TCD and natives

I was very impressed with your article on Thousand Cankers Disease of Juglans (“Thousand Cankers Disease: An Unusual Paradigm,” Plant Health, June 2011). I hope the three central states (Iowa, Illinois and Kentucky) that have not already acted to quarantine this problem will do so immediately. As it stands now, anyone wanting to bring potentially infested walnut into the upper Great Plains from Tennessee has an open route through those three states, with potentially devastating results. Indiana, Missouri and most other states which could be subject to this infection method acted responsibly months ago to block transport of walnut. Since APHIS refuses to take the lead (how can they not see this as part of their mission, despite the lack of international involvement?), it unfortunately falls upon the whims of individual state governments to act in unison, and this obviously is not yet happening. I encourage anyone who lives in Illinois, Iowa or Kentucky to contact their elected officials and demand action before another EAB-scale crisis is upon us.

I was much less impressed with the article on Tackling Invasives (Nursery Insight, June 2011). So much more could have, and should have, been said. The green industry plays a crucial part in addressing (and yes, exacerbating) such problems, yet how many nurseries continue to sell plants such as Elaeagnus umbellate, Lonicera maackii and other broadly adapted invasive species? Some of these folks probably don’t even know there is a problem, and those who do should follow their moral compass instead of merely staying within the edges of current law.

Why was not the responsibility of the nursery industry to be part of the solution given more weight, instead of emphasizing only the concern that regulation will happen anyway so nursery owners should join the process to guard their (financial?) interests? Why was the central issue – the connection between anthropogenic species composition shift and broad ecological destabilization – barely even mentioned, while Tom Ogren’s widely known concerns about pollen allergies was given several paragraphs?

Finally, and directly to the point of the best interest of the nursery industry, why was the issue of regional invasiveness given no coverage at all? This point could be the biggest tool available for those who wish to sell exotic plants responsibly in areas where they pose no significant threat. Most invasive species are problematic only under specific habitat or climate conditions, yet this fact was completely ignored in the article and is ignored by nearly every other author who tries to cover the topic. Sure, it’s complicated – that’s life. Learn how to drive before you try to get behind the wheel.

I encourage you to explore such options further, perhaps with other authors who really do understand the core issue. Work together with ecologists and regulators to come up with the best, yet most responsible, solutions to invasive species, not merely to protect your short-term financial turf. Fighting the havoc caused by invasive species costs America billions of dollars annually, and that’s big money out of all of our pockets. The closing sentence of this article – “And that someone else may not give a hill of beans what economic impact their decision has on you or your business” – unfortunately serves as an example of the worst way to approach such problems. If you really can’t do any better than that, just stick with native or “safe” species and go to sleep with a clear conscience.

Guy Sternberg, Starhill Forest Arboretum, Petersburg, Ill., and author of “Native Trees for North American Landscapes”.

The author’s response

Thank you for your Letter to the Editor regarding my Nursery Insight column in the June 2011 issue of American Nurseryman. We are lucky to live in America where everyone has the right and freedom to express their opinions openly, are we not?

I’m sorry you were disappointed in what I wrote. However, I think I should first point out that my monthly column is not an “article,” per se, but an opinion piece (on topics relevant to the green industry). Having said that I agree that there are other directions I could have taken with my piece but, alas, I am limited to 800 to 1,000 words. It sounds like a lot, but most months I spend just as much time cutting my piece down as I do writing it.

My point in this column, as well as previous columns, is that as business people, we cannot afford (financially or otherwise) to just sit on the sidelines blindly ignoring issues that can potentially affect our livelihoods. We need to pro-actively educate ourselves to have the clearest big picture available that will enable us to make the best decisions possible, as our futures, as well as the futures of our employees (and their families), depend upon it.

I know you took great issue with the fact I boiled it all down to the almighty dollar. My thought in doing so was now, more than ever, in this extremely difficult economic time, is that that is what is first and foremost in people’s minds. I felt equating it to dollars might just hit home with some people and thus get them to look at the issue if they aren’t now.

I believe that for every action, there is a reaction. And, as such, it behooves us to be in on the decision-making process from the get-go – otherwise we have no say-so in what that action can or will be and will not know how the reaction will affect us until it is too late. Perhaps if you had to dump and burn barberry by the thousands you could better understand or empathize with the example I used? Just imagine, for example, you’re a small grower having to pitch 1,000 plants at, say, $8 each. What effect did that $8,000 have when it plummeted right to the bottom line on your financial statement? Might you have been able to change that outcome if you were more educated on the invasive issue or other topics of relevance to your business? I think the answer is clearly yes.

Further, both my May column on natives and the June column on invasives touched in some way about getting all segments of the green industry to the table, listening and learning from each other and working toward solutions together in a responsible, fact-based way.

Perhaps I failed in clearly communicating my ideas in my original piece. If so, hopefully the above has brought some clarification to my thought process. In closing, I’ll quote the framed plaque in my father’s office, which says, “Wisdom Lies In The Art of Listening.” I’ve not only heard you, Mr. Sternberg, but I’ve listened and learned. Thank you so very much for your time and consideration.

Maria Zampini, president, Lake County New Plants LLC, Madison, Ohio.

On invasives

The “Tackling Invasives” article in the July, 2011, edition of American Nurseryman by Maria Zampini was a thoughtful essay on the importance of the invasives issue that faces both the green industry and the nature & nurture public as well. As Maria indicates, invasives come in many forms, from invasive plants to invasive plant pathogens and pests. This pervasiveness of invasiveness is a critical biological issue for everyone – as anyone who deals with kudzu and hogweed, emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetles, Dutch elm disease and thousand cankers disease, zebra mussels and starlings knows. As a green industry we must engage with the mosaic of people interested in and affected by invasives; we must be pro-active and part of the difficult management of invasives, including plants. As Maria indicates, one of the most difficult things to do is predicting which introductions will become invasives, and invasive plant councils throughout the country are grappling with that difficult task. A quote and paired poems from Kim Todd in “Tinkering With Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America” come to mind:

“So we should do what we can, take actions that make the most sense to us given our present understanding, proceed with caution, work to expand our peripheral vision so it takes in more species and unglimpsed possibilities, reach to see beyond the effects we hope to achieve. We should also rest assured that in the half-light at the end of the working day, no matter how we open our eyes and how finely we tune our fortune-telling instruments, no matter how many times we re-check the calculations and stretch to account for the earth complete and entire, the natural world will continue to rattle, buck, elude, and astonish us, serving up results far beyond the imagination.”

– Kim Todd

The Old World Sparrow

We hear the note of a stranger bird,

That ne’er in the land till now was heard;

A winged settler has taken his place

With Teutons and men of the Celtic race.

He has followed their path to our hemisphere –

The Old-World sparrow at last is here.

– William Cullen Bryant, 1858

The Old World Nuisance

The poet may sing in the sparrow’s praise,

But our great ornithologist, Dr. Coues, says,

In language of truth and very plain prose,

That the sparrow’s a nuisance and the sooner it goes,

The better we’re off, so to me it’s quite clear,

That the Old World sparrow is not needed here.

He defiles our porches, there’s no denying that;

He has ruined my wife’s dress and spoiled my best hat.

He hangs round the bird cage to pilfer the seed,

And gives the canary a foul insect breed.

He never eats worms, let us tell it abroad,

The Old World sparrow is a terrible fraud.

– Uncredited

– James A. Chatfield, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, Department of Plant Pathology, Northeast Region Extension.