Categorizing "invasive" species can be a tricky thing. One person's "invasive" may be another person's ornamental plant, but one thing is clear: species which are taken out of their natural ecosystems and placed in other locales where they have no predators nor competition means they spread unchecked, often supplanting native species and diminishing local biodiversity.
But one project in Houston, Texas is aiming to change those uneven odds. Part art project, part public awareness campaign and part invasive species management service, the Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit is the brainchild of eco-artist Mark Dion.
Funded by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and the Houston Arts Alliance, Dion's Invasive Plant Eradication Unit runs out of a bread truck that was converted for the purpose of rolling around from neighborhood to neighborhood, re-educating the public with its prominently-displayed images of invasive species on its exterior. Says the Houston Arts Alliance:
Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit to serve as a workstation, laboratory, book mobile and beacon for public outreach in the battle against invasive plant species along the Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries. The customized truck, similar to “a rugged emergency response vehicle” will be equipped with various tools, illustrations, field guides and books. These items will all be used to encourage participation, educate on the local environment, and establish a sense of urgency to the issue of invasive plants.
The alarming thing is that people are intentionally planting invasives instead of native varieties in their yards. Chron.com reports that the Eradication Unit
encourag[es] Houstonians to grow native plants in their yards, rather than invaders whose escaped seeds, downstream, are capable of wiping out whole ecosystems. [..]
How did the invaders get here? People brought most of them intentionally - and in fact, even planted them proudly in their yards. Chinaberry, one of the worst invaders on the bayou's banks, was introduced here as a fast-growing shade tree. Tropical-looking elephant ear, once established, is nearly impossible for the volunteers to eradicate; nonetheless, it's still sold in many nurseries.
It may be a difficult battle though, as Dion admits that
On one hand, we're taking seriously our relationship with nature and being responsible, trying to increase biodiversity. But that effort is based on killing things.
Nevertheless, it's a necessary one: in a very much globalized world where humans transplant even the most obscure plant species to farflung corners of the world where they don't belong, someone has to bring back the balance -- even if that means eliminating certain unwelcome visitors.