Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fine Dining with Invasive Species

Bullfrog legs with blackberry sauce.

            Imagine cooking up a Thanksgiving meal using only invasive species. Some of them are edible, but it would be a culinary challenge with the invaders now established in Oregon. Anyone for stuffed starling with dandelion and garlic mustard greens? Would you like a side of Himalayan blackberry glazed bullfrog legs with that? I think I’ll pass.

Oregonians have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Not only do we live in a beautiful state, we share it with relatively few undesirable invasives.We have non-native weeds and pests, but not nearly as many as most other places. We should all be grateful for that.

Oregonians should be thankful our environment is relatively healthy. The trees in our forests are the same ones that have been here for centuries. The Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, and western white oak around us today are the same species (and some of the same trees!) that were here when Native Americans were the only humans in Oregon. This could change; already tanoak and Port Orford cedar are threatened by sudden oak death and Port Orford cedar root rot.

Oregonians that travel for the holidays will visit places where invasive pests and diseases have changed the composition of plants and animals in the environment. Eastern forests provide numerous examples. Chestnut blight, gypsy moth, hemlock wooly adelgid, beech bark disease, and white pine blister rust have forever changed the species composition and degraded the health of eastern forests. Much of the reason for this difference is historical. Intercontinental trade and travel, a key pathway for invasive species, has a longer history on the East Coast. We should be thankful the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts.

We should also be thankful our waterways are in pretty good shape. We don’t have zebra or quagga mussels. We don’t have Asian carp. We don’t have Chinese mitten crabs. Most of our waterways are still dominated by native species. Again that is not the case in many other parts of the world. The Great Lakes are a good example where ecological health and fishing have suffered due to multiple invasions of harmful species.

There are a lot of other problem species that we don’t have thanks to government-run early detection and eradication programs. Some of the harmful species that have been found in Oregon, but eradicated before they became permanently established, include: gypsy moth, Japanese beetle, granualate ambrosia beetle, and kudzu. Battles to eradicate feral swine, African rue, giant hogweed, purple starthistle, distaff thistle, yellowtuft, and Patterson’s curse are ongoing. We should all be thankful for the dedicated people that are fighting back on our behalf.

We should also be grateful that the general public and our elected leaders are waking up to the threat of invasive species. Ten years ago, few people were aware that biological pollution was a growing problem.  Thanks to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Oregon Invasive Species Council, the Statesman Journal, Oregon Sea Grant, and many other organizations and media outlets, the word is getting out. Not everybody understands how an individual’s actions can make a difference (see last week’s blog), but we’ve definitely turned a corner on public awareness. Our children are getting the message too; Oregon teachers are spreading the word to their students. Oregon State University and Portland State University have been outstanding champions helping to understand and combat sudden oak death, Spartina, purple loosestrife, gypsy moth, and small broomrape.

We should also be thankful for signs that industries in Oregon are paying attention and beginning to step up. The Oregon nursery industry, for instance, taxes itself so that an emergency fund is available to address future invasions. They also helped produce a free publication, GardenSmart Oregon, a Guide to Non-invasive Plants*.  

I hate to say this, but we’re also lucky that so many of our weeds are not bad looking. You have to admit that Scotch broom, gorse, English ivy, and butterfly bush are way better looking than lots of other weeds. Even Himalayan blackberry has an up side when the berries are ripe. However, I’m less thrilled with them now knowing that invasive spotted winged drosophila larvae might be infesting my invasive blackberry fruit!

Let's go back to the idea of feasting on invasive species. If we open the floodgates, we could expand the menu! Wