This is a field of red poppies in spring. In a farming village in Greece, this patch of land is one of very few that is left uncultivated. Poppy thrives on such abandoned land, keeping its ‘seed bank’ in the soil and popping up (it surely lives up to its name!) when things get warmer. It’s a prolific plant – one that grows in abundance – characteristic of a ‘weed’. Yet, most people find the appearance of this poppy field beautiful. A ‘beautiful weed’, in other words.
But not all weeds appear beautiful to us. Some of them are ‘native’ (they belong to the land), others ‘alien’ (they were brought in from outside, mostly by accident), but we openly express our anguish at these weeds. Rhododendron becomes ‘A Killer of the Countryside‘ in Britain; Himalayan Balsam is considered ‘Prohibited Noxious’ plant in Canada. Plantlife, a charity in the United Kingdom concerned about conservation of wild plants lists many other plants that are considered invasive and has launched a campaign for their eradication.
We also use emotive words to describe invasive species. “‘Dirty dozen’ invasive species threaten UK” goes the headline of a Cambridge study that identifies high-risk invasive aquatic plants and animals. The UK Environment Agency has even come up with a ‘hit list‘ of ten worst invasive species. In some parts of the world, we have ‘waged a war‘ on invasive species. In others, policymakers are encouraged to think about better bio-security to ‘guard against the threat of invaders’.
The words we use to describe these species are perhaps as invasive as the species themselves. These feelings of contempt, disgust or plain aggression we have towards invasive species are intriguing, not least because we, Homo sapiens, are – lets’ face it – perhaps the most invasive species that has ever lived.