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John Lee
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Lawrence, KS, United States
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Native - a (potentially) Problematic Human Concept?

Posted by John Lee almost 8 years ago

   The entire modern world seems to be collapsing around us.  Permaculture is meant to guide us closer to understanding the means to reverse negatively-impactful patterns and trends we have developed as a human society.  It re-routes certain neural pathways in our brains when we finally recognize our crooked human perceptions of ourselves, our brethren Earth entities, and our places in this world.

   With permaculture in tow, we retract from consumerism and reduce wastes we didn't even realize we had been producing, and it really keeps going as far as we want to take it.  There are still no permaculture heads of state - apparently there is a permaculture sub-committee or some token field membership in the United Nations, but I can't say my faith is strong in UN diplomacy leading to action on such a yet fringe subject. 

   The point from which I've strayed is that whether it be in discussing people, animals, plants, mycoflora, or bacteria and diseases, taking a conservation point of view often conflicts with what permaculture and nature would otherwise teach anyone quite obviously if they would allow themselves to be open to the lesson:

   "Native" defines a subject via an arbitrary timeline, excluding all lifeforms to come thereafter as noxious, invasive, and perhaps most negative and conflict-causing of all is the term "non-native."  Plants, insects, predators, people, and all manner of natural beauty are the cause of conflict at all levels across the globe because of our global inability to sacrifice this cherished human concept of Native VS. (insert negative descriptive word about anything else).  It is just as xenophobic as genocide or any other senseless death to pull a "non-native" weed without understanding that weed's purpose and true value.

   Some humans want to save native species, where they historically know them to exist...  but they're cool with planting hybrid chestnuts and honestly anything other than what can be found growing within walking distance of their site or region?  Or perhaps they forgo the chestnuts but within the range of plants found in their region, native plant species lists must be checked to ensure they don't help spread invasive, non-natives?  No, friends, this is not the way.  Rather it be said one cannot have it both ways, abiding by a xenophobia-perpetuating, "Native VS. ___" ideology but also researching as a mindful permaculturalist things might be living on one's landscape to uncover for oneself their true value.  They are entirely different approaches to co-habiting this planet with other living things.

   We are all connected, and permaculture teaches us that all living things have value.  Good luck with the philosophical brainstorm ahead for all you conservationists turned permaculturalist.  It has not been easy adjusting my rationalizations for action, but dissolving my conception of subjects being native was a huge help personally.  I hope it has been obvious throughout this entry that I am not arguing conservation organizations battling against companies drilling in our watersheds and headwaters or the bastards trying to quarry along the last main Alaskan salmon runs.  Strictly, my topic concerns the conflict surrounding the concept of being native or not.

"Noone can change the winds, but one can always adjust the sails."  

   That, or something to that effect, old seamen slogan is funny to dissect as a permaculturalist -- we can alter winds to a certain degree on our site, but I think you all understand the sentiment.  Nature is bigger than us and working on an indefinite, living timeline and prerogative of it's own, not our puny human time-scales or moral conceptions of what does or doesn't belong.  

Comments (4)

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Nathan Dow
Nathan Dow : I saw your post on facebook, which led me to comment.

While it is true that many non-native plants introduced by human intervention have benefits to humans and the landscape, we have to keep in mind the entire spectrum of advantages and disadvantages that come along with it.

For example, Katharine Gehron and Jenna Webster, two very knowledgeable sustainable landscape designers describe several studies that show a clear negative effect on the environment.

In one study, native plants provided up to 4x the biomass for feeding insects, simply because the insects mouth parts were unable to process the alien plants. Then it moves up the food chain, as less plant food for bugs means less bugs, and less bugs provide less food for birds.

Non-native plants also lack the natural balance when growing with a cluster of other plants that evolved together. This makes them more likely to choke out less-aggressive native species.

I'm not saying that you are "wrong," but we definitely have to carefully consider which plants to grow to make sure we aren't doing more harm than good. I know from personal experience how quickly some plants, commonly recommended by the permaculture community (e.g. wisteria), will grow out of control and suffocate other more desirable plants/trees. Yes, it fixes nitrogen but it is also an aggressive climber/spreader and the roots are ridiculously hard to remove, especially older growth.

Here is the address of the page I am referring to: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/invasive-plants-in-permaculture/

Good luck with your permaculture projects.
Posted almost 8 years ago

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John Lee
John Lee : Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Nathan! The article you linked looks like a good long read, so it'll take me a bit but I see Ben Falk's name in the beginning paragraph and I know what he thinks of his goldenrod :)

To be clear, I do think native plants are important and I'm not throwing out the notion that we should consider or prefer them in plantings. What bothers me are the mindsets where folks blindly discourage or wage war upon outside influence, which is by definition xenophobia and not exactly a road most of us permies would choose in life.

We all have and will continue to gain experience with what works well in each landscape and bioregion we work, but the natural balance of which you speak cannot be achieved by those striving to keep things exactly the way they are or have historically been. Nature evolves and fluxes in rhythms few truly recognize.
Posted almost 8 years ago

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Tom Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston : Very good article, I have learned many useful and interesting things from the information you shared. krunker
Posted about 1 year ago

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Victor Patrick
Victor Patrick : I am genuinely thankful to the holder of this web page who has shared this wonderful paragraph at at this place bitlife
Posted about 2 months ago

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