in Idaho led to the Nez Perce War.
When I first moved West in the 1970s I fell in love with aspen trees because of what they represented to me in my early 20s – wildness and spontaneity, new adventures, and breaking away from entrenched paths.
But beyond all that youthful anthropomorphizing, aspens can completely stand on their own. It’s just plain hard to dislike them! Apparently, many species feel the same. Aspen groves support almost 200 species!
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is the widest ranging tree – north, south, east, and west – in North and South America. It is in the Willow Family along with cottonwoods, poplars, and of course, willows. Aspens can reproduce by seed but here in the West, they mostly reproduce by root shoots, which offers a more reliable beginning in our drier climate.
Entire groves are actually the same being – meaning each individual tree in a grove has the same DNA as its neighboring trees. They are clones. You can distinguish where one grove ends and another begins in the fall because each grove will display it’s own unique fall color. The largest living being on the planet is an aspen grove in Utah. It covers 106 acres and weighs in at 6600 tons. Scientists have estimated its age at 80,000 years.
Aspens survive all but super intense fires. Though the tree above ground will die, the roots quickly sprout new shoots. Root-sprouted aspens have so much more energy to draw from than seed-sprouted aspens, so they grow faster and get re-established much sooner. This is good for soil stability and soil temperatures as well as for all the critters that depend upon aspen.
An aspen leaf trembles because its leaf stalk is flat. In stiff winds this design enables clusters of leaves to lean against each other, reducing drag on and damage to branches. That scientific explanation is great but I am still inclined to romanticize the quaking of aspens. There’s something about that fluttering that lightens a person’s mood and makes everything seem possible. Perhaps they are modeling how to let things slide off our backs.
I didn’t fully appreciate how incredible our balsamroot bloom was until Juan and I took my mother to the Bison Range. Mom was a flower gardener and had lived back East her whole life so we weren’t sure how she’d respond to the drier habitat balsamroot prefers.
The flowers were at their peak, as they are right now in the Seeley Swan, and from the Bison Range vista point Mom looked out at the endless, overlapping hillsides cloaked in yellow blooms, interlaced with the purples, whites, and pinks from other wildflowers.
That night she thanked me, telling me the balsamroot were far more beautiful and moving than any horticultural garden. “I have never seen anything like it before,” she said smiling. “The earth made all those flowers with no help from human hands.”
Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) is a member of the Composite Family (Asteraceae) and the entire plant is edible. The name comes from its arrow-shaped leaves and the balsam smell of its taproot.
Balsamroot is a very important year-round food source for all classes of wildlife and domestic livestock and is being used to help restore landscapes and improve grazing lands.
Native Americans ate all parts of Balsamroot and also used it medicinally in a variety of ways because of its antibacterial properties. The seeds are plentiful, but only remain viable for five to six years, unlike some native grass and forb (flower) seeds, which can still germinate after being in the ground a couple of centuries!
Balsamroot sprouts each spring from its deep taproot, which can grow to be four inches thick and eight feet deep. Once the plant dies down, it’s brittle leaves litter the landscape. They are combustible and will carry a low fire, but balsamroot survives fire quite well because of its large taproot and actually benefits from low-intensity fires.
The girth of each plant gets wider over the years as it adds whorls of new leaves every growing season. If you examine a hillside of balsamroot you’ll see some are quite small but others can be two feet across at the base. Those are the “old growth” balsamroot and they can be up to 60 years old!
I couldn’t agree more with Mom. We are indeed, blessed each spring to be surrounded by such vibrant color and life!
The larches that have looked dead for the past six months have not disappointed us. They have greened up! Oh happy day! Our mountains are once again adorned with that incredible praying mantis green.
The fact that larches (Larix occidentalis) drop their needles defines so much of their existence. Most conifers keep their needles year round, enabling them to photosynthesize whenever the temperatures rise above freezing, but larches can only grow half of the year. They make up for this fact by situating themselves in full sun on mostly east, west, and north-facing slopes where it’s cooler and the soil stays moister. These factors enable larch trees to grow quite fast.
