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Blueberries in fall color

Victory over the plant police – for now at least

Yes, a victory for opposition to proposals from the plant police to add all cotoneasters to the British list of banned plants. The government has had the power to ban the sale of specific invasive plants since 2006, although at the moment no such bans are in place. So I’m talking about the list of plants which it is illegal to "plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild". And they wanted all cotoneasters (below, click to enlarge) on the list as well as all crocosmias and a wide range of other plants.

Cotoneaster,conspicuous. Image © (all rights reserved)
An announcement on which plants are to be banned from sale was expected this month but has been delayed till spring. In the meantime, the suggestion that it should be illegal to plant in the wild or allow to escape into the wild all 337 different cotoneasters and all 289 different crocosmias that have been grown in Britain in recent years has been scuppered. Quite right too. The list also included, bizarrely, the British native sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides. Not much expertise went into creating that list!

But then, after representations from a wide range of interested bodies, just five species of cotoneaster plus all 126 cultivars of Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora (below, click to enlarge) are included.

Crocosmia,Fuchsia,invasive,Ireland. Image ©Sunny Wieler/Stone Art's Blog (all rights reserved)

One interesting element of all this is that little phrase “cause to grow in the wild”. So if you plant that old favorite Cotoneaster horizontalis in your garden and a bird eats the berries and drops the seed, say, in a nearby hedgerow and the seed grows – then you’ve broken the law. So it’s been suggested – yes, really - that to avoid any risk of breaking the law you should snip all the berries off your cotoneasters! Errr… don’t think so.

Crocosmias usually spread into the wild when people dump them by the side of the road – and that is certainly unforgivable. You now see them all over Ireland. And the same applies to Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) (below, click to enlarge), one of three plants that are such a problem that the Royal Horticultural Society has banned then from sale at their shows and plant centres, even though the government has not. The others are Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) (at the end, click to enlarge). These are genuine horrors.

Japanese,knotweed,Fallopia,invasive. Image © (all rights reserved)

But the RHS reminds us of one of the other major issues underlying all this. “Quercus pubescens … requires high summer temperatures to set seed. If our summers do get warmer it may have a significant effect on areas of lowland beech which are already suffering drought stress in many areas.” All over the world, the distribution patterns of plants and animals are starting to change in response to climate change. It seems likely that at the other end of its range in southern Europe, it may be becoming too hot for Quercus pubescens. And perhaps our native beech, Fagus sylvatica, is also moving into cooler areas.

Needless to say the European Union is also getting in on the act, an EU Directive on invasive species is on the way and at present it looks as if it will introduce a black list of species that will apply across the whole European Union without any allowance for climatic differences. This is like the US Federal Government banning anyone in the whole country from growing certain plants. This is clearly mad. Here in Pennsylvania we can rarely get buddleias to survive the winter; they may need banning in Oregon, for example, but not here. The EU displays a basic ignorance…

Well… plenty of issues covered here today. I think I feel a whole book coming on. But it’s easy to get carried away with this stuff. The people who want to rip out any plants that are not native in a particular county or zap them with RoundUp certainly get carried away. And I get carried away pointing out that it’s not that simple and highlighting the more ludicrous elements of the whole business.

And I’ll be on the look out for that “banned from sale” list when it appears. I’ll probably have something to say about it – don’t you think?

  Heracleum,giant hogweed,invasive. Image ©GerardM/GNU Free Documentation License. (all rights reserved)

Thanks to © Sunny Wieler from Stone Art's Blog for the crocosmia image. Read the full post, which is mostly about (non-native) fuchsias in Ireland.

And thanks to GerardM for making his Heracleum mantegazzianum image available under a GNU Free Documentation License.