I’d like to tear the Japanese Barberry out with my bare hands. Why is it that so many of the “problem” plants that now grow in New England green up and get going before the native plants? If I didn’t know any better, I’d be thrilled to see things growing and leaves unfurling. It isn’t as though I don’t appreciate the change in seasons, but when all I can see when I look along the Woodland Trail is Japanese Barberry ad infinitum, I get angry. Nature is all about competition, who gets eaten, who gets to eat. It isn’t any different among plants or animals, they are all the same. If you live long enough to pass on your genes, you carry the day. The more genes passed on, the bigger the winner. And barberry is triumphant.
It’s galling to see bullies prevailing. Invasives are plants or animals not native to the region where they are found. In certain cases, like Multiflora Rose, Japanese Barberry and Asiatic Bittersweet, we planted them deliberately. Brought from other climes by well-meaning garden enthusiasts, they were cultivated and treasured as plants to spice up our landscape with their exotic shapes and colors. Who knew we planted in our perennial border a floral Trojan Horse? Other plant interlopers arrived entirely against their will, in a mattress, on the bottom of someone’s shoe, in the unwitting ballast of a ship. In a way, it’s natural, part of the warp and weft of the world, but there’s a certain bitterness in it.
Non-native plants may die in an unfamiliar climate, if their needs are too specific. But less picky plants, happy to put down roots without particular regard to soil, sun or even rainfall, run riot over everything, choking the life out of native plants and animals. In time, ecosystems fail under the unnatural competition from the invasive plant. After habitat loss due to human disruption, habitat loss due to the effects of invasive species is the largest cause of animal and plant extinction.
Why am I filled with petulant spleen to see these barbarries colonizing our wood? Isn’t it all part of nature? Surely the cross-pollination of certain plants and the failure of others is part of our advancement? Perhaps,but I see the invasives leading us away from balance. I cannot see the end around the bend, and I am angry at the changing landscape.
Japanese Barberry is hard to erradicate and reproduces obscenely. Elimination has to be done painstakingly, one plant at a time. Left alone barberry will render areas completely impenetrable and it has done so here, keeping me perhaps from discovering vernal pools, bear dens, coyote families, rare butterflies, a lost race of birds. I can only speculate and seethe.
But I know this: As I churn over the barberry, spring ephemerals- hepatica, trout lily and the beginning of corydallis, are popping up. I should focus on them. They bloom from barely warmed soil, and only until the trees begin to leaf out. You might never know they were there at all, they bloom so briefly and die back so completely, like something of a woodland secret. Yet I smolder with regret at the Japanese Barberry, quite literally grinding my teeth over them. I wonder if I could burn them out, literally a crazy idea, with a home listed on the National Register not a quarter of a mile away. There is nothing reasonable to be done, for the moment.
I am very bad at deciding I am powerless. But there it is. I can only accept, look with curiosity to the future and keep my eyes open for Trout Lily.
See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist