Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Price of Ignorance

When I go for a walk around my neighborhood, I always expect to find both good things and not so good things in the natural world. Good things are thriving native plants, birds, and butterflies. Not so good things are increased populations of invasive plants and humans doing harmful things.

Sassafras tree killed by human
The humans doing harmful things aspect is frustrating because I know of a lot of it comes from ignorance. To most people, the plants they kill are just plants. Cutting down the bush on the left is no different than cutting down the one on the right. How were they to know that the one on the left was a native shrub that is a host to butterfly eggs while the one they left on the right is a non-native plant that doesn’t host anything? Or worst, it’s a non-native shrub that has berries with the potential to kill native birds!

When I talk to my neighbors while they’re working in their yard, I try to point out the native plants and say positive things about them. “Oh, look you have several sourwood trees. I love how they bloom in the summer and have such great fall color. Have you had sourwood honey?” I want them to realize that they have good things there - things that are worth their attention. I offer to help identify plants if they are planning any removals or are just curious.

With the Internet today, it’s not hard to find out what a plant might be. Many times I’ve heard someone say “We’re just going to pay someone to clean out the back.” That means chopping and spraying what they don’t recognize so it is “tidy.” The hubris of humans when it comes how that bit of wild woods behind the house needs to look is harmful to the other species we live with … cover the place in dyed mulch while you’re at it, ok?

My recent walk discovered a mature Sassafras tree that was hacked to death. It was the remaining of two original ones. The first was killed two years ago by utility contractors installing a new pole. I’m not sure why someone decided two years later that this one should go now. It was healthy all through last fall. Just twenty feet away, invasive plants are moving in. This picture shows monkey grass (Liriope), Nandina, Mahonia, and Elaeagnus.  Bird poop planted the last three. The Nandina has fruit so there will be more. Across the road, tree of heaven (Ailanthus) is trying to muscle out a thicket of privet (Ligustrum) and a few pieces of Nandina. In ten years, this deciduous woodland will be full of these non-native plants.

A group of invasive plants near the Sassafras that is no more

Let’s be a bit more curious about what’s around us. Figure out what that plant is and then decide if you should keep it or not. Insects and critters depend on our willingness to share this space with them. That includes supporting the plants that they need, and they need us to know better.

In the natural world, the price of ignorance is paid by the many species affected, not necessarily the one who was ignorant.


  1. Ellen, thanks for your post and all your efforts to educated about natives!

  2. I'm glad you do that. I don't go out for walks enough, but also, am in the city. I do get people walking by my place, and some ask about the plants, so that's good. I also have signs in the yard about habitat, so they know the plants have a purpose other than being pleasing to the eye. I am sharing this post with the Facebook group, Gardening with Nature in Mind.

  3. Boy does Habitat need you, and more of you, Ellen.

  4. As always, so WELL done!!!! Thanks for being there for natives, Ellen

  5. Great post! It is frustrating to educate people sometimes. They are always full of excuses why they do the things they do without a thought to the environment. I hope that my garden will be an example to our neighbors of how it can be done differently. It doesn't have to be high maintenance ornamentals or worse invasives.

  6. Little by little for now. But RK Young has advised me well and I pass it on. I got rid of a huge burning bush that was here when we came. I see burning bushes scattered through the woods along the roads. Revolutionary patience!