Natives Versus Aliens

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!


About Jamie Nicol

Living in the forested hills of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Zen teacher, recovering philosopher, small-scale natural farmer. Writing just what comes.
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4 Responses to Natives Versus Aliens

  1. Pingback: Natives Versus Aliens | seedzen – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

    • Jamie Nicol says:

      Hi Mike, thanks for the info. I know Richard as we used to teach the same permaculture design course at Mas Franch and I know of Panos’s work in Greece, what I’m particularly interested in is large scale, fully documented seedball projects over many years because, what a cursory round up of information suggests, is that Seedballing is not as successful as we might wish it to be.
      But considering I have met many people who think the same about natural farming, I remain open to persuasion, especially evidence based.

      • MikeH says:

        Yes, I think that seedballing is successful in specific cases but not in all or even most cases. Even the folks in the Yahoo Fukuoka farming group are not overly successful. It seems to me that a lot of Fukuoka’s natural farming techniques may have been specific to Japan, maybe even to his farm. And Emilia Hazelip certainly had to adapt to her situation. If I recall correctly, she had to deal with flooding and standing water and resorted to raised beds to deal with her water problem. There’s a lesson, I think, in Emilia’s effort: simply plugging in to what someone else somewhere else has done doesn’t always work. You often have to “tweak” things. In fact, Fukuoka says in Ecological Farming: A Conversation With Fukuoka, Jackson and Mollison: “You cannot be a natural farmer by abandoning nature after it has been altered. Instead, you have to carefully select seed and determine when, where, and how to grow it but only after first examining the land and the real nature of an area.” I wonder what Larry Korn’s views are on natural farming away from Fukuoka’s farm.

        Certainly my attempt at seedballing here in eastern Ontario was a 100% failure. But there are so many variables that it’s hard to tell why. We have a very healthy field mouse population here so that may be part of the process. I know that you cannot plant wildflower seeds and expect them to survive. Nor can you plant out seedling that do not have large root mass. While wildflowers are tough as nails once they are established getting them established requires work. When they are young (under two years). they do no compete well with non-natives which tend to be more aggressive.

        Unfortunately, while seedballing is appealing to many we have very little information on successes and failures.


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