7 Reasons to Rethink the Narrative of Invasive Plants

 When observing the land and trees absorbed by the invasive kudzu vine in the Southeast or fields covered by Himalayan Blackberry on the West Coast, it’s easy to see why environmentalists dislike aggressive non-native plants. The sheer enormity of them makes stewards of the land feel they must wage a war to defend the native plants from being outcompeted by the invasive’s tenacious presence. 

While this drive to protect vulnerable species and ecosystems is certainly valid, I wonder if we should reconsider the ways we’re going about things. More importantly, I believe it’s time for us to take a step back and look at invasive species from another angle.

An angle that gives us a broader plane of understanding, where we can see the many parts connecting to invasive species that enable them to grow so prolifically.

As an herbalist who deeply loves and wants to protect the land, I feel the current negative narrative and eradication methods are not sustainable for the long-term health of the land and all who occupy the land, including humans.

That is why I invite you to have an open heart and mind and to explore these 7 reasons to rethink the narrative of invasive plants. 

My First Experience With Habitat Restoration

Image Credit: Ruth Laguna/Shutterstock.

I was first introduced to the harsh reality of habit restoration when I lived in Eugene, OR, a few years ago. There was a natural forested area near my apartment, and I would walk there daily.

To my innocent perception, this place was an oasis of biodiversity in the middle of a congested city filled with houses and people and curving concrete streets. 

As someone who grew up in the country and prefers natural landscapes over cityscapes, this little forested area was a sanctuary. I fell in love with this area and became familiar with all the different friendly faces of plants and animals. 

There was a special path I liked to take that led through an English holly patch. I loved those holly shrubs with their bright red berries and dark green glossy leaves. My childhood fascination with fairy lore would come to mind whenever I would see them, as I remember reading that hollies were a “fairy tree,” and as such, they should be honored, respected, and cared for.

If the hollies were respected, the whole forest would be protected. 

I had taken a break from going on my walk, and enough time had passed for a “restoration” crew to come along and degrade the landscape I loved. Many of the trees had been cut, sprayed with herbicide, and marked with red spray paint.

All of the holly shrubs were gone. 

Image Credit: Ashley-Belle Burns/Shutterstock.

The habitat restoration crew had left a sign at the start of the path describing what they did and explained these actions were necessary for creating a “healthy habitat for native species.”

I remember feeling devastated and an overwhelming sense that this couldn’t possibly be right. I’m aware that this was the first step in a long-term restoration plan, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the harsh methods used on the environment were a step backward rather than a step forward. 

How could cutting down trees and shrubs, spraying herbicides, and red spray paint create a healthier ecosystem than what was previously existing? In my innocent perception, the ecosystem was perfect just as it was.

Sure; the hollies weren’t native, but I had seen many birds land in their branches and eat their berries. But, I, of course, would be considered ignorant for my lack of “ecological understanding.” 

I firmly believe the ecosystem was far healthier before humans intervened to “restore” it. Nonnative plants grew amongst the natives, and together they created a little haven in a concrete landscape where animals could dwell and escape the constant pressure of humans and traffic. 

This experience led me to question the current “restoration” strategies and whether these methods are truly more intelligent than the intelligence of nature.

Can humans be so arrogant to believe they know better than the natural restorative ability of Gaia?

To my surprise – humans are that arrogant – and it has led to a billion-dollar industry that is quite literally waging a war against invasive species.

I’ve dived into research on invasion ecology and have first-hand experience sitting with and trying to understand invasive plants. I’m just at the beginning of my journey, and I have a lot to learn. Nevertheless, I share these thoughts with you as a voice for the voiceless – the plants we demonize and blame – in hopes of creating a better future for us and the ecosystem. 

What are Invasive Plants?

Image Credit: Ray Geiger/Shutterstock.

