The Imposter In Our Midst

Can you imagine an American garden without the likes of lilacs, peonies, forsythia, mop-head/pompom/snowball hydrangea, common roses, boxwood, azaleas, rhododendrons, common foxgloves, camellias, hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, crape myrtles or even a patch of green lawn?
How about going without some fruits such as apples, peaches or citrus fruits?

Hard to think of life without any of the above right? All are very much part of our landscape and in our collective consciousness. Several states have taken the rose as their representative flower. Crape myrtles and camellias define southern pride. Georgia, the peach state is chock full of streets and sites with names starting with Peachtree. The Orange state anybody? Or the Rose Bowl? No roses perfuming June! No forsythia serenading spring. Mothers’ Day sans lilacs wouldn’t be the same.
Breakfast without OJ or a half of pink grapefruit, no mom’s apple pie or a southern meal without peach cobbler is positively horrifying! What would the Big Apple become without the apple?!

See, none of those plants are true American natives. But they are as good as. Getting rid of them and other similar stalwarts is unthinkable. We need them to feel whole and healthy. These ‘aliens’ have integrated themselves into the American landscape. In doing so, we are all enriched.

Recently, the honey-bee was placed on the United States list of endangered species. That this highly industrious and valuable creature is on this list is a tragedy in itself. It is a call to arms – we must do whatever we can to save the honey-bee. Our own health, both physical and economical, depends on it. But, here is the kicker – the honey-bee is not an American native. Wrap your mind around that.

In an example of reaching across borders, resistant root stock of grapevine from California helped to revitalize the French wine industry following the Great French Wine Blight in the 19th century. However what is usually omitted from mention is that the blight was caused by an American aphid in the first place. Puts matters in perspective right?

What it all means is that while we are taking steps to ensure the vitality of our land and safeguard all its inhabitants, we cannot have a black or white mentality. We should be mindful of the range of voices we listen to. Just as we cannot include harmful or invasive newcomers that threaten our biological balance, we cannot afford to view our own as one homogeneous, harmless population. We are but a part of the bigger world and cannot afford to be ignorant, broadly exclusionist or isolated. Lets not forget that within the great, all-American mix also exists that scourge Periplaneta americana. The American cockroach.
Not everything non-native is bad and not everything native is good.

Here are some of the non-natives I’m thrilled to have in my garden:



Double azalea

Double azalea









(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

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