I am working on a large-scale Seedballing project (of which more at another time – however if you happen to have a barren valley, particularly if it is of a single watershed and would like it to be reforested by means of seedballs in any climatically ‘Mediterranean’ region of the world, please let me know: thenfzc at gmail dot com) and have been trying to learn of the experiences of other projects around the world.
Unfortunately there is very little data available.
However, some words of a project in the SW USA caught my attention as they opened up the whole debate about native and alien/non-native/exotic species.
Having attempted to reintroduce native wild flower species into range land by means of seedballs, the results were disappointing, very few natives had taken and the land was mostly being over run by alien grasses.
Now, it would be redundant to discuss the weighted language used in this perennial debate, nor to wonder at the passions it arouses. What I’d like to do here is ask a question, “What is a native species?”
Because what struck me, given the rapid changes to climate we are undergoing (I make no claims about the future – how can we know – but each of the last several months have been the hottest on record, as have the last few years) that native species might no longer be native.
By which I mean to ask whether what defines a native may not exist only as a plant, but may also have a factor of place involved. Which is, of course, obvious from one perspective; it is the combination of finding a plant naturally occurring in a given place that establishes ‘nativeness’.
Yet in the debates of natives versus aliens, it is only ever the plant which is discussed as being native, not the location or territory.
Given a world where climate is seen to be changing relatively rapidly, is it possible that native plants are rapidly becoming non-native?
Referring back to the example which began this line of thought; would the lack of native germination and the success of alien species germination have more to do with our labelling process than with the reality on the ground?
Could the alien grasses now be native and the native wild flowers now be alien?
In the general run of things, the world stays still long enough for us to feel the language we use is an adequate rule of thumb. But sometimes, as with this case, the world changes so fast we discover our conceptual patterns we use to apply to nature are in practice useless.
Is a “Climax Hardwood Forest” really where all land worldwide is headed? Even if it is (and its not) which particular hardwood species is climax for which particular area? Is it unchanging?
Looking from another perspective again, but going along with the direction of the argument above, just as climate is changing rapidly, so is land use and more particularly the nature of the soil. Might it not only be that it is the climate that is changing what is native, but soil also?
Just as clear cutting forests destroy the micro fauna and flora of a given soil impeding and sometimes completely destroying any attempts to reintroduce a particular tree species, so might not the soils in the attempted reintroduction of native plants reject what was once native also?
I’d also like to note the very real possibility that soil health, agricultural practices and climate change might very well not be isolated factors in the natives versus aliens debate nor in the most pressing questions which seem to be facing us today.
Obviously, given the above, it would seem the border between what is a native and what is alien is unclear, both from an aspect of plant and location. But also in the aspect of time.
Do we have the time to play around with concepts such as a native and alien if it means we continue to try to seed what will no longer grow, ignoring the ever growing deserts?
The truth of nativeness will be passionately defended, but the reality of climate change must force us to let go these passions and see the world just as it is.
Taking seeds back to the desert lands, millions upon millions of seeds, and letting grow just what grows, is the seeing that is now required. An actionless action, because no longer directed by thoughts of right and wrong. Where what lives and flourishes matters, despite whichever temporary labels we seek to apply.
Seedball the world!