Invasive plants are defined by the U.S Forest Service as, “Non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration; and, whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” 

These “invasives” are in your backyard (dandelions are a good example), in the cracks of cement in sprawling cityscapes, in and around agricultural fields, and in protected wilderness areas. They are seen as a threat to biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and native plant species.

They are even blamed for degraded water quality, increased soil erosion, poor quality agricultural lands, and recreation opportunities. 

I believe each of these supposed impacts needs a hard look at, for there are many players in the game of habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, agriculture, soil erosion, and degraded water quality. 

Are we blaming the invasives rather than looking at the bigger and more problematic situations that are severely impacting what they say invasive plants threaten? 

7 Reasons to Rethink the Narrative of Invasive Plants

harvesting goldenrod
Image Credit: fotodrobik/Shutterstock.

Each of the following points is simply an introduction to these ideas. Keep this in mind, as to dive into each of these ideas more thoroughly goes beyond the scope of this article alone. Let these ideas stir your thoughts – if you’re interested in diving deeper, I include some books and articles to check out below. 

Many of the reasons given to eradicate invasive species are face-value and linear. But, if you take a step back and look at the larger picture, you’ll see that these invasive plants are just one part of a much bigger threat to the ecosystem. 

The following points will highlight not only the bigger problems at play but also how shifting our perspective of invasive species can lead to greater, more sustainable healing for the land.  

1. Invasive Species are a Symptom, Not a Disease

As a holistic herbalist, I believe true healing results from looking at the root determinant of a disease, not just masking the symptoms of the disease. 

There’s no doubt that the world is suffering, and our climate is changing. One result of this changing world is the presence of invasive species.

So often, invasive species are blamed for the loss of biodiversity and the potential extinction of native species. But, rather than pointing our fingers at invasive plants, we can look at them as symptoms of a greater disease afflicting the ecosystem. 

What is this disease? Habitat loss due to agriculture and timber production, mining, industrialization, building developments, pollution, chemical factories, pipelines, and oil rigs – just to name a few.

Our current system is based on resource extraction and a blatant disregard for the habitats where those resources are taken. That is the bigger problem at play. 

Symptoms are a language; they show us where an imbalance is occurring or has occurred. I believe invasive species are doing the same – they tell an ecological story of an imbalanced and changing landscape. 

In herbal medicine, a symptom is seen as a vitally intelligent response of the body trying to heal itself. I would go so far as to say invasive plant species are doing the same – they are an intelligent response of Nature. They are serving a specific role in the healing of the land, even if we can’t comprehend what that role might be.

But again, if we see them only as “bad” and something to “eradicate,” we miss the opportunity to look at the ecosystem objectively and discover the role these invasive plants have. 

“Focusing on eradicating … invasive species masks the difficulty of addressing the multiple and serious challenges posed by climate change, habitat degradation, and widespread pollution engendered by our modern civilization. A holistic invasive species management strategy addresses these complex processes and so has the potential to achieve truly restored ecosystems, rather than land prone to perpetual reinvasion and the need to be ‘controlled’ by herbicide or other eradication measures.” 

Tao Orion, Beyond The War on Invasive Species

I say that we should be thankful that there are plants hardy enough to grow in disturbed, nutrient-depleted landscapes. If it wasn’t for them, we would have stark scars across the landscape (besides the ones already there). 

Rather than seeing an abandoned field full of weeds and scoffing at it, we should be grateful they are there to protect the soil. They are the first responders to a devastated ecosystem; in this, their purpose aligns with our own: to restore natural habitat. 

2. Invasive Species Fill An Ecological Niche

Image Credit: KRIACHKO OLEKSII/Shutterstock.

With invasive species seen as a threat to the environment, it’s assumed that they don’t have any beneficial ecological purposes. This is simply false and perhaps overlooked to fuel the negative perspective of invasive species. 

Once the mind believes something and an identity is created with that belief, a person might feel threatened if another opposing idea or belief is presented, for their very sense of self is at risk. I see this happening with the idea that invasive plant species serve a beneficial role in the ecosystem – egos and identity-based beliefs are threatened. 

