There is a plant out there so invasive other plants only whisper its name. So toxic to other plants it can rightly be called an evildoer! It is poisonous to cattle, dogs, pigs, sheep, horses and is carcinogenic to humans. It is known to produce and release allelopathic chemicals, which is a critical part in its ability to dominate other vegetation. Even after it has been removed the chemicals remain and still affect the viability of competing seeds. This evil plant is a well adapted pioneer plant, with the ability to colonize land very rapidly. It has the potential to expand its territory by 3% per year. Its ability to spread rapidly comes at the expense of other plants having a chance, and costs landowners and governments thousands of dollars a year to fight back.
So, who is this vile offender of the forest? Who is this despicable disgrace to all things sacred in our northern forests?
In Latin it goes by the name of Pteridium aquilinum.
In common folks words that means I am talking about Bracken Fern.
A native plant to Michigan.
I bet you thought I was talking about some thing Non-Native. Some plant from China that was brought here by chance on a vessel carrying imports. Not at all. Bracken Fern is everything I described above. And yet because it is native, hardly anyone says anything negative about it. Clearly this plant ruins ecosystems. Have you ever visited an ecosystem dominated by bracken? They are breathtakingly devoid of biodiversity.
While I am an advocate of all the wild native plants in the area, it is clear that we need a new way to look at our landscapes. Too long have we been stuck in this dichotomy of here before/here after Columbus. We need to look at things and call them as they are. Good or bad based on what they do to ecosystems in the long run, not on whether or not they are originally from a different land than the one they currently live in. Looking at plants as though they were people will not help us in understanding what they are, or why they do what they do. They are not people like us. They do not care what we think of them. Nor do they have to subscribe to our puffed up ideas about what is moral or immoral. They simply are. That is it. They exist.
The horror story is not in the way Bracken Fern behaves, the horror story is in how we view natives vs non natives.