Invasive Plants Have Benefits

In her October Shuttle article (“The Time is Now to Rid Your Yard of Invasive Ground Clutter”), Sarah Endriss displays a strong resolve to eliminate invasive Bishops Weed (Aegopodium podagraria), often called goutweed, from her yard, but nowhere does she explain the problem with this plant. 

Clearly, native plants offer many benefits. They provide host plants for butterfly and moth larvae (caterpillars) and berries for birds. Many of us, myself included, have toiled to restore native ecosystems. The demonization of non-native plants and the commitment to remove them at all costs are misguided.

Tao Orion, in her informative book “Beyond the War on Invasive Species”, notes that most invasive plants get established because the land is disturbed and conditions have changed and no longer support native plants. Rarely if ever do invasive plants cause the extinction of natives. 

Removing invasive plants will not insure they will stay away nor that the native plants put in their place will thrive. We cannot turn the clock back to a mythical time when the land was pristine and undisturbed. 

We need to cultivate a deeper understanding of the current and historical conditions and make a holistic plan for what is possible in our current landscapes. What has happened to the land historically? What soil and climate conditions currently exist? What services do the new plants provide? Are they nitrogen fixers, helping to build the soil? Do they provide food or habitat to insects and animals? Can we eat them or use them as medicines? Historically, goutweed was used to treat gout and arthritis and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can be eaten like spinach and cooked in soup. What other benefits may this plant hold? 

Thankfully, Endriss does not promote the use of toxic herbicides in her removal of Bishops Weed. However, all too often their use is condoned by restoration professionals, whose protocols were developed and promoted by the chemical industry. 

We must rethink our commitment to native plant restoration at any cost and stop the use of toxic herbicides in this pursuit. We are on the cusp of a new, more holistic understanding of landscape restoration that is truly life-enhancing. We may still choose to hand pull Bishops Weed, or we may decide to eat it. Both are better than draconian uses of pesticides.

— Amy Steffen, Toxic-Free Philly