Invasion of the Paranoids



Have you been invaded yet? If not, brace yourself because you soon will be. There are so many enemies approaching from all directions that there is no escape. It is not proper for me to make fun of something that is not funny, but since I have been invaded too, maybe I can be forgiven. Currently, my favorite danger of the day is the Invasion of the Tumbleweeds. No, really. It did happen in Colorado and to the ranchers there it’s not a bit funny. I quote from an Associated Press story: “Mini-storms of tumbleweed have invaded the drouth-stricken prairie of southern Colorado, blocking rural roads and irrigation canals…”  I now sing one of my favorite songs with my fingers crossed: “Drifting along with the tum-ble-ling tum-ble-weeds… Cares of the past are behind, nowhere to go but I’ll find, just where the trail will wi-ind….”  Cares of the past are behind? No more. Today, the trail always winds back to more trouble.

If you have not been invaded by tumbleweeds, maybe you are in the path of the feral hog invasion. This too is not at all funny even if I can’t help laughing a wee bit. Hogs that have gone wild are costing us $1.5 billion a year, says another AP story,  including $800 million to farms in some 39 states. No amount of hunting has so far been the least bit effective in stopping their spread. (I wonder if anyone has tried drones.) I bet I’m not the only person who hopes the disease that is killing thousands of domestic pigs (PEDv, whatever that means) spreads into the wild population.

Oh, your area hasn’t yet been invaded by PEDv? Lucky you. And I absolutely refuse to say anything about the climate change invasion.

One of the “new” threats turning American society spastic is the Invasion of the Giant Hogweed. (Great title for a movie and indeed it says on Google that there was a song popular in England in 1971 called “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” sort of making fun of the whole subject.) Even its scientific name, Heracleum mantegazzianum, is enough to fill a happy soul with dread. This  invasive weed is creeping toward us, out of Europe, by way of Canada, originating thousands of years ago in Asia. It is the ancientness of the weed that Americans don’t grasp right away. If it were going to overwhelm us, it would have done so in Europe way before now. The juice or sap in a giant hogweed can blister and scar the human skin and if it gets into your eyes, might blind you. Scary indeed but if we just stop and think a little, Europe and Asia still seem to be quite free of any epidemic of blindness. If you rubbed poison ivy juice in your eyes I imagine you’d be in deep trouble too.

Giant hogweed (does anyone know how it got that name?) looks like Queen Anne’s lace but bigger. Sort of pretty in fact if I can go by the Google illustrations. History says it was deliberately introduced into France because it makes an attractive garden plant and also is a good honey source. Our Department of Agriculture says that livestock and pigs can eat the weed without harm, so if herbicides won’t kill it, (not sure about that yet) fight fire with fire and counterattack with grazing hogs. Another great movie title: Giant Hogweed Meets Giant Hog. And I know one herbicide that no weed is immune to: the hoe.

Our place has been invaded by poison hemlock and at first I was alarmed. After all, look what it did to Socrates. I lost two ewes before I knew I had been attacked, but in all truth, I am still not sure they died from eating hemlock. I never could completely control the invasion because flood waters along the creek brought in new seed every spring. The books said it would take something like a half pound or so to kill a sheep, and it is the seeds that are most toxic. In fact I noticed that my sheep would actually nibble a little hemlock in the spring without apparent harm. So I nibbled too. But even just a tiny speck was so bitter I involuntarily spat it out instantly. I can’t imagine anything with a tongue eating more than a little bit of it and as for the fear of children getting poisoned, you can’t get them to eat tasty broccoli.

If you have escaped giant hogweed and poison hemlock, you can’t breathe easily. There are still too many invasives to keep track of:  spotted knapweed, tree of heaven (tree of hell), marestail, water hemp, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, and bush honeysuckle, to name a few. But so far the world has survived them all fairly well.  I have long ago quit wringing my hands in useless worry.  If you read enough herbals, half the plants out there are somewhat toxic to some animals and people, or at some time in their development, or under certain circumstances.  ‘Invasive’ often turns out to be a synonym for ‘undesirable in my situation’. Some people, intent upon reestablishing a natural oak opening landscape in my part of the world, consider even maple trees invasive. I can understand that even if I don’t altogether agree. Because maple will stand a lot of shade, it can be overpowering sometimes. The most invasive super-weeds in our gardens, next to woodland, are valuable hardwood trees. They sprout all over, like thistles and grow as fast as corn. I have cut off a black walnut seedling fourteen times in the asparagus patch (yes I counted) and it grew back every time.  It makes me want to say nice things about Roundup.