Losing their needles gives larch several advantages over other conifers. If insects damage their needles, larch trees just grow new needles the next year. If a late summer or fall fire burns the larch but doesn’t kill the cambium layer, new needles sprout the following spring.
Subalpine larch trees (Larix lyallii) have a couple other advantages over their year-round, needle-bearing conifer companions – by dropping their needles each fall, they do not lose life-sustaining moisture to the alpine winter winds. And their needleless limbs are way less likely to get damaged by deep snows. As a result, larches have the distinction of being the Rocky Mountain tree genus that grows at the highest elevations and the most northerly latitudes.
The Seeley Swan Valley is one of best places in Montana to see larches turn the mountainsides bright yellow in the fall, then decorate the forest floor with rusty yellow as the needles drop from the trees. Having been raised back East, I find their color display very satisfying.
If you take a walk through the woods right now and look close to the ground you’ll see tiny, chaotic puffs of creamy yellow at or near the top of what looks like blades of bunchgrass. But they aren’t bunchgrass – they are sedge plants.
Sedge flowers don’t have showy petals so if you move too fast you’ll miss them. But go slowly and use a magnifying glass or hand lens, and you’ll see that those puffs are made up of stamens coated with yellow pollen (the male part of a flower) and clear white pistils (the female part of a flower). They are the real thing and are all about getting pollinated! The flowering spikes may have both male and female flowers (bisexual) or only one (unisexual).
Sedge (genus Carex) is in the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae). There are 75 different species of sedge in the Rocky Mountains, so figuring out exactly what species you are looking at requires magnification and some patience. Many sedges grow in or near water and are a food source for water birds, but a lot of sedges grow in open meadows and forests at all elevations. The two most common forest species are Ross’s sedge (Carex rosii) and Elk sedge (Carex geyeri). Elk sedge is a very important food source for deer, elk, and bears.
The stems of almost all the sedges are solid and triangular. Their leaves are “v” shaped, thus the phrase you may have heard - “sedges have edges.” Most sedges grow in tight clusters, so once you get tuned into their existence, they are easy to notice. In fact, you’ll see them everywhere. Their clumps are pretty tough too, so when walking, if you have to choose between stepping on blooming flowers or on sedge plants, choose the sedge.
A glorious little flower found early in the spring amongst the sage and bunchgrass is the yellow fritillary or yellow bell, Fritillaria pudica. It’s a member of the Lily Family (Liliaceae) and it blooms in the grasslands and ponderosa pine country.
You can tell it’s in the Lily Family because the veins on its leaves all run parallel and its flower parts are in threes - three petals and three sepals. But the sepals, which in most plant families are green, leafy structures that protect the flower in bud stage and cup the flower once it blooms, look exactly like the petals with the same coloration. Botanists call them collectively, tepals.
Yellow bell nods its flower downward, its tepals forming an inverted cup. The entire plant is edible and it was once a main food source for native people. If you’re lucky, you may see the chocolate lily blooming at the same time, but its mottled color, makes it harder to spot. The yellow bell bloom is brief so if flowers make you smile, take a walk in the bunchgrass and see if you can spot some. Happy hunting!
Prairie Star (Lithophragma spp.), is in the Saxifrage Family (Saxifragaceae) and is one of my favorites because of its understatement. There are several different species common in our area . They stand eight to eighteen inches high with leaves low on the plant, so all you notice when you come upon it in the fields is its starlike creamy flowers floating above the earth.
Some species of Prairie Star reproduce by cloning from tiny maroon bulbs that are nestled in the axils of the leaves or branches. These little bulbs will germinate once the original plant falls to the ground.
If you see these leaves while you're hiking, they belong to Prairie Smoke, or what some refer to as Old Man's Whiskers, due to the nature of its seed head. Right now its leaves are coming out all over the hillsides. I'll tell you more about this plant once it starts blooming.