I mention this because to truly learn from the land and study invasive plants with open curiosity, we must let go of mental conditioning that labels them as “bad” and “threatening,” as that automatically limits the view of the observer. This idea is noted in the research study, The Potential Conservation Value of Non-Native Species, by the State University of New York and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry: 

Scientific and societal perceptions of non-native species have likely impeded consideration of the potential beneficial effects of non-native species. Most scientists investigating the effects of non-native species try to conduct their work objectively; nevertheless, several authors have demonstrated that a bias persists against non-native species among scientists (Slobodkin 2001; Gurevitch & Padilla 2004; Stromberg et al. 2009). These biases are reflected in the assumptions commonly made about the intrinsic and instrumental values of non-native species, the

language used when describing them, and in the types of studies conducted (Sagoff 2005). … Finally, the language used to describe non-native species in the scientific literature is frequently scattered with militarized and xenophobic expressions (e.g., ‘war on aliens’ and ‘American ecosystems under siege by alien invaders’) (e.g., Peretti 1998; Krajick 2005; Larson 2005).

It’s not that we shouldn’t plant native species or want to protect them, but it’s understanding that plants are neither “good” nor “bad” and that all plants play a functional role in the ecosystem. 

Many invasive plants fill a variety of ecological purposes and niches, including preventing soil erosion, providing habitat and food for animals and insects, and improving soil and water quality by removing toxins and heavy metals. 

For example, invasive tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) growing in riparian areas in the southwestern United States is believed to, “Reduce habitat quantity and quality for native riparian species,” including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, an endangered bird. 

However, field studies showed just the opposite was true. Research noted in The Potential Conservation Value of Non-Native Species found that “75% of the Southwestern Willow Flycatchers nest in tamarisk and that fledging success associated with nests built in tamarisk was indistinguishable from success associated with nests built in native trees.” 

Another example is that native fruit-eating birds in Central Pennsylvania have come to depend on invasive honeysuckles as a food source in the fall. The study conducted by Penn State found that “returning this particular ecosystem to its honeysuckle-free state could harm many species of native birds that now seem to rely on honeysuckle as a major food source in the fall.” 

These are just two of the many invasive plants across North America that have specific studies conducted on them to determine their beneficial role in the ecosystem. I believe more objective research must be conducted to see how an invasive species interacts with its environment to determine if it is truly a “threat” to the ecosystem as previously believed. 

These benefits must be weighed against the “cons,” so to speak, to better manage the species going forward. Otherwise, it’s entirely possible that removing the invasive species through intensive measures may do more harm than good. 

3. Current Eradication Methods May Cause More Harm than Good

Image Credit: Jaden Schaul/Shutterstock.

Current invasive species management strategies involve mechanical and chemical approaches. Mechanical approaches include hand-pulling, cutting, burning, and forestry mowing. Chemical approaches include applications of herbicides, such as glyphosate, 2,4-D, Imazapyr, and many others. 

Unfortunately, chemical application on invasive species is a common and favored approach for eradication because it’s cost-effective, quick, and less labor-intensive than other methods. However, a whole article – or book – could be dedicated to the harmful effects of herbicides on the environment and human health. 

Several research articles show the detrimental effects herbicides have on the soil microbiome, aquatic life, and human health. Because herbicides are used in large amounts every year in the agriculture industry, they have made their way into the watershed and our food.

Glyphosate and other herbicides have been found in human urine, breast milk, and skin tissue. While ecosystem restoration workers might claim the amount of herbicides they use is insignificant to the amount used in the agriculture industry, they’re still perpetuating the issue of herbicides in the soil and water. 

If you think about the definition of an invasive species (“the potential to cause harm to the environment and human health”) and the well-documented adverse effects of herbicides on the environment, you’ll see that this common “restoration” method fits the same definition of invasive species. 