What we are dealing with in modern society is an invasion of too much information that is only partially true or not well understood. It is causing an epidemic of paranoia.


Gene, I’ve noticed that the folks most concerned about invasive species seem to be the folks most concerned about me eating fats or smoking tobacco or drinking whiskey. But it seems to me that with all our global warming and transplanting critters we’re the same as termites pulling carbon from wood or ducks flying with algae on their feet. That all our machinations, even our failures like pollution, are a part of nature, not outside of it. Not that it’s not wise to hoe one’s garden, just that organizing a witch hunt to get our neighbors when their seed falls outside their patch is pointless. And I’ve heard feral hog makes good sausage.

I’m under attack by Johnson grass. It’s immune to hoeing. It’s got big, fat rhizomes, and if your hoe chops one in half, you get two rhizomes. I wonder if feral pigs would like to eat them?

Feral hogs? We have the real thing here in Latvia, it’s wild cousin that hunters have fed to increase the numbers. So the thought of African Swine Fever appearing over the border from Belarus this year, does not alarm me, but I guess not good use for those rearing pigs. Maybe this year our pasture won’t be dug up in autumn as the government have said the numbers need to be reduced. At last!

Giant hogweed? We don’t have that on our land, but it has a hold in an embankment in our village and they are at least now tackling that. Mowing sorts that out, but care does indeed need to be taken it is dangerous stuff. It is here, because the Soviets in their infinite wisdom grew it for feed.

Wild parsnip! We got some of that one year but found out what it was and have kept on top of it and won’t allow that to seed. It is similar to giant hogweed, just not so nasty. Instead we are rather over run with cow parsley, which is harmless but takes over the grass and the animals don’t care for it. The rain meant we weren’t able to tackle that one. We also have knapweeds, dandelions and St.Peter’s wort, the knapweed a new nuisance, the dandelions at least palatable and the St. Peter’s wort maybe mildly toxic for our animals, but not as bad as St.John’s wort. We thought we had got the better of the ground elder which was taking over and now we have the other stuff. At least the grass and clover are fighting back now. So if it isn’t one thing it is another so it would seem, like you said Gene

Amen brother! This centuries invasives are next centuries natives…and the beat goes on.

You’ll love this: I just read your article and immediately happened on a news story from the Atlantic. The headline: “California Town Invaded by Feral Peacocks.”

Here in middle Tennessee, I’d have to say by that far our worst invasive plant has to be Chinese privet. It spreads by root suckers and by bird-carried berries. It will form nearly impenetrable thickets that choke out nearly any other plant. To add insult to injury, even our over-populated deer herd doesn’t care to eat it, preferring instead to devour my raspberry canes, pole beans, and zucchini squash leaves.

I used to live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. That area was an OCEAN at least twice in geological history. I wonder if anyone was running around worrying about loss of genetic diversity and lost species when those oceans dried up. 10,000 years ago in northern North America there was mostly ice. As the ice melted the exposed land was rock and gravel. Almost all plant species that grew subsequently to the ice melting ‘invaded’ from somewhere else. I, for one, am glad they did. Who is to say that the ecosystem we have currently is the one we need to keep or that ecosystems are ever ‘finished’ developing.

The danger of drugs…….

Yes, Gene, you have oaks sprouting in your garden and you have hemlock on your field edges… Fine fine. The real problem, and God bless folks who understand and are trying to get the word out as much as they can, is protecting our remnant natural communities where certain species are just trying to hold on. And you do know that it might be a good idea to hold on to species that we humans ‘grew up’ with, right? We are a brick wall, Gene, you can only knock out so many blocks. So you can have a little fun, that’s fine. But recognize that we’re not just worried about hogs digging up somebody’s garden. But there might be 1 fen in the state that supports 1 kind of globally rare species and if a family of hogs get in that fen and tear it up, it and the biological diversity and genetic evolution that it represents is gone. I agree folks can be alarmist sometimes but look they’re trying to get somebody to pay attention to a dragon fly in a fen when there is a midget on Game of Thrones that is in bed with very attractive women…

Contrails, and smart meters, and cell towers, Oh My!

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