I'd like to be able to recognize all the different stages of the most common plants that grow in our area, but sadly, my brain doesn't completely cooperate. Each year I have to reteach myself. So I make a game of guessing what plant belongs to what leaves or buds as they appear. As the season rolls on and the plants leaf out and bloom and go to seed, I see how accurate my guess was. Challenging oneself to gather more details about the plants broadens the story they tell. It's fun. I highly recommend it. FYI - kids always surpass adults with this memory game so don't be too hard on yourself if you are over 40 and can remember much!
Springbeauty started blooming in the grasslands of the Seeley Swan Valley in early April and its bloom will gradually work its way up in elevation. It is in the Purslane Family (Portulaceae). One of the coolest things about this tiny plant is its ability to move through its life cycle quickly and successfully.
In the fall, when the growing season is done, Springbeauty starts growing from its tiny bulb. Its sprout continues to grow during the winter to just below the soil surface. By doing this it is primed to emerge from the earth as soon as the snow starts melting. When the tiny plant begins growing above ground it burns carbohydrates, which build up heat in its hollow stem, which in turn melts the remaining snow around the growing plant. The stored heat in its "greenhouse" enables springbeauty to photosynthesis, despite the cold air temperatures, allowing it to make an earlier appearance than most flowers. Once the plant has completed its flower and seed cycle it continues storing up carbohydrates in its bulb so that come September, it can start its efficient life cycle once again.
It’s finally spring in the Seeley Swan Valley of Montana, which is where I live. The ground, which just recently seemed brown and lifeless, is beginning to bust forth with flowers!
Wildflowers feel like gifts. No one plants them. No one waters them. They show up and we get to be the recipients of their beauty. Who would think that something so delicate and ephemeral would generate such joy?
Besides its divine beauty, our mountainous country offers the added benefit of hosting a progressive bloom; which means if we yearn for spring in July, we just have to hike uphill to find the delightful faces of the flowers that bloomed on the valley floor in May and June.
The lowlands lose their snow before the forested slopes, so if you need a flower fix right now go walk in the sage and look for one of the earliest blooming flowers in our area, the sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus). Its tiny yellow blooms are hunkered down close to the ground, so keep your eyes open.
The Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae) has lots of different flowers in it, many of which are early bloomers and many, at first glance, that don’t seem to be related. Besides the familiar buttercup, some early-blooming members include pasqueflower, larkspur, and sugar bowls.
A few facts: The juices of most buttercup species are mildly toxic and will cause blistering if rubbed on your skin. Mountain tribes used the concentrated juice of the buttercups on arrowheads to help kill their prey. According to Daniel Mathews, author of my favorite natural history book, Rocky Mountain Natural History: Grand Teton to Jasper, larkspurs have been responsible for more cattle deaths than any plant in the West. On the other hand, goldenseal, a member of the Buttercup Family that grows in the eastern US, has well-documented medicinal properties.
One cool thing about snow buttercups, which grow way up high in our mountains, is that they track the sun. Their tracking sensors are in the upper stem, so they’ll still keep following the sun even if their flowers have been broken off. Sun tracking helps warm the flower and improves its chances of being pollinated. Bugs seek out the warmth and bask in the blossom and end up pollinating the flower at the same time. Not a bad exchange!
If you want to learn about the wildflowers firsthand, come on a hike with me in the Seeley Swan Valley. I will share what I know about the plants and landscape.
You can find more info at www.fourseasonforays.com
This essay has important information about the effects of chemicals we commonly use to kill weeds in our forests, campgrounds, parks, lawns, and in fields where we grow much of our food. Please put your feet up and take the time to read it. It includes links to the sources from which I got my information. The links take you right to the reference.
Please share this post with others.
