Lost Arts studio

A lot of the fiber arts I enjoy are things like tatting, netmaking, chair caning, and even weaving, where people will come up to me when I demonstrate and solemnly tell me, "That's a lost art."

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Location: SW Outer Nowhere, Michigan, United States

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03 December 2009

Aliens!

Julie made a couple of plant posts that had me thinking about plants and other organisms that are not from around here.

My field guides call these organisms aliens. In the news you'll hear them called invasive species, but you don't hear a lot about species that invaded and naturalized so long ago that people think of them as weeds and not as invaders.

One widespread alien is the dandelion, Taraxacum officiale. The dandelion has been so widespread for so long that its native range is usually described as "Europe and Asia". I don't know about you, but on my globe that's a pretty large area.

The officinale part of the scientific name means that at some point in its past, the plant was included in an herbal that listed its useful properties.

In Joseph Miller's 1722 Botanicum officinale, he says (not sparing you the long s that looks like a letter f)

Dandelion is cooling and aperitive, good to
cleanfe the Reins and Bladder, and to provoke
Urine; it is boyl'd in Poffet-Drink, and frequent-
ly ufed by the Vulgar in all kinds of Fevers;
the Leaves beaten to a Cataplafm, are likewife
applied to the Wrists in the fame Diftempers.

Parkinfon commends a Decoction of the Leaves
and Roots in Wine or Broth for a Confumption,
or any ill Habit of Body. The young Leaves,
when they juft appear above Ground, and are
white and tender, are much coveted by many
as a Sallad, early in the Spring.


Plants like this that were useful or believed to be useful were taken along as people moved around the globe. When they got where they were going, they planted them, and if the plant spread itself, they called it "establishing" rather than invading.

We're all more aware now how this can go wrong: rabbits in Australia, eucalyptus in California.

In Michigan, the zebra mussel showed up in the ballast water of cargo ships, and now when I go to the beach, the sound of the surf has the added clinking, tinkling note of thousands of mussel shells tumbling on the sand in the waves. The sand that used to be mostly a uniform pale brown-sugar color now has a dark-colored note from the dark mussel shells.

There are a lot of species that I grew up with, and was surprised to find listed as aliens: things like weeping willow trees (China) and pheasants (also China) and oxeye daisies (Europe: and I love the scientific name, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, now Leucanthemum vulgare).

Another alien with vulgare in its name is the European starling, Sturnus vulgaris, which I find easy to remember: vulgar starling indeed. And if I'm talking vulgar birds, I have to mention feral rock doves, also known as the common or city pigeon, Columba livia.

Walking around my yard I have quite a few aliens: rhubarb (Asia), lilacs (Europe), asparagus (the Mediterranean), wolfberry (China), yew bushes, and probably a bunch more that will come up in the spring and I'll think, "Whoops, those too!"

One of the aliens people really don't think about in North America is the honey bee, another alien from Asia. We have scads (I'd say swarms, but they are mostly solitary and don't swarm) of native bees, but they don't store up honey.

I guess that's enough aliens for one day!

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3 Comments:

Blogger amy said...

Oh, the starling. You know the story? Some wingnut wanted all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to be in America, too, so he released starlings in Central Park? That's the story we got in ornithology, anyway.

My conservation biology research project was invasive species in island ecosystems. Not good. Not good at all.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

EFFING STARLINGS! They are the bane of my existence. Little bastards.

I have been known to scare the crap out of people by having swearing matches with starlings on my subway platform.

Also, I do have to mention Kudzu. Heh. (I AM from the South after all)

7:00 PM  
Blogger tatt3r said...

And let's not forget the Bighead Asian carp found in Chicago, and the resulting fish kill.

Ugh. Those things are ugly.

3:11 PM  

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