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Our Hot Take on “Invasive” Species + Life in a Changing World

The concept of “invasive species” is a hot topic with a lot of nuance and controversy around it, so let’s be clear about this up top: we have no intention of shaming anyone for their choices or position on the subject of "invasive" species.

Through the Loveliness Blog, we aim to share our thoughts and perspective, which have developed and shifted over time, through experience and research. We’ll also share loads of resources for you to consider on your own.

What is the Narrative on “Invasives” - and Whose is It?

The most common definition of “native” vs. “invasive plants” asserts that “introduced species” (i.e. plants that humans have brought to a region through our actions, rather than plants spreading “naturally”) that cause significant environmental, ecological, and/or economic damage are considered “invasive.” Read more on Wikipedia for a slightly more nuanced look.

In general, the dominant narrative about “invasive” plants covers a few touch points. One, that humans are largely to blame. Two, that Nature can no longer exist in its “native” form because of invasive plants causing catastrophe. And three (bouncing off reason number one), because it’s our fault, we must go to war against invasive species to return Nature to its “correct” or “rightful” pristine native state.

LEFT: Spotted lanternfly on sunflower. RIGHT: Goldenrod, native ground cover and weeds in woodland.

As we become more aware - and more effectively marketed to - around the topics of native plants, climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem health, more and more language is being used that sounds exactly like political propaganda during war times. Anytime this happens, our "spidey" sense gets triggered and we start to ask fundamental questions like:

  • who is behind this message?

  • what money can be made here?

  • where are we being easily manipulated?

How to Not Be Manipulated is a topic for a whole other day, blog, book, etc! For now, let’s just focus on plants, insects and life on this precious planet... and how quickly we rush to attack the foreigner.

You've likely seen the memes and heard the rants, and if we were to buy into all this we'd believe: The "invasive" plants are taking over, destroying our ecosystems, creating new monocrops and reducing biodiversity in a mega-evil plan to take over the world...

As if they could do all that on their own...

We must remember that WE (humans) are one of the main reasons they have such frequently-stamped passports! We want imported clothing and food and all kinds of goods, from all over the world. And with that packaging often comes seeds and eggs, and even live insects.

We must also remember that for millennia the birds and winds and many other migrating species have been carrying seeds and eggs millions of miles away from their native homelands... and as any true 90's kid knows: "life finds a way."

Who and What “Belongs” Where?

While a “negative” ecological impact is considered significant in some places, where we see woodlands filled with japanese stiltgrass and roadsides clustered with mugwort and garlic mustard, it is still just a small view of the world. And a fearful one.

MANY (if not all) of those “invasive” species are HIGHLY medicinal. Some folks believe they are here to offer us their healing powers freely in abundance - a belief that LadyBug happens to hold, and this amazing book really highlights their purpose in our survival as well.

→ LADYBUG LOVES THIS BOOK: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds

But beyond our needs, the plants have their own wild adventures and stories as well.

Wanna go further into the wormhole?

Let’s consider that this sounds a LOT like the human experience. Migration due to war and changing conditions causes groups of humans to amass in some places, after being at risk for genocide in others. We all recognize the vital importance of harboring refugees.

Why don't we consider this perspective when it comes to plants?

Some peers and mentors of ours believe that in a few years, the term "invasive" will be just as ugly and outcast as any other racist term, when our society learns to value plants and wildlife as much as it values human life, and when we get beyond the idea of "who and what belongs WHERE."

In fact, it’s already being seen as an outdated, binary way of seeing plants, as climate change continues to encourage species migration, like this Yale article exposes.

We absolutely love and agree with this refreshingly nuanced and non-binary perspective from our friends at Northern Appalachia School: The Discord of Invasion Ecology

Yes, Ecosystems are Still Facing Serious Challenges

It’s important not to dismiss or oversimplify the fact that aggressively expanding monocrops are dangerous to fragile ecosystems. And it is truly a concern when we know that many of our native plants are endangered because of over-competition from "invasive" plants that don't play well or communicate in friendly ways. But we still have to ask ourselves, who/what is really threatening our precious ecosystems?

From World Wildlife Federation: One the Brink - the biggest threats to Earth's biodiversity infographic.

The visual graphic above from this article is excellent at revealing the true cause of biodiversity loss: Changes in Land and Sea USE is 50% of the cause. Then at 24% is Species Overexploitation. Again, a lot of human influence here. This is a massive, nuanced and complex topic, but we encourage you to learn more about it before jumping on a bandwagon.

→ Here’s a simple overview by the Audubon Society describing what everyone means when they use the terms native, non-native and invasive, and why it matters to all of us. We actually love this organization, as well as the National Wildlife Federation and Xerces Society, who all do great conservation work, promote native plants and foster habitat for endangered species.

