Invasive plants, politics and science

I’ve had a hectic week (taxes! financial aid!) and haven’t had a chance to think about posting.  Fortunately, yet another colleague just sent me an interesting link that’s worth sharing and discussing.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how Master Gardener programs work, they are built on volunteers who receive training in garden-related sciences and then contribute a significant number of hours to outreach education.  Many MGs work in plant clinics, and others volunteer in public gardens.  Regardless of where they spend their volunteer hours, they are always representing their sponsoring university and therefore dispense advice and follow practices based on the best available science.

This will help explain why the Master Gardeners who volunteered at the Racine Zoo felt they had to resign their volunteer positions.

(Note that the zoo is losing out on 1300+ hours/year of donated garden upkeep, but the zoo president and CEO is confident that the zoo staff can pick that up.  Wonder if he’ll be out there weeding and watering?)

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

11 thoughts on “Invasive plants, politics and science”

  1. I have to say, after reading this article, that the MG’s and the zoo staff don’t seem to be communicating very well; either that, or there is some other issue behind the gardeners leaving. The 2 non-native plants (Russian olive trees and bamboo, although they don’t say what type of bamboo) are apparently being planted as habitat and a food source for specific animal species (not native to this continent), and restricted to those animals’ cages/aviaries. This seems different to me than landscaping with invasives, and makes me wonder at the MG’s real motives.

  2. The National Zoo in Washington DC grows bamboo for forage and building material for its animals – there is signage throughout explaining it. A couple of years ago, they actually ran low and sent out a call for donations:

    If the Racine zoo believes it has justification for the invasive plant material, why not get the permit – which DNR seems willing to help them with? Certainly signage explaining its use as an exception (Educational Moment!) should alleviate any MG concerns. I understand MG’s to be a volunteer part of Extension. Does Wisconsin Extension have a position here? Frankly, I hope I’m missing something, because I’m getting an air of petulance from the MG’s in this story.

  3. Anne, part of the problem (from my perspective as an extension educator) is that zoological gardens are inherently educational. To be displaying invasive plant species (like Elaeagnus angustifolia) without some sort of signage identifying the plant as a listed noxious weed in Wisconsin is irresponsible, especially since its use is restricted by the state.If it were my time I was donating, and my expert advice was ignored, I’d probably choose a different organization to support with my time.

  4. Linda, I guess the article didn’t explain that side of the issue clearly–that the plants (if planted) should have signs explaining their exceptional usage, and also that a permit is necessary to grow the p
    lant (I’m with Ray–it’s a teachable moment, if planting those invasives is necessary to the well-being of these animals). Anyway, knowing that puts the actions of the MGs in a whole different light.

  5. As Master Gardener Volunteers, it is inherent in what we do that it be educational. One of our main goals is to bring university research based knowledge to the public. This was a great opportunity for both the zoo and the MGs to educate the public about invasive plants. It’s a shame that some agreement couldn’t be reached since it would have benefitted the public and the zoo as well.

  6. Anne, I can see your point of view as well – this is not an easy issue to resolve. (Even the field of invasion biology is contentious!) Ray and Sandy, I appreciate both your MG volunteer service and your insights. I’ll be interested to see how this particular situation plays out and will be sure to post updates.

  7. If just weeding to beautify was what the Wisconsin Master Gardeners were doing I don’t think it was a good use of their time in the first place. If what they were doing was to teach others how to weed and what to weed, etc. then that’s another thing. The main role of the Master Gardener Volunteer is to educate. Perhaps there is more to this story than just the invasives.

  8. Please forgive me for not knowing, but why is bamboo a big deal? Isn’t it relatively easy to control compared to reseeding invasives?

  9. It seems inherent there is much more to this story than is in the article… but I am curious about the bamboo, I see no bamboo on WI invasive species list… sure some bamboo is aggressive spreaders, but it so rarely goes to seed, so how is it a threat to an ecosystem? And can a caged Russian Olive be economically replaced with something else that will survive the confines of an aviary that is likely over saturated in urea? I know from experience plants have a hard time making it in naturalistic animal enclosures, after all the plants are just stage scenery and props for the stars of the show.

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