Our War on Weeds - The Price We Pay
by Randi de Santa Anna
On a recent hike my friend ripped knapweed and daisy plants out of the ground with surprising anger. “I hate these plants!” she spat out. “They make me so mad!” I looked at her dumbfounded. How could anyone hate a plant?
Having worked as a botanist for the US Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service I am very familiar with the native/nonnative discussion, but our culture’s eagerness to cast judgments upon plants has always perplexed me. In my mind, judgments such as good or bad, friend or foe, invasive or noninvasive, or worse, noxious, apply to humans, not plants.
The human species has impacted the planet more than any species ever has. We compact the soil, cut in roads, defoliate, build, plow, log, pave, pollute, and degrade. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that we, in fact, are the invasive ones. Once the ground is compromised nature sends in the only plant species that can survive in such depleted and traumatized soil. Rather than being grateful for their ability to grow on land we ruined, we call them noxious and wage chemical warfare on them. It’s as if on a subliminal level we know the plants are a testament to our cruelty and we want to eliminate their damning evidence, fast.
I know people’s efforts to eradicate weeds come from good intentions on behalf of the environment. Saving genetic diversity in the botanical kingdom is valid effort but does it justify spraying chemicals across the land? I don’t think so. We’ve already learned our lesson from DDT. We know the entire ecosystem, from single-celled organisms up through the food chain to our children, takes the hit when we use poisons. The truth is in our noble effort to save genetic diversity by spraying weeds we are, in fact, reducing diversity on a global scale by maiming future generations of insects, birds, amphibians, mammals, and yes – ourselves.
For those who remain skeptical, here are some facts about herbicides we spray on weeds:
2,4-D was first registered in the United States in 1948. Hundreds of millions of pounds of 2,4-D have been used throughout the world. In fact, a new combo of 2,4-D and Roundup, called Enlist Duo, was approved in 2014 by the EPA for use on GMO crops, so its use will increase. It kills plants by mimicking hormones called auxins, which control an array of plant growth and developmental processes. It is a component of Agent Orange and contains highly toxic dioxin (Journal of Pesticide Reform, Northwest Coalition For Alternatives to Pesticides/NCAP ). www.pesticide.org/journal_of_pesticide_reform
According to Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect public health and the environment, 2,4-D has been linked in humans to "non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental effects, as well as water contamination and toxicity to aquatic organisms. Studies have found that farmers exposed to 2,4-D have low-quality sperm. In addition, farmer-applicators in areas of high 2,4-D use have more children with birth defects than unexposed men.”
According to EPA’s Industry Sales and Usage data, herbicides containing 2,4-D are one of the two most widely used herbicides for “home and garden, industrial, commercial, and governmental market sectors,” which means golf courses, lawns, campgrounds, and parks where our children and pets play are being sprayed with 2,4-D. According to EPA reviews 2,4-D is considered a “persistent” herbicide, lasting up to fourteen months. (Caroline Cox, Journal of Pesticide Reform)
Roundup, containing the active ingredient Glyphosate, is the second-most-used herbicide for home and gardens in the United States. (EPA Industry Sales and Usage Report) Despite the fact that on two occasions research laboratories hired by Monsanto were convicted of falsifying test results on Glyphosate, it remains an over-the-counter herbicide accessible to everyone (Caroline Cox, Journal of Pesticide Reform/ US Dept. of Justice. United States Attorney. Western District of Texas 1992. "Texas laboratory, its president, 3 employees indicted on 20 felony counts in connection with pesticide testing". Austin TX Sept 29)).
