Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This sure is beautiful, and life sure is complicated

I got to the Arboretum just after 6:00 this morning so I went some places I don't always go. This is the Camellia section of the Asian Collections. The sun is rising over the Anacostia River which is at the bottom of the slope that begins at the back of this picture. The beautiful blue flowers drifting through the middle of the picture are Hyacinthoides hispanica, Spanish Bluebells. This is a geophyte in the lily family native to the Iberian Penninsula..

This picture illustrates why the question of native and non-native is so complicated. Undeniably, we are looking at a beautiful plant that you and I have every right to grow in our gardens. The fact is though, that it moves steadily and inexorably into wild areas adjacent to gardens. Is this bad? I think so but I don't know for sure. If it is bad why is it bad? I don't know. Wouldn't the world be prettier with more of these bulbs in more woods? Clearly, but would it be a better place? Wow! It is difficult to picture this tiny plant overturning a native ecosystem, but the world is a complicated place; remember Homer and the donut (the butterfly effect). The ecosystems that we inherited are the result of millions of years of complex co-evolution. Their structures are incomprehensibly complex and interdependencies are critical. When we pollute them we destroy them degree by degree. It is a one-way street, a street I, personally, don't think we want to continue down. There may come a time in the distant or not so distant future when our descendants look back and wonder how we could have been so short-sighted or so selfish as to allow so much to disappear.

There aren't always good substitutes for beautiful non-native plants, but in this case we could achieve an equally stunning effect by using Phacelia, Mertensia, or Phlox divaricata. If your back garden abuts a tributary of say, Rock Creek Park, and you still feel a compelling need for this plant, consider using it in the front garden and watching it. Don't let it get out back!

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