Sorry, no alien invasion here

  Dear HCN,


I was surprised to see science fiction in High Country News (-It rhymes with scourge," HCN, 6/22/98). First it was the Yellow Peril, then it was the Russians and Men from Mars, and now we have invasions by hordes of alien plants unwittingly let loose by gardeners.


It's true that Euphorbia myrsinites (donkeytail spurge), which has been cultivated in this region for many years, has escaped from Boulder-area gardens and established itself in some areas. It's not taking over "prairies and foothill meadows." It's not a "fast-moving, aggressive invader." It will not "soon be everywhere."


The article constantly confuses introduced weeds which have invaded (but not "infested') some areas of the Rocky Mountain region with introduced ornamentals, of which Euphorbia myrsinites is the single example. Evan Cantor seems unclear as to which plants are native and which are not: "...dandelions, salsifies, thistles, chicories, henbit" aren't native plants and don't "possess an ancient claim to their presence here." The "wild rose" was not introduced by "European gardeners'; there are about a dozen rose species native to the United States. The term "naturalized" refers to an exotic plant which grows in the garden or in the wild as though it were native. Tamarisk is most certainly a naturalized plant.


Contrary to the author's assertion, it's quite possible to have a "waterless garden' - I have had one, planted with native dryland plants, for many years. The article makes the statement that xeriscape isn't environmentally sound because "saved water gets appropriated for new development." Now, really ... this is absurd. Xeriscape is banned all up and down the Front Range; most developments have covenants that prohibit xeriscaping. The proliferation of Kentucky bluegrass lawns and the concomitant habitat destruction is surely a far more serious threat to our ecosystems than exotic plants naturalizing in the wild.


The criticism against xeriscape is better leveled against "natives only" gardeners themselves. The facade of plant purity often conceals something less than the environmentally friendly landscapes "natives only" gardeners claim they are promoting; witness a well-known "nativist" garden writer's lavish praise of "natives only" plantings in an Arizona "golf course community."


The threatened "colonization and naturalization" of plants from other dry-climate regions is a fantasy. I have grown about 2,000 species of plants from these regions, and few have shown any "irreversible" tendencies to invade native habitats. Unfortunately, garden writers who recommend plants from climates similar to our own frequently give the false impression that the plants are perfectly adapted to the climate of the Rocky Mountain region. The majority of these plants need supplemental irrigation in our climate and are really being watered about as regularly as are other garden plants.


About 50,000 species of ornamental plants have been cultivated in the Rocky Mountain region in the last 40 years. The percentage of these that have escaped and are now taking over every inch of available ground is minimal. Plants will only grow where they are adapted; most ornamentals grown in Colorado and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain region are ill-adapted to survive outside the confines of a garden.


The author claims that "an innocent garden flower could trigger an ecological nightmare." A more plausible scenario would be one in which seed pods from outer space, tended in a secret horticultural facility near Area 51 in Nevada, escape from confinement and turn into man-eaters, devouring every tourist in sight.





Robert Nold


Lakewood, Colorado


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