Furthermore, invasive species are seen as a threat to biodiversity, yet research finds that one of the world’s most widely used glyphosate-based herbicides, Roundup, is also a threat to biodiversity and can make ecosystems more vulnerable to pollution and climate change. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that vulnerable ecosystems are more prone to invasion. Considering these findings, one must question if the tactics used to eradicate invasive plants (applications of herbicides) weaken the habitat one is trying to restore and make it more prone to reinvasion. 

So this begs the question, why are we using chemical methods if they knowingly cause damage to the environment? The answer lies in the connection between land management agencies, agriculture, and big chemical companies.

It’s too much to dive into in this article alone, so I invite you to read Beyond the War on Invasive Species by Tao Orion, where she explores this interesting relationship in “Chapter 1, Against All Ethics

Even mechanical approaches, such as forestry mowing, can escalate an already imbalanced environment. Invasive plants thrive in disturbed ecosystems. Forestry mowing massively disturbs and compacts the soil, making it a prime habitat for pioneer invasive plants to sprout. Moreover, forest mowing disturbs the habitat of native animals and insects who live in the areas that are being mowed and force them to move to another area due to habitat loss. 

When looking at the “eradication” strategies posed to control invasive species, it’s important to ask, “Is this causing more harm than good?” What are the negative effects of these eradication methods compared to the negative effects of the invasive species? 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t attempt to manage certain invasive species. Rather, I’m inviting us to approach the topic of invasive species management more consciously and holistically. 

In Beyond the War on Invasive Species, Tao Orion shares permaculture approaches to invasive species management, which includes permaculture ethics: care for the planet, care for people, and reinvest surplus energy, money, and other resources into regenerative systems.

I believe these permaculture ethics and approaches toward ecosystem restoration are much more holistic and sustainable than our current eradication practices. 

By re-evaluating our current eradication strategies, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future that considers the big picture as well as all the life that is affected by eradicating invasive species from an ecosystem. 

4. Invasive Species May Be Better Suited for a Changing Climate

Image Credit: luchschenF/Shutterstock.

Most if not all, invasive species share similar traits in that they are generally more hardy, drought tolerant, and can withstand extreme temperature changes compared to native species. 

Our climate is changing, and we’re already seeing the effects of global warming through rising sea levels, more consistent extreme weather, and drastic temperature fluctuations. 

The environment and climate today are not what they were a few hundred years ago. The land has drastically changed due to industrialization, mass agriculture, timber production, mining, and oil drilling, which have all contributed to increased pollution in the water, soil, and air. 

It may be that certain plants, such as invasive species, are more capable of withstanding the aftereffects of such damage to the land, as well as a changing climate. 

Non-native species could come to fill important ecosystem and aesthetic functions, particularly in places where native species cannot persist due to environmental changes. Indeed, some non-native species may be preadapted or adapt rapidly to the novel ecological conditions (Byers 2002). Furthermore, the ability of non-native species to tolerate and adapt to a broad range of biotic and abiotic conditions, as well as to expand their ranges rapidly, suggests they may persist under a variety of future climate scenarios (Duke & Mooney 1999; Muth & Pigliucci 2007; Williams & Jackson 2007).

Schlaepfer, Sax & Olden, The Potential Conservation Value of Non-Native Species, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry

This point requires more research, field study, and analysis of the bigger picture of invasion ecology as it relates to a changing climate. Nevertheless, I believe it has enough merit to make us reconsider current eradication strategies and instead turn those efforts into considering how these plants may be better adapted to polluted areas and perhaps play a key role in bioremediation. 

For example, the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is largely despised for its tenacious ability to grow in a variety of soil conditions, including nutrient-depleted and polluted soils. Yet, can accumulate mercury in its tissues, and its leaves concentrate sulfur dioxide, a common component of car exhaust and coal power plant effluent (Orion, 171).

