clusters of scarlet berries with gold husks on vine

Bittersweet vine (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Ever been vacationing somewhere and you find some plant you think you just can’t live without?  Tempted to bring it (or a piece of it, or a seed from it) home?

I am tempted constantly!

I’m in New England this week visiting the places where I grew up.   The propagator in me sees a seed head or a cone and thinks “I could grow that! Wouldn’t it be awesome to have familiar plants from my childhood in my gardens in Montana?”

Another part of me says “I don’t think so!” knowing that the good intentioned transporting of species has been the source of countless invasive species and who’s to say whether that seed I bring home might not become the scourge of the West?

scarlet berries with gold husks hanging in bare branches

Bittersweet berries

I look at the Oriental Bittersweet all around here and think it would make a gorgeous fall wreath to take home and then remember that it has become an invasive species here by just that sort of thinking.  There’s a wetland near my sister’s house that now appears to be solid Purple Loosestrife after someone brought it into the area not too long ago.

Then there’s knapweed reportedly brought to this country by someone who loved it in their native land and wanted to bring it with them.  (It is quite pretty and makes terrific honey.)  What a mess that made in Montana!

And the beautiful horticultural species that have been planted in our yards as we try to create a cultured, cared-for look to our homes…how many of those have become wayward rogues?

twisted woody 1-2" diameter stems of Bittersweet vine

woody Bittersweet vine

What is about us that wants to take plants from one place to another?  It’s something that’s been done since man began cultivating plants.  Isn’t it ok?

I’m not that much of a purist that I believe we shouldn’t plant anything that isn’t native to our local area – or I wouldn’t have a vegetable garden – but I do believe we must be thoughtful about what species we select to bring in and we must be responsible for our actions.

Unfortunately invasive species (plants, animals, etc…) often can’t be controlled and being responsible isn’t enough.  Birds and animals transport seeds, seeds disperse beyond our purview and all of our good intentions to keep a plant under control are moot.

I admire beautiful plants from around the world.  I want to own them.  I think they would look spectacular in my gardens, and I think it’s amazing and educational to see them in other people’s gardens, but it’s important to be cautious about what we bring home!  It’s important to use native plant species that because they have evolved within their ecosystems are in balance with other species and become part of the food, habitat and resources for the surrounding environment.

Being thoughtless or careless about it may have lasting effects well beyond my lifetime.  Tempted?  Well yes, but I’ll leave that seed right where it is and work on appreciating all the wonderful species that surround me in my gardens in Montana.