Glyphosate can cause birth defects and spontaneous abortions in humans, is linked to the occurrence of ADHD, kills placental cells, and disrupts the human hormone system. The EPA identified 76 species of birds, fish, honeybees and earthworms endangered by Roundup. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 1997. Herbicide Information Profile: Glyphosate) www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev2_025810.pdf. It also reduces beneficial insect, bird, and small mammal populations by destroying vegetation on which they depend; kills tadpoles (Hileman, B. (2005) Common herbicide kills tadpoles. Chemical & Engineering News); and is linked to the increased incidence of Parkinson’s Disease. (Barbosa et al., 2001. Parkinsonism after glycine-derivative exposure. Mov. Disorder/ The Last Roundup, David Stang/ Pesticide Properties Database) davidstang.com/?p=30
Roundup’s claim to fame is that it binds to soil particles as soon as it’s sprayed, which was supposed to mean it would not contaminate groundwater, but glyphosate was found in over a third of Midwest streams studied in the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2002 National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which surprised everyone. The EPA itself considers Roundup to be "extremely persistent." (Glyphosate Factsheet, Caroline Cox. Journal of Pesticide Reform) www.eastbaypesticidealert.org/Glyphosate%20Factsheet%201.htm
Milestone, an herbicide with the active ingredient, Aminopyralid, is now touted as the safest herbicide to use on knapweed even though no water quality standards have been established to date. It is currently being aerially and manually sprayed. The EPA issued Aminopyralid a conditional registration in 2005 and will not review it again until 2020 despite the fact that in 2008 potatoes, peppers, and tomato plants in thousands of gardens throughout the United Kingdom died off after being mulched with manure-rich compost from cows and horses that had grazed on Milestone-sprayed fields. The chemicals in Milestone had remained intact while passing through the ruminants’ stomachs. (Beyond Pesticide Factsheet – Aminopyralid; beyondpesticides.org)
In response to the die off Dow AgroSciences voluntarily suspended Milestone sales in the UK then reintroduced it with new label warnings telling users not to put Milestone-sprayed straw or manure on their gardens, but how does one accurately trace the source of one’s mulch or manure? Similar die-offs have occurred in the United States since 2009. Though Dow claimed that Milestone would break down after one season, studies have determined it can take up to three years to break down. (Beyond Pesticides, July 2, 2008 Herbicide Contaminates Home Gardens)
With this background information, let’s go back in time to 2005 when the EPA tested Aminopyralid. After running their battery of tests, the EPA determined Aminopyralid to be of low toxicity, therefore an acute reference dose (RfD), (translation – toxic level for humans) was not established. The EPA also concluded that since an RfD was not needed Aminopyralid therefore did not require an acute assessment for drinking water. Since Aminopyralid would be used regularly in campgrounds and parks, the EPA even considered the potential hazard of hand to mouth exposure to children (their term, not mine) but again determined that based on Aminopyralid’s toxicity data an extra safety factor (again, their term) to protect infants and children was not needed. (United States Office of Prevention, Pesticides Environmental Protection and Toxic Substances – Aminopyralid Pesticide Fact Sheet (www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/fs_PC-005100_10-Aug-05.pdf)
I’m sorry, but how do garden plant die-offs translate into low toxicity? Isn’t it the EPA’s responsibility to retest Aminopyralid immediately rather than waiting until 2020? Who’s got whose back here?
