Last weekend my wife and I cleaned out a flowerbed in the front yard. It’s where she’s planted irises but over the years it’s gotten overgrown, mostly with honeysuckle which had to be pulled out by hand. I would have been fine with just setting the whole thing on fire, but that would have a deleterious effect on the irises and probably wouldn’t make the neighbors too happy either. And there was something really satisfying about lopping the thick stem of honeysuckle plants or, where I could, tearing out the entire plant by the roots, although it’s not personal. Well, it’s sort of personal. Honeysuckle is an invasive species imported from Asia sometime in the early 19th century and it tends to destroy other plants around it by competing for resources–its longer growing season gives it an advantage in this—and it also changes the soil chemistry to cut down on competition. Sure, I have fond memories of sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle blossoms, and it’s also an important food source for hummingbirds who also have fond memories of sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle, and it also has other advantages. Even though it’s a vine in some spots honeysuckle has grown up so much it forms a natural fence between adjoining yards, and it’s as true now as it was when Robert Frost first said it: honeysuckle fences make good neighbors.
Also I feel like a hypocrite for ripping out honeysuckle just because it’s an invasive species when I’m such an ardent defender of the dandelion, which, in North America, is also an invasive species, something people remind me of whenever I say how great dandelions are, or whenever I blow dandelion seeds all over their yards, which is kind of hard not to do. It’s not just that it’s fun to blow dandelion seeds, but also when you do it you get to make a wish, and who doesn’t wish for wishes? Also usually I’m not purposely blowing dandelion seeds into anyone else’s yard but they have a lot of lift so even if I’m in the middle of my own yard it’s inevitable that a few of them are going to drift over the border, even if there’s honeysuckle in the way, although not even dandelion seeds can cross the Atlantic. Even though the dandelion is spread across the Eurasian continent it probably wasn’t introduced to North America until European settlers brought it on the Mayflower in 1620—which means its arrival predates that of honeysuckle by about two centuries, but being here longer doesn’t make it better.
Still it’s complicated. Are invasive species necessarily a bad thing? The changing of the landscape is a natural process and it can raise complicated questions, like, how the hell did I get poison ivy on the back of my right knee? I was wearing jeans and how could it get back there and not anywhere else? And there are thorny issues, such as, what is that thorny vine that grows up around the honeysuckle? Actually I don’t care what that stuff is or whether it’s invasive or a native species. If it stabs me through my work gloves again I’m going to set it on fire.
Previously on Freethinkers Anonymous…