There are a plethora of peer-reviewed studies and articles written about wide-ranging issues related to this oversimplification, and here is one of them, revealing that “the question of how we define a native species has been surprisingly underexplored.” This is not just a quaint, or ignorant earth-lover’s argument. Even true scientists are seeking to understand the issue better, but governments, media and corporations have an interest in selling products and keeping funding, so they perpetuate any wars they can.

→ This article, Ending the Costly, Toxic and Unnecessary War on Invasives, by a woman much like any of us, shares a handful of studies, reports and articles confirming our suspicions and claims about the profit focus fueling much of the rhetoric we see on social media, etc.

→ OUR FAVORITE BOOK on this topic Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion

Where Do We Land + What Can We Do?

There will be a place for all of us on this spectrum, like there is for every nuanced and complex concept. Please just choose where you land based on your research, experience and personal commitment to a Place.

When you know your Place, and you've studied the subject a bit more than simply absorbing the clever memes that trigger our human propensity to take sides and go to war, then you can make informed and wise decisions as the steward of your unique Place.

LEFT: Biodiverse wildlife habitat with birdhouse. RIGHT: Nature journal sit spot in the woods, observe and interact.

So what do the LadyBugs do?

Here’s a list of recommendations based on our own practice and experience with understanding and managing “invasive” species in various Places. Take what makes sense for you and the land where you live, love, work and/or worship.

- Take a step back to observe and interact FIRST, always. If you need inspiration here, our favorite book of stories and successes on this subject is One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.

- Ask yourself and the land questions to discover what the ecological function of these plants or insects are. Do they do something we can’t see at first? Do they offer something we need?

- Note that we do remove some "invasives" but we try not to call them that. Instead we observe and describe their behavior and remove them for that reason, if they are too aggressive. We carefully assess impact and effort, asking where we can work WITH Nature to best support our local ecosystems.

- Only purchase native plants, and only those grown by those who don't use neonicotinoids (bee-killers) and other toxic chemicals in the growing process. Plants from big box stores will always be sprayed and you bring those chemicals into your gardens. Read our blog post for trusted plant sources in Central PA.

- Heavily prioritize the needs of native insects, plants and wildlife in your design, planning and stewardship work. We do not plant or spread the growth of non-native plants intentionally.

Where We Draw Our Lines

LadyBug EarthCare is committed to never using the desire to remove one species for another as a justification to spray poison on the soil, which runs into the water and our food supply as well as the bodies of millions of other wildlife (and our food systems, bodies and brains).

Using chemical methods is simply a line we do not cross in our work. Sadly, we find that we are often alone on this line, among most native plant design/install/management companies, but we hope to influence the industry over time, with your help.

We are already seeing plenty of evidence that there are viable alternatives, that most “widely used and accepted” chemical interventions are increasingly harmful to humans and wildlife, that it causes generational harm in ecosystems, and that it's actually unnecessary in the bigger picture. There are lots of other options. The links below discuss a few!

Cornell University Article: Garlic Mustard's Time of Decline

Our Most Popular Blog: The Spotted Lantern Fly Challenge

Surviving + Thriving in a Changing World

We live in a constantly changing world. This happens in huge, long stretches of unfathomable time, and in short moments where we witness a spider spinning its web around a fly, ending one life to feed another. Change is something we embrace to survive and thrive. And we must learn how to adapt and interact with life as it changes around us.

The missing ingredient is often PATIENCE.

Instead of short-cutting with sprays (that often aren’t even very effective), we work mindfully with each landscape, ecosystem and human steward, so that we can all take gentle steps forward together, acting locally with a global awareness and the long game in mind. And this approach is available to you too, when you get to know your Place more intimately.

The best way to get to know your Place is to start a daily practice of simply spending time there. You can get started easily and simply, right where you are, with our 3 Core Routines. This collection of resources is totally free, and designed to help you build a foundation for your EarthCare practice and begin to grow your relationship with your unique Place.

The three Core Routines are:

  • Sit Spot: taking 5+ minutes a day to simply sit in Nature and observe

  • Nature Journal: becoming a citizen scientist and recording your observations

  • Land Walking: taking time seasonally to walk the land and actively observe how it changes over time, white seeking ways to get to know it better

There will never be a "one size fits all" approach to EarthCare.

This goes for every aspect of caring for Earth in your Place. Just like our human relationships, the way we relate to the land in our Place is unique. It takes time, slowing down to be present, and being willing to listen.

Ready to learn more about how to listen to the land, understand what it’s telling you, and make mindful decisions to support its needs? Here’s how we can support you.


LadyBug EarthCare is an affiliate of Chelsea Green Publishing! Here are the books referenced in this article. We love and recommend these books to deepen your EarthCare Practice. If you order from this highly ethical publisher, we will receive a small commission.

One-Straw Revolutionary - The Philosophy and Work of Masanobu Fukuoka


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