Brooklyn gardeners: Beware the killer weed
losing the ground war.
Reasonable people can disagree over whether the U.S. is losing the War
in Iraq (um, come to think of it, I’m not sure they can), but Brooklyn
has become Ground Zero for an entirely different battle — and our
brave heroes at home are getting slaughtered.
Take Fraxinus americana. The other day in Prospect Park, this proud son
(or was it daughter?) of Brooklyn was minding his own business when a
vicious killer Lonicera Japonica started choking him to death.
You may know Lonicera japonica as Japanese honeysuckle, but I know him
as Trouble — with a capital T and that rhymes with V and that stands
for “vicious invasive killer weed.”
That’s right, patriots, Brooklyn is under attack by dozens of invasive
species, many of which have slipped across our borders under the seemingly
innocent guise of looking nice in your aunt’s garden, filling up
that flowerpot on your stoop or, even more insidiously, being on display
at the Botanic Garden.
Indeed, in the park the other day, green-helmeted soldiers from the Prospect
Park Alliance spotted a few rogue saplings of Kalopanax pictus, an invasive
tree that chokes out native species.
And the only known source of Kalopanax pictus is — cue the cheesy
horror movie music — the Brooklyn Botanic Garden across the street!
You don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blew.
“We’re under attack by these killer species and they’re
winning,” said Mike Feller, who battles invasive species for the
Experts like Feller say invasive weeds are a threat to biodiversity, undermine
habitats for birds, and destroy our forests. And Public Enemy #1 is the
Norway maple. Sure, you love his shade, but his extra-long mating period
and his fibrous root system is literally choking the life out of Brooklyn’s
native trees like the locust tree (also known by its nom de plume, Robinia
pseudoacacia — geshundeit!).
Rounding out the park’s Most-Wanted List are the pungeant garlic
mustard, a weed that is spreading faster than lice through an elementary
school; creepy newcomer Polygannum perfoliatum, the so-called mile-a-minute
vine that has started showing up on the big sledding hill behind the Tennis
House; the porcelainberry, a seductive-but-deadly vine often ordered from
catalogues because of its beauty (it’s the mail-order bride of the
invasive weed world); the aforementioned honeysuckle — don’t turn
your back on this kudzu-of-the-rising-sun; Japanese stilt grass, which
has been spotted in the Quaker Cemetery (you know this war clearly is
hell if even the Quakers are in the fight); and phragmites, those thin
reeds that have taken up residence along the entire lakefront. The only
way to fight them is by smothering them under huge sheets of thick black
plastic (thank goodness we’ve discarded the Geneva Convention).
Even the famous tree that grows in Brooklyn — Ailanthus altissima,
or “tree of heaven” — is a pernicious Asian weed that must
“In ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,’ it’s a metaphor for
hope because it grows through a crack in a sidewalk,” said Anne Wong
of the Prospect Park Alliance. “That’s great as a symbol in
a book, but it’s an invasive weed tree.”
Wong admits that the invasion is so massive that she has considered the
nuclear option, but, alas, rejected it because of the collateral damage.
“We really don’t like to spray pesticides everywhere,”
she said. “When we use them, we prefer to dab a few drops onto a
vine’s roots.” (Clearly, Wong is a woman who doesn’t love
the smell of napalm in the morning.)
Instead, Wong and her crew spent 2,263 man-hours last year pulling up,
cutting and dismantling terror cells throughout the park. Yet the invasion
continues. These bad seeds simply cannot be reformed.
The fault lies not in these plants, but in ourselves.
America is truly the land of opportunity, whether you’re a hard-working
immigrant looking for a job, or a heartless botanical bully looking to
pick on some defenseless sap.
“They come over here and reproduce like mad because there’s
no natural predator,” Wong said. “Back home, there must be a
fungus or worm that keeps them in check.”
And even though I’m ready to lock up all these foreigners in internment
camps and throw away the key, let’s be clear about our enemy: Not
all “foreign” species are invasive, Wong said.
“Magnolias are not native, but they’ve proven to be quite good
citizens,” she said.
OK, so you magnolias can stay. But I’m calling for our borders to
be sealed once and for all. If some Morus alba thinks he can have a better
life here than back in China, I’m sorry. Believe me, it’ll be
the best for both of us.
After all, Wong said, many of our most beloved species, like goldenrod
or the mighty pin oak, are considered invasive weeds overseas.
We have met the enemy and it is us, too.
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010