I feel I need to mention all the activity that's been going for years regarding 'non-native' species of plants, animals and birds. It's really starting to concern me because I'd like to know where it will all end. I keep reading about the poisoning of songbirds, plants, and fish in the US just because they happen to be from somewhere else and have adapted well to the environment, as well as pose an economic threat to factory farming. These foreigners are considered by many to be pests and are systemically being culled.
Recently residents in a town in NY state found dozens of European starlings that were poisoned as part of a common practice by the USDA to kill these unwanted birds with pesticide laced grain. Whereas the death of these birds on a farm ordinarily would go unnoticed, these birds happened to fall from the sky and were found by neighboring properties. There have been many other incidents reported of the culling of non-native birds on a continuous basis and the numbers are staggering. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses these actions which began with a little known program in the 1960's called Bye Bye Blackbird. Since these songbirds are not protected by environmental laws-- essentially they are considered garbage and these agencies believe they have the right to do whatever they want to eliminate them when they pose a threat to factory farming. One of the many problems I see here is that you can't poison one species without it having a ripple effect into the environment, not to mention killing other animals and songbirds in the process.
Years ago I vividly recall a former neighbor who shot grackles from his bird feeder because they were not the songbirds that he wanted eating his birdseed. One day while passing his house, I saw one of these birds dying an agonizing death. As I moved to help this bird, the man ordered me to stay away. I was shocked. These are beautiful, irridescent North American birds that happen to be very gregarious and communicative. So, where's the difference between shooting these birds which are native and poisoning the starlings on a larger scale which happen to be non-native? There is none. A life is a life and all creatures deserve to be here whether we want them to be or not. Grackles and house sparrows are both considered to be pests in this country and are often eliminated. Yet, I've seen the sparrows clean up the messes that we leave behind in cities and parking lots. They have successfully adapted to their environment and learned how to survive. They are considered nuisance birds, however, they also provide food for predators, as well as beautiful songs when other song birds have not yet returned from their annual migrations. The sound vibrations emitted during bird song have actually been shown to create frequencies/vibrations which contribute to plant growth.
There is a subtle war going on in this country between those who enjoy and value exotic plants and those who believe all exotic plants should be eradicated and only native plants should be allowed to exist. The argument is that non-native varieties quickly take over habitat and crowd out food supplies or territories for native plants. There is value to both sides of this argument, but the answers lie somewhere inbetween. Plants follow people and people move around and make messes. Saying that non-native plant and animal species should not be allowed in this country, is like saying that only Native Americans should be allowed to live in the United States and that any other races should go back to their countries of origin. Although there is no doubt the Native Americans were more in tune with the environment, we now have a diverse blend of all races and cultures in this country which is what makes it so unique. Shouldn't we allow the same from plants, animals and birds?
People are never going to stop wanting exotic plant species for their beauty and aroma. Aside from their asthetic values, they also have medicinal properties which have long been known by the inhabitants of their countries of origin, such as in China where plant medicine is very prevalent. Many plants which originated in China and that have now naturalized in the US, have long been known for their medicinal healing abilities. It seems to me that if they are naturalizing in this country, it's because there's a reason.
In Timothy Lee Scott's recent book Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, he demonstrates via extensive research that so-called 'invasive' plants have a greater purpose that is little known. They are cleaning up the messes that humans make. When I first read this book, I was thrilled because it validated ideas that I had been developing over years of observation working with my own gardens. Finally someone had published something substantiating what I felt and believed to be true and true herbalists know-- that all plants have healing value and it is up to us to recognize and work with those properties. There are no weeds. There are simply plants which you didn't cultivate and don't recognize to be valuable. But they have a purpose and they know what they're doing. Nature always does.
Why is it always that humans believe that they are superior to all other life forms and that they alone know what's best and what's the 'right' way to do things? We strategically eliminate all that is not understood. Our 'superior' knowledge is what's gotten us into the mess we're in with all of our fresh water sources polluted, fish and seafood so filled with toxins that you are given a warning prior to eating them, our land imbedded with pesticides and other toxins, our air polluted and our civilization ridden with a multitude of diseases. Are we so superior and do we really know what we're doing? Does the poisoning of masses of songbirds justify profits for factory farmers and other corporations? Despite the fact that there is increasing environmental awareness going on, as a society we continue to make judgments as to what we deem worthy, just as we did with races other than our own, not so very long ago.
