SciSun: They’re everywhere!   Leave a comment

We know there are native species – plants and animals that have lived in an area for a long, long time and are a natural part of the environment of an area; and we know about non-native species – plants and animals that do not naturally live in an area, but have been introduced in some way; sometimes by mistake, or accident, but often by people who mean well and think it would be ‘nice’ or ‘helpful’ to have this new species, but could actually cause harm.

Iceplant  Wikimedia  (Carpobrotus edulis)

Flowers! Fields and fields of flowers! It seemed like a good idea at the time......

Unfortunately, there are introduced species all around us. Many of the flowers and other plants, and birds and other animals were not originally where we now find them, but have only been the area a relatively short time. Some of the introduced species can live in their new areas without causing too many problems – they might eat foods that other native species would normally eat; or live in spaces the natives prefer; or otherwise make life a little more difficult for the natural environment, but nature is flexible and can often make room for the new-comers. However, there are other non-natives who become invasive species. And the invasives are trouble, usually very aggressive and hostile, often forcing out or destroying the natives. And since they’re no longer in their native environment, the invasives don’t have the natural balances that would usually keep them from going out of control.

In the West, one of the plant species that is causing significant problems is the Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis), a low, spreading groundcover with dark-green leaves and pleasant yellow-white flowers. Over 100 years ago it was introduced to the Western US to help stabilize soft ground on beaches, hillsides and around roads and railroad tracks. Even as recently as the 1970’s people believed the plant was a quick and easy way maintain open land. The plan was to control erosion – loss of soil due to wind or water – but now, the plant has virtually taken over some areas, won’t allow native plants to grow, and is changing the environment of many open spaces, particularly on the coast. Ice Plant is a native of South Africa, and in its normal environment is kept under control by the weather and by animals that eat the leaves, flowers and fruit. But many coastal areas of California have perfect weather for this aggressive plant – that can spread more than three feet a year – and California is very short on wild baboons and antelope and beach-living porcupines who eat the plant in its normal South African environment. So now, there are thousands of acres of Ice Plant in areas where it doesn’t belong, possibly making a permanent, and harmful change, to our natural environment and native species. And the best way to control the plant is by pulling each one, by hand, and planting native species in its place. Let’s just hope no one gets the bright idea to import baboons and antelope to eat the Ice Plant. Then we’d have invasive baboons on our hands, and the only way to control that is by introducing lions. And nobody wants lions on the beach.

Spread out and learn more! (maybe that was a bad choice of words). Read about the Ice Plant, and other invasive species:

Posted February 19, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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