Gene Logsdon: Invasion of the Paranoids

The Contrary Farmer

Have you been invaded yet? If not, brace yourself because you soon will be. There are so many enemies approaching from all directions that there is no escape. It is not proper for me to make fun of something that is not funny, but since I have been invaded too, maybe I can be forgiven. Currently, my favorite danger of the day is the Invasion of the Tumbleweeds. No, really. It did happen in Colorado and to the ranchers there it’s not a bit funny. I quote from an Associated Press story: “Mini-storms of tumbleweed have invaded the drouth-stricken prairie of southern Colorado, blocking rural roads and irrigation canals…”  I now sing one of my favorite songs with my fingers crossed: “Drifting along with the tum-ble-ling tum-ble-weeds… Cares of the past are behind, nowhere to go but I’ll find, just where the trail will wi-ind….”  Cares of the past are behind? No more. Today, the trail always winds back to more trouble.

If you have not been invaded by tumbleweeds, maybe you are in the path of the feral hog invasion. This too is not at all funny even if I can’t help laughing a wee bit. Hogs that have gone wild are costing us $1.5 billion a year, says another AP story,  including $800 million to farms in some 39 states. No amount of hunting has so far been the least bit effective in stopping their spread. (I wonder if anyone has tried drones.) I bet I’m not the only person who hopes the disease that is killing thousands of domestic pigs (PEDv, whatever that means) spreads into the wild population.

Oh, your area hasn’t yet been invaded by PEDv? Lucky you. And I absolutely refuse to say anything about the climate change invasion.

One of the “new” threats turning American society spastic is the Invasion of the Giant Hogweed. (Great title for a movie and indeed it says on Google that there was a song popular in England in 1971 called “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” sort of making fun of the whole subject.) Even its scientific name, Heracleum mantegazzianum, is enough to fill a happy soul with dread. This  invasive weed is creeping toward us, out of Europe, by way of Canada, originating thousands of years ago in Asia. It is the ancientness of the weed that Americans don’t grasp right away. If it were going to overwhelm us, it would have done so in Europe way before now. The juice or sap in a giant hogweed can blister and scar the human skin and if it gets into your eyes, might blind you. Scary indeed but if we just stop and think a little, Europe and Asia still seem to be quite free of any epidemic of blindness. If you rubbed poison ivy juice in your eyes I imagine you’d be in deep trouble too.

Giant hogweed (does anyone know how it got that name?) looks like Queen Anne’s lace but bigger. Sort of pretty in fact if I can go by the Google illustrations. History says it was deliberately introduced into France because it makes an attractive garden plant and also is a good honey source. Our Department of Agriculture says that livestock and pigs can eat the weed without harm, so if herbicides won’t kill it, (not sure about that yet) fight fire with fire and counterattack with grazing hogs. Another great movie title: Giant Hogweed Meets Giant Hog. And I know one herbicide that no weed is immune to: the hoe.

Our place has been invaded by poison hemlock and at first I was alarmed. After all, look what it did to Socrates. I lost two ewes before I knew I had been attacked, but in all truth, I am still not sure they died from eating hemlock. I never could completely control the invasion because flood waters along the creek brought in new seed every spring. The books said it would take something like a half pound or so to kill a sheep, and it is the seeds that are most toxic. In fact I noticed that my sheep would actually nibble a little hemlock in the spring without apparent harm. So I nibbled too. But even just a tiny speck was so bitter I involuntarily spat it out instantly. I can’t imagine anything with a tongue eating more than a little bit of it and as for the fear of children getting poisoned, you can’t get them to eat tasty broccoli.

If you have escaped giant hogweed and poison hemlock, you can’t breathe easily. There are still too many invasives to keep track of:  spotted knapweed, tree of heaven (tree of hell), marestail, water hemp, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, and bush honeysuckle, to name a few. But so far the world has survived them all fairly well.  I have long ago quit wringing my hands in useless worry.  If you read enough herbals, half the plants out there are somewhat toxic to some animals and people, or at some time in their development, or under certain circumstances.  ‘Invasive’ often turns out to be a synonym for ‘undesirable in my situation’. Some people, intent upon reestablishing a natural oak opening landscape in my part of the world, consider even maple trees invasive. I can understand that even if I don’t altogether agree. Because maple will stand a lot of shade, it can be overpowering sometimes. The most invasive super-weeds in our gardens, next to woodland, are valuable hardwood trees. They sprout all over, like thistles and grow as fast as corn. I have cut off a black walnut seedling fourteen times in the asparagus patch (yes I counted) and it grew back every time.  It makes me want to say nice things about Roundup.

What we are dealing with in modern society is an invasion of too much information that is only partially true or not well understood. It is causing an epidemic of paranoia.


One Comment

Japanese Knotweed, another “invasive” plant that envelopes the hillsides with its lush greenery and lacy, white flowers comes to mind. The honey that comes from this plant’s flower is the most deliciously mild and flowery tasting honey, ever. That’s an opinion from an avowed honey hater, too.