In this way, this incredible tree can assist in bioremediation of toxic soils. 

According to the book Invasive Plant Medicine by Timothy Lee Scott,

There … appears to be evidence of its [tree of heaven] ability to clean other heavy-metal influences in the soil and water, for it thrives where few others can even take root. In preliminary in vitro testing for phytoremediation work, ailanthus exposed to the heavy metals copper, zinc, and magnesium demonstrated a tolerance comparable to species already utilized in the field. The plant is now being explored for remediation of a wide range of toxins due to the tree’s high tolerance for a variety of extreme conditions and contaminations.

Along with its ability to accumulate heavy metals, tree of heaven is a medicinal plant and a host plant for the silk-bearing ailanthus moth, which could be used for fiber production and boost the economy in inner cities, which is one area where it’s the most prolific.

Considering this, we may be able to better manage invasive species if we simply use them as a valuable and readily available resource. 

5. Invasive Plants are Valuable Resources of Food, Medicine, and Fiber 

Image Credit: Lost Mountain Studio/Shutterstock.

Our industrialized society has become increasingly disconnected from its roots – our food is transported from monocultures hundreds to thousands of miles away, our medicine is made in labs by combining isolated chemicals, and forests around the world are being cut to meet the building and fiber demands of a growing population.

Clothes are made out of plastic and monoculture cotton, often by child laborers in foreign countries. 

We are disconnected from the essential aspects of life, so much so that we are blind to the wild and massively available resources growing in our backyards. Instead, we spray them with herbicides and cut them down, adding further to the devastation of the land and Earth as a whole. 

The current narrative of invasive plants as “bad” and “foreign invaders” escalates this separation, for if we only change our perspective from eradicating invasive species to open curiosity, we’ll realize that there is much to learn about the individual uses of many, if not all, the invasive species in North America and the globe.

By actively using invasive species as valuable resources, more community members can help manage them and lessen their spread. 

For example, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a common invasive herbaceous plant in the Great Lakes region and northeast and prefers to grow in shady hardwood forests. Garlic mustard is prolific and can form dense colonies, which lends to the belief that it outcompetes native understory plants. 

Garlic mustard is also a highly nutritious wild edible and one of the first edible greens to arrive in the spring. According to wild food forager John Kallas, Ph.D.,

Garlic mustard is one of the most nutritious leafy greens ever analyzed. … There are no greens higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc. Just to hammer in the point – garlic mustard beats spinach, broccoli leaves, collards, turnip greens, kale, and domesticated mustard for all these nutrients, and it is very high in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and manganese

Rather than promoting wild and nutritious food with proper education around identification and harvesting, most local conservation groups spray this plant with herbicides.

Even if the public were to become aware on their own of its importance as a local, fresh green, it’s unsafe to harvest it because of how often it is sprayed, leading to contaminated soils where it grows. 

Some state parks promote “invasive pulls” that bring in local communities to hand-pull invasive species. I hope this encourages other nature centers to do the same and take it one step further by educating about the medicinal and nutritional value of these plants. That way, each volunteer can take home their bounty with proper education about how to utilize and prepare the plant. 

Why is this weedy vegetable [garlic mustard] such a problem here? The big answer is that we are not eating enough of it. If we ate more of this plant, its spread would be severely limited.

John Kallas, Ph.D., Edible Wild Plants 

Interestingly enough, one of the arguments against garlic mustard is that it inhibits the growth of other plant species by destroying the soil fungi that many native trees need for germination and growth. Yet, herbicides do the same thing to the soil and also destroy soil fungi – what an interesting paradox. 

Another example of a valuable medicinal and edible invasive plant is Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Remarkably, this is one of the best-known herbs for supporting those with Lyme Disease.

While difficult to harvest, it’s proving to be an invaluable remedy for this serious autoimmune disease. Moreover, herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of Healing Lyme, believes that this plant, “tends to move into infected areas six months to one year prior to the arrival of the disease” (Scott, 223). 