All three of these herbicides and far too many other commonly used chemicals are on the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International’s list of Highly Hazardous Pesticides. pan-international.org/release/615/ They contribute to the industrial and agricultural chemical soup that is causing feminization of fish and amphibians and reproductive disorders in wildlife. (Beyond Pesticides. December 2, 2010 Estrogenic Compounds in Water Come From Agricultural, Industrial Sources)
As far back as 1991 concerned scientists made a unified statement that synthetic hormone-based chemicals “could interfere with hormones of animals, and possibly people. Fetuses and the young were at the greatest risk for disease, abnormalities, and reproductive problems that were already manifesting in wildlife.” (Wingspread Statement 1991, Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, 1998) sehn.org/wingspread-conference-on-the-precautionary-principle/
According to EPA’s Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage-2006 and 2007 Market Estimates, the most recent free report available, in the year 2007, 531 million pounds of herbicides were used in the United States alone and 2,096 million pounds were used in the world. The sheer tonnage of and persistence of these chemicals in the environment has led the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to regularly test humans for the presence of undesirable chemicals. They have tested 212 chemicals, 44 of which were pesticides, and have found almost all of them in humans. DDT has been found in 99% of the humans tested, despite its ban in 1972. (http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/pesticides-in-our-bodies)
The CDC has also found hundreds of chemicals in the cord blood of newborns. According to PAN, the time at which a child is exposed to chemicals either in utero or after birth is critical and even micro doses of toxins can derail a child’s development, causing a higher incidence of:
Unfortunately the best mechanism for a woman of childbearing age to dump toxins from her body is through her breast milk, so babies get hit hard. Children’s bodies grow faster than adults and they also consume more food, water, and air relative to their body weight. They touch dirt, trees, and grass and put things in their mouths regularly, and because of all these factors, scientists maintain that children are far more vulnerable to chemical exposure than adults. Remember, parks and campgrounds, where our kids are bonding with nature, are regularly sprayed for weeds.
My husband and I asked every weed sprayer we have encountered: “Would you let your children or grandchildren play in the field you are spraying?” Each sprayer has said “absolutely not.” All but one continued spraying. Do we really value weed-free grass over our children’s safety? Are we thinking this through?
Even if people choose to deny that chemicals are a health problem, they must still face the fact that use of herbicides to eradicate knapweed and other weeds is not accomplishing its intended goal. Since 1996 weeds have grown more and more herbicide resistant. This was first documented in Australia and has been documented in other countries since then. (Evolution of Herbicide Resistance in Weeds. www.nature.com)
Studies also show that landscape application of herbicides, such as aerial spraying, causes more problems than it resolves, a major one being the arrival of more weedy species. The Forest Service actually budgets in chemical treatment for the second wave of non-native species they know will come. Why would we want to amp up our chemical barrage? (Long Term Effects of Weed Control, Rocky Mountain Research Station 2011)
Studies on native seeds have shown them to be very hardy, remaining viable and intact in the ground for decades, even centuries. Native prairie species have grown back when fenced off from all the negative impacts. Isn’t it reasonable to think that all our native landscapes could recover once the impacts upon them have been removed and the land has regained its health? This takes time and requires patience. Most ranch and farm economies, upon which we all depend, and which themselves depend upon herbicides, would argue they don’t have the time or the patience. But if you truly think this through, isn’t the economy of health and wellbeing for ourselves, for wildlife, and for the environment a priority over all other economies?
Organizations exist that support nonchemical means of controlling weedy species. The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides is one such organization. Green City Blue Lake-The Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s site is an example of a city’s concern about the use of chemicals and includes their alternatives. Beyond Pesticides is another good resource.
To sum it all up I maintain that our War-on-Weeds mentality is blinding us; we are missing nature’s metaphor. Just as white blood cells in our body rush to the site of an infection and overpopulate it in order to fight the disease, might weeds be the Earth’s equivalent of white blood cells trying to repair humanity’s infectious impacts upon the land? Could weeds actually be healing the soil? An example: dandelions are one of the Plant Kingdom’s best liver cleansers for humans. Could it be that dandelion’s appearance on the landscape is nature’s way of cleansing the soil? It wouldn’t surprise me if knapweed and spurge were cures for cancer. Is anyone looking into that? Perhaps we are killing the cure.
Ecologists are rethinking the native/non-native concept because no matter how many chemicals we have thrown at the weeds, they keep coming back. Weeds are here to stay. Habitats are changing. Rather than focusing our venom and anger against weeds by administering a steady chemo drip on our environment, on ourselves, and on our children, why not claim our responsibility for being the invasive species. We can change our expectations and behaviors. We can live differently on this planet.
Our environment is an ongoing process, not a finite thing. In time the earth will right itself if we stop making things worse. Modifying our footprint on the planet, ending our chemical warfare, and restoring soil health are far safer ways to proceed.