Recently I attended a workshop on composting held by an organic farmer and a large majority of the discussion was on this relentless pursuit of eradicating weeds. While he didn't use pesticides and I know his intentions were good, it was obvious he also wasn't all that intune with Nature based on the discussion that ensued. Even within the organic movement, there is still not a complete understanding of the role that Nature plays on Earth. There are whole conferences devoted to discussing the best way to eliminate these nasty little plants. Well, guess what? They know what they're doing and no matter how much we pull them, burn them or spray them with chemicals, somehow or some way they will continue to do their job because that's exactly what they're supposed to do. Their job is to heal the Earth and us, by absorbing toxins and also supplying nutrients to the soil which is depleted, as well as to feed and provide us with medicine. If they become abundant, it's because that's what they need to do to heal this planet and the conditions are perfect for them to do so. And when their job is done, they often leave as I've seen many do, paving the way for other plants to come.
I experienced a perfect validation of my beliefs one summer while picking strawberries with my son at a local organic farm, when we were directed to the area where the best berries were to be found. This just happened to also be an area which they had been unable to weed. Now isn't that a surprise? As I mentioned in a previous post, we need to rethink how we do things and it's not what we've always done that's going to help us turn things around on this planet. The healing value of plants is ancient knowledge and these medicinal gifts come from all over the world. Many of them are sitting right in your own backyard. We just need to recognize and remember them. As someone once said, "Weeds are flowers too-- if you get to know them." And just maybe, those non-native birds that have become such a nuisance to many, are eating all the garbage that's been dumped into the environment so that the other creatures have a chance to survive. What is certain, is that we have yet to determine the full role non-native species play in restoring balance. However much we want to deny it, Nature does work in unison and there are many ways to be a messenger.
Most people are unaware that many of the weeds that we find in our gardens and lawns in the US, are plants that either came over with the first European settlers and naturalized on the land or they are native wildflowers that would ordinarily create a meadow or other habitat. Many of the naturalized flowers were favored by the settlers because of their healing gifts and abilities-- a knowledge which has long since been forgotten. The dandelion which is mercilessly persecuted today is one perfect example. These flowers were originally planted in gardens because of their many virtues. Not only do they have medicinal and food value, but they also hold our lawns together, providing aeration for the soil, as well as pollen for bees and other insects.
Plaintain is another valuable plant. This medicinal plant which is often found in lawns, is a wound herb and can be used for bee and other insect stings, something my father knew as a child while growing up in the Ukraine. One summer I was constantly searching for plantain in my yard in order to create a poultice for my son's bee and wasp stings. It got so that my son was eventually able to identify this plant by himself at the age of four. Many of these so-called weeds which are eradicated include asters and goldenrod, which are actually late blooming flowers that supply the last nectar for bees before the frost. It's no wonder that honey bees are dying out with the myriad of obstacles that they are faced with on a constant basis. We don't even leave them enough natural food sources, let alone the other problems we've created for them.
We need to start realizing that Nature knows exactly what she's doing and start letting her do her job. We need to rethink how we do things and start being more gentle with this planet. Corporations whose only motive is profit, have led us to believe that factory farming and genetically altered food is what is needed for our growing population and that it's 'natural' to have a perfectly manicured lawn and gardens free from weeds and insects, as well as it's justified poisoning songbirds for the sake of profit. These corporations need to sell their products-- don't they? It doesn't matter to them if in the process, it contaminates our groundwater, our soil, our children and pets, or the air that we breath. The war on insects and non-native plant and animal species is, after all, a very lucrative business for a wide range of organizations.
Perhaps we could start treating the Earth more kindly by really paying attention to what's going on around us. Observation and being open to all possibilities is the key. You'd be amazed what you can learn by just watching and listening to your environment. Nature will always tell you the truth. Can we really afford to continue these practices and/or look away and pretend they don't matter? Whether it's the war on birds, or the war on insects and plants-- ultimately it's a war against ourselves because we are part of All That Is. The Earth has been around for eons and will continue to be. We are but a tiny spec of existence upon this powerful planet. It's time we start treating her accordingly before it's too late-- for Us.
Blessings of Awareness!
Copyright 2011 Awen Environments