Just like the roots of Japanese Knotweed dig deep into the soil and cleanse the earth of toxins, it penetrates, cleanses, and eliminates toxic accumulations in the body. Japanese Knotweed encourages the functioning of eliminatory processes, such as the liver and gallbladder, to effectively break down waste matter and prepare it for elimination via the circulatory, lymphatic, and digestive systems. … this (Japanese knotweed) might be one of the most important herbs … for treating Lyme as it is a potent antiviral, assisting in killing the infection, provides immunomodulating properties, stimulates the capillaries to increase blood flow where the Lyme spirochetes ‘hide’ and crosses the blood-brain barrier to protect the central nervous system from the associated neurological complications this disease can cause.

Sajah Popham, Issue #52 Japanese Knotweed, Materia Medica Monthly, School of Evolutionary Herbalism, 2022

Furthermore, due to Japanese knotweed’s tendency to form mass colonies that are difficult to remove, whether by shovel, forestry mower, or herbicides (the tenacious roots deep within the soil simply resprout), herbalist and author of Invasive Plant Medicine, Timothy Lee Scott has other ideas on how we can utilize this plant.

Scott proposes we should, “Explore Japanese knotweed’s use as biomass fuel and its use in the creation of electricity (instead of diverting food crops to this industry)due to its prolific growth and widespread abundance. 

Japanese knotweed can also be used for bioremediation because of its ability to transform and cleanse heavily contaminated soils. 

It [Japanese knotweed] has been shown to tolerate and actually clean soils contaminated with zinc, lead, and copper and is found throughout old copper and zinc mine areas and along notoriously polluted streams.

Timothy Lee Scott, Invasive Plant Medicine

Given these examples, it’s clear to me that if we redirect resources and funding from eradicating invasive species with toxic chemicals and turn those resources into studying invasive plant’s beneficial uses for polluted areas and their uses for human welfare as food, medicine, and fiber, we can find solutions to a variety of issues humans and the environment faces. 

6. We Cannot Remake the Past; We Must Be Present to What Is & Plan for a Better Future

Image Credit: Margarita Young/Shutterstock.

Restoration projects involve disturbing an ecosystem by eradicating invasive species to restore the land back to its native habitat. That sounds good and fine at face value, but if you start to really think about that goal, you’ll find the many faults in that objective. 

To start, at what period are we referring to when we wish to restore the land back to its native habitat? Most often, this implies the pre-Columbian era when America was believed to be an “untouched wilderness.”

Not only is this a false ideal, for Indigenous people of North, Central, and South America have been influencing the land for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers, but the soil, landscape, and climate have dramatically changed from that time. 

I believe it is a fruitless effort to try and restore habitat to what it once was, which is often an imagined ecosystem that isn’t congruent with the current reality of things. Agriculture, timber production, and mining have severely impacted the soil to the point where the soil, even in protected wilderness areas, is not what it was when settlers first arrived. 

The soil ecology has changed, and native plants may not be able to survive or thrive as they once did because of this. In many ways, if we wish to “restore” habitat, that starts with the soil, and spraying herbicides or degrading and compacting the land with forestry mowers isn’t going to improve soil health. 

On the other hand, certain invasive plants might be able to improve soil health over long periods, which is what I believe one of their ecological purposes is. Why else would so many invasive plants be able to grow in toxic, polluted areas and be able to extract those toxins and heavy metals from the soil? 

Restoration projects also have the goal of creating a healthy, diverse ecosystem. This is a worthy objective, but I don’t believe we’ll reach it by trying to remake the past. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t look to the past at all.

On the contrary, I believe it’s vitally important for us to learn from our past ecological mistakes as well as learn Indigenous land stewardship practices. 

We can take those lessons and apply them to the future, but to properly do this, we must be present to what is. By focusing on the imagined past, we are not being present in the here and now.

Through simple observation and presence, we can understand better how the ecology has changed. We can focus on what it is today rather than viewing it through the lens of “it shouldn’t be this way.” 

By being present with what is, we can be realistic about the state of the soil, the health of the land, and the changing climate. With this awareness, we can make holistic and intelligent decisions around land management, which takes into account the ecological purpose of invasive species and how they relate to imbalanced and unhealthy ecosystems.

Remember – the invasive isn’t the cause of an unhealthy ecosystem; it is a response to it. Simply eliminating the response or symptom won’t address the underlying cause. 

7. Invasive Species are Here to Stay

Image Credit: MAXSHOT.PL/Shutterstock.

In my last point on why we should rethink the narrative of invasive plants, I want to emphasize that invasive plants are here to stay. This is clear with well-established species like phragmites and many others.

Many of these opportunistic plants germinate in more ways than one, including seed dispersal and spreading rhizomes, which makes them quite difficult to successfully remove from an ecosystem. Moreover, many weedy plant seeds are viable in the soil seed bank and will germinate upon disturbance after many years.

Some seeds are viable for a few decades, while others are viable for hundreds of years. For example, viable common mullein seeds (Verbascum thapsus – described as both invasive and naturalized), “Have been found in soil samples archaeologically dated from A.D 1300.” 

Invasive plants are highly opportunistic and have adapted to grow in harsh, disturbed environments. They’re likely to show up anywhere there is disturbance, both natural and man-made. 

Considering this, I wonder if it’s time to shift our efforts from eradicating invasive species to understanding their role in the environment, including their potential benefits. Moreover, if they’re here to stay, why not consider other uses for them, such as fiber, medicine, fuel, or food? That way, we are still exercising some control over their spread but are doing so in a much more productive way that benefits the whole. 

It’s also important to mention that many non-native plants aren’t considered invasive but have become naturalized, such as broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). However, this is a bit of a grey area as different conservationists have differing opinions on which plants are naturalized vs invasive. 

Many of the invasive plants we see today are somewhat “new” arrivals to North America, while naturalized non-native plants have been here long enough to find a fitting place in the ecosystem. Considering this, we must ask, “At what point does an invasive species become naturalized?” 

If other weeds can find their place in the ecosystem, isn’t it entirely possible for invasive species to do the same? Perhaps the answer is that we need to give the land more time to adjust to their arrival and consider that Earth’s timeline is much longer than our own. 

I firmly believe that the Earth – this vitally intelligent Earth – is always striving towards balance. Perhaps we should put our trust not in our own understanding, but in something beyond us – something that is far more intelligent than our minds alone, whether that be God, Gaia, or the Universe (whatever word best fits for you).

We need to understand that Nature doesn’t make mistakes, that Earth is, at minimum, 3.5 billion years old, and that Earth has been engaging in this process a lot longer than our species has existed. We have to understand that what we are looking at predates the human, that Gaian timelines are much longer than ours. We need to understand that processes that no scientists understand are occurring on both very large and very small scales. We have to step outside the human paradigm if we are to understand what is occurring with the appearance and behavior of any plant we encounter. So, when we see ‘invasive’ plants moving wholesale into new ecosystems, we need to ask, in all humility, ‘What are they doing? What is their purpose?

Forward by Stephen Harrod Buhner for Invasive Plant Medicine by Timothy Lee Scott

Further Learning: 

Articles about the Harmful Effects of Herbicides: 

Research Articles: 


  • Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration by Tao Orion 
  • Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott
  • Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas, Ph.D.
  • Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America by Samuel Thayer 
  • The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines by Matthew Wood  
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As an herbalist, my goal is to connect people with the healing powers of nature. Through my writings and herbal concoctions, I aim to guide others toward a healthier lifestyle using time-honored methods. With over four years of experience studying herbalism and organic gardening, I offer my knowledge to inspire others to explore the natural world, cultivate their own gardens, and rediscover their bond with the earth.