Sunday, July 4, 2010


Americans should be proud of our country...or at least of our native fauna. I know those of us lucky enough to have a backyard will be using it for BBQs and parties. Fair enough. But a garden party to plant wildflowers could be fun too.
But those of us too tired to plant or do much of anything may just be sitting back and wondering on this July 4th, 'What does it mean to be American?' (maybe not so much as pondering who's getting the next six pack). But nonetheless a relevant questio
n. How can we define our country? Lady Bird Johnson famously said "I want Texas to look like Texas and Vermont to look like Vermont."

I think one of the greatest aspects to this country is it's diversity and tolerance of differences--at least in NYC ! 'So if diversity is so great why do we need to stick to native plants? What's wrong with planting Japanese Barberry?' you may be asking. Well diversity is great and necessary on many levels. That's why we have to be so wary of monocultures. Speaking of culture, a good example of a culturally invasive species is McDonalds. It
comes into a foreign place with unique cuisine and traditions and flattens it into a hamburger that tastes the same as the hamburgers they serve in Sweden, Chile, Japan, and Kansas. Do we really want the people of Kabul to eat the same as the people of Kansas? W
hen I travel I see the same stores next to highways all over the globe; McD's, H&M, Burger King, Starbucks, Target, etc....Not only is culture being eroded by commercialism but so is language. The rate of language extinction has now reached the unprecedented worldwide level of 10 every year. Some people predict that 50 to 90 per cent of today’s 6,000 spoken languages will disappear during this century.

All of this is just a way to help you understand that celebrating what's native, and what's unique is celebrating diversity. Just as McDonalds can be found almost anywhere on the globe, displacing completely unique and culturally important cuisine, Japanese Barberry can be found almost anywhere displacing native woodland species, both beautiful and ecologically important. The tragedy of invasive species is that what's displaced now may never be able to come back. It may also take many other aspects of life down with it. For example, the Spicebush Swallowtail needs the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) to feed its larvae. So if the spicebush is displaced by the Barberry then no more Spicebush Swallowtail. This insect disappearance can seriously effect the whole ecological food chain.

One species I always appreciate on the Fourth of July, more than the fireworks, are the fireflies in the backyards of Brooklyn. I hope those lights will never go extinct.

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