Saturday, September 3, 2011

Invasive Species

 This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper

Today I met Zippy, who is a juvenile Yellow-bellied Racer. (That's a snake for those needing a translation.) Zippy was named due to his or her speed. The term “racer” in the name is a good indication of that. Zippy may have been living in my front flower bed for some time. The snail population seems to have dropped in that area.

My front flower bed is intended to nurture native species, though I'm not doing real good at that yet. There are still some snapdragons left in there from the previous owner. Though the plant that bothers me the most is the tamarisk. The tamarisk is also called the “salt cedar” and does have nice pink flowers every now and then. 

But the tamarisk is an invasive species. Originally it grew in the drier areas of Eurasia. It arrived here in North America and years ago and is used as wind breaks and shade trees in dry areas. However, it has a tendency to out compete the native species in our deserts, causing disruption to these sensitive ecosystems.

There are removal programs out in the Mojave Desert, but once established it is hard to remove. And there are several of these trees that can be seen driving from Tehachapi out to Mojave. So I've been tempted to remove the thing from my yard. But I haven't gotten around to it.

Every time I go down to Joshua Tree National Park for a class, they hand out sheets to help identify some of the invasive species growing in the park. They even organize volunteer groups to go out into the park to remove them, particularly the Sahara Mustard. Again, a species adapted well to desert life, and pushing out some of the native species.

And all around Tehachapi, I've been seeing more Star Thistle. Growing in the empty fields all over the area. In its native Eurasia, the Star Thistle has evolved in relationship to the herbivores of the region and is kept in check. Here in Tehachapi, we don't have those herbivores and the horses we do have around the area can actually be made sick if they eat it. And every where it is growing is a place a native plant isn't.

And these invasions usually start small and innocuous. Plants are planted as ornamentals or a few seeds hitch a ride in some cargo container. Soon whole regions are covered with them. Like kudzu is covering the Southeast part of the United States. 

As we have all expected, here's where I make the transition to discussing fictional invasive species. (I feel a little guilty about it, since invasive species are a significant problem, but I'm going to do it anyway.) In the play presented by Tehachapi Community Theatre coming up at the BeeKay, Little Shop of Horrors, a seemingly innocent plant, turns out to be an invasive species. And it is headed for world domination. 

And like most invasive species, we may not be able to keep it from getting a foothold, but we can make a decision to keep it from destroying our environment. And in the case of the plant in the play, Audrey 2, taking over the world. 

So while I may not be able to save the world, I think I will take out the tamarisk in my front planter. And if I see any strange pods, that look a little like some kind of flytrap, but not like any of the ones known to science, you can be sure I won't be feeding it.

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