Select Page

It All Adds Up…or…Plants of the World, Unite!

I think one of the best things about life on earth is the NY Times. I’ve been reading it daily–and fairly closely–every day since I was a teenager.

There is so much information in every issue that it can make my brains hurt. And since there is not enough room in my cranium (please no remarks) to store all this written material, I am compelled to share the paper’s good and fascinating information with…you. From time to time, that is. I won’t pester you with doomsday too often, promise.

Here’s some recent good stuff that relates to gardening, which relates to conservation, and animals, and minerals and health and capitalism and government and, well, to my life. And to your’s.

For example, an example of animal conservation. You will recall, no doubt, that our 19th and early 20th century cowboy ancestors thought the Prairie Chicken so delicious that they shot dead one million birds from the tallgrass prairies that lined the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana and Texas. They probably killed ’em all in just one day. Or maybe two. Anyway, it’s 2015 and now a TOTAL (!) of 104 birds struggle to survive at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake Texas. Despite the best efforts of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the chicks that they had carefully and fairly recently hatched were dying.

Why? Because, the NYTimes tell us, an invasive species–red fire ants–“were decimating the insect population of the prairie. While adults eat plants and insects, the chicks dine primarily on insects, [so] the chicks were starving to death”. The good news is that “exterminating the fire ants and adding more plants that attract insects in the refuge has helped.” Last year, 60% of the chicks survived. Sadly, though, “a storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the refuge and the new chicks drowned or died of exposure”. Can you spell, “climate change”?

Next, the NYTimes leads us to the war between organic companies and the Monsanto regarding GMO labeling on the food we eat. The Federal government requires any product labeled “organic” to be free of ingredients produced from GMO seeds. On the flip side of that coin, Monsanto hires many professors to testify against the labeling horror in states that might want to follow the Federal  effort with their own labeling legislation. [Since consumers now doubt the profe$$or$, Monsanto’s advertising is soon going to feature more believable “mommy farmers”, but I digress.] But since the “organic movement” doesn’t feed the world or make billions in profits, the Agriculture Department in 2014 “approved GMO soybeans and cottonseed designed by Monsanto and treated with Dow-produced herbicide”.

Let’s keep going here. While the Feds or states don’t make most food companies disclose what’s actually in our food, the Federal government will now allow companies to say “made without ractopamine”, a chemical given pigs and chickens and some beef so that the animals can gain muscle weight while using fewer calories. Did you ever know about this practice before today? (I didn’t.) You want to know just how bad this stuff is? The Chinese won’t let us bring pigs or chickens into China because they don’t trust it. The Chinese! Now that explains why the big boys, like Tyson, are all of a sudden eager to have the Feds create a “made without ractopamine” label…they want to sell their animals to China (and to the EU and Russia and all the others that ban ractopamine.) So it was really not the organic crowd that got this label labelled…it was the mega-ag fellas.

Stay with me here. Can any of my readers imagine CROPS (ie plants) that don’t die after being (accidentally) sprayed by RoundUp? Well, okay, it’s old news that we eat soybeans and corn which are genetically engineered to withstand RoundUp. The new news is that the Ag Dept has approved corn and soybeans that can withstand spraying with 2-4 D. 2-4 D? OMG, do you remember Agent Orange?! Here’s the grim facts and “government speak” of this craziness:

“The Agriculture Department, in its environmental analysis, predicted that approval of the crops would lead to a 200 percent to 600 percent increase in the use of 2,4-D nationally by 2020. But it said analysis of the effects of that increased use was the responsibility of the E.P.A. The Agriculture Department said ITS [emphasis mine] approval depended mainly on whether the crops would harm other plants.” 

EPA is whether humans are poisoned. Ag is whether plants are poisoned. This is why people hate government.

Now, just in case you worry about human trafficking or slavery or child soldiers, as the State Department does, the NYTimes tells us there is a 356-page disclosure rule via Dodd-Frank that requires our companies to disclose “conflict minerals” in their products (like frozen shrimp from Thailand sold by Costco or tin that gives Party City’s balloons their sheen).

So, here’s an idea. If we can require such an onerous disclosure rule that probably has little real impact on slavery (compared with, say, paying decent wages), can’t we know that the food we eat was made with seeds resistant to the chemicals that kill the insects that kill the Prairie Chickens or the milkweed that feeds Monarch butterflies or the herbicide that killed people that lived or soldiered in Vietnam? Just sayin’.

Gardening these days requires a lot of thought.##

PS Here’s some good news: McDonalds, which uses 2 billion eggs annually, wants to let their hens be cage-free. This will take ten years to accomplish, but hey. Free the hens! Free the hens!

chickens

 

 

 

Woe the Ornamental Pear Tree: Invasive, But Does It Make the “Invasive List”?

Trouble’s brewing over the fate of Ornamental Pear [Pyrus calleryana] trees. It seems that this tree (you may know its cultivar names such as Aristocrat, Bradford, Chanticleer, Cleveland Select, Redspire, Trinity, or Jaczam) is becoming invasive in northeastern Illinois. In fact, Cathy McGlynn, coordinator of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, told me that attempts to regulate its sale were recently proposed because conservationists fear that “it may become the next Buckthorn.” In fact, just last week–presumably because nurserymen (with lots of ornamental pear trees to sell) freaked out–the Illinois Invasive Species Council decided to slow down on regulation, opting not to list the pear as an “exotic weed” at this time but instead to do “education and outreach and shift market focus”, according to McGlynn. (Methinks this means that the Ornamental Pears will not be for sale anymore in 3-5 years, so watch for some good $$ deals from nurserymen…).

photo-31 ornamental pear

(Note: there is a small 12′ x 15′ pear tree that is of a different species: Pyrus fauriei ‘Korean Sun’. No word on the invasive aspect of this species.)

Now all this is enough to make Queen Bee quite crazy. Why? Because while we should (rightly) worry about pear trees, the elephant in the room is still, even after decades of education,  BUCKTHORN. This tree is without a doubt the most injurious invasive plant in Illinois. Sadly, it is only illegal to sell buckthorn (see the Exotic Weed Act below) but it is still quite okay to continue to grow it on your property, which means it is not on Illinois’ Noxious Weed Law (see below for list of the plants that require eradication).

Why isn’t the disgusting Buckthorn banned? Because homeowners think it is a great screening plant and refuse to spend the money to take it out and plant appropriate shrubbery that stays put. And elected officials who could change the law listen to their whining neighbors. To that I say, “Enough is Enough!”. If we can ban smoking in restaurants and public places, we can insist that Buckthorn be banned too. Start easy if one must (Queen Bee holds her nose here): create a law that only outlaws all the female Buckthorn plants (the ones with black berries that the birds eat and then spread). But move ahead with stating that Buckthorn is a noxious weed. Our legacy as gardeners must be to demand of each other that we all save our wild areas from Buckthorn. And Garlic Mustard. And, yes, Pear trees…

If you want to see where Ornamental Pear trees and other “new” invasives are being spotted in northeastern Illinois, here’s an interesting website: http://www.newinvaders.org/. And here’s a link to an Ohio research study on Pears’ invasiveness: Theresa Culley, Spread and Ecological Impacts of Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana) and Other Ornamentals in Southwestern Ohio. (Webmaster’s note 04-2019:  Broken Link, could not find this article. See The Beginning of a New Invasive Plant by T. Culley.)

Illinois Exotic Weed Act

It shall be unlawful for any person, corporation, political subdivision, agency or department of the State to buy, sell, offer for sale, distribute or plant seeds, plants or plant parts of exotic weeds including:

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica); Glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula); Saw-toothed buckthorn (Rhamnus arguta); Dahurian buckthorn (Rhamnus davurica); Japanese buckthorn (Rhamnus japonica); Chinese buckthorn (Rhamnus utilis)

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata).

Illinois Noxious Weed Law: 

It shall be the duty of every person to control the spread of and to eradicate all noxious weeds on lands owned or controlled by him in the State of Illinois.

Marihuana (Cannabis sativa L.)  [Editor: we’re they smoking it while they were trying to spell it??!]

Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida L.) and Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia L.) within the corporate limits of cities, villages, and incorporated towns

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Perennial Sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis);

Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans);

Perennial members of the Sorghum genus, including Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), Sorghum almumand other Johnsongrass x sorghum crosses with
rhizomes;

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata).

According to its website, the Midwest Invasive Plant Network is working with the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, Chicago Botanic Garden, Lake County (IL) Forest Preserve District, and The Nature Conservancy to provide information to both nurseries and consumers about ornamental plants that have become invasive plants in native areas.  Some of these ornamental escapees include –

Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) (this species is banned in Massachusetts and declared invasive in Connecticut and New Hampshire)

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)  (it’s sale has been banned in Oregon and it is on the Washingston State Noxious Weed List)

Callery (Bradford) Pear (Pyrus calleryana)

Common or European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) [on the Illinois Exotic Weed Act List]

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)  (voluntary phase out of 25 cultivars in Connecticut. Lake Forest IL bans Barberry but no other plant, yet it is ubiquitously planted by residents who apparently haven’t received the no-no memo.)

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) (declared invasive in NH)

Oriental (Asian) Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Porcelain Berry/Porcelain vine/Amur Peppervine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Last, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and its Illinois Invasive Plant Council have this REALLY LONG list of nasty plant varmints: http://www.invasive.org/species/list.cfm?id=152 which includes Pyrus calleryana but then splits the difference, listing only ‘Bradford’. Is it just ‘Bradford’ that’s the problem or is it all the cultivars (dopey question–definitely all that set seeds). Another ecological restoration “head scratcher” as this Queen Bee sees it.##

 

It’s waayyyy past time to outlaw Buckthorn!

The first two emails in my inbox today concern Buckthorn–the scourge of the Chicago region. First, my husband John sent me a photo of the black berries produced by female Buckthorn trees. He suggested that for readers who might be unsure how to identify this weed, the berries are a surefire sign:

Buckthorn's black berries, full of seeds that birds eat and excrete, thus spreading the tree everywhere.

Buckthorn’s black berries, full of seeds that birds eat and excrete, thus spreading the tree everywhere.

The second email was sent by fisherman Paul Bergmann. It appears we now know what’s ruining the ecosystem for amphibians. Buckthorn! (PS I live in Lake Forest, which I think has more buckthorn per square inch than any town on earth. It’s embarrassing and shameful.)

Thorny-Situation

 

Thanks, gentlemen. Now get out there with your chainsaws and cut down this vicious weed! AND call your elected officials and demand that buckthorn be illegal (this is not a joke. In Lake Forest, buckthorn is not illegal but barberry is. Go figure.)##