What about buffelgrass?

 

Am I an invasive species?” went beyond a discussion of the social power of words and language and implied that organisms which arrive by some means from one ecosystem to occupy another might be better thought of as “immigrants,” “refugees” or part of a “diaspora.” Opinions have been floating around for a while about whether the phrase “invasive species,” when used in an ecological context, should be considered hurtful. I would guess that some offensive person has surely used the term offensively, and they should be called out for it. But does that limited misuse make it the wrong term for referring to buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), which was purposefully imported from Eurasia and is now spreading through the Sonoran Desert, causing areas to become extremely fire-prone to the detriment of all of the native plants?

The example of buffelgrass, along with other varieties of Pennisetum and Brassica, which one might say have invaded ecosystems, sometimes establishing monocultures across thousands of acres, demonstrates that bringing species from distant places to “scatter them” around is a very poor idea. Conflating opposition to the inappropriate use of words when referring to human migration with efforts to stop or limit the damage caused by non-native plants and insects is counterproductive. One never knows if a given plant or insect will naturalize in or harm another ecosystem until it is too late, and any encouragement to “scatter” the seeds of some alien plant into another ecosystem is wrong.

David Wilson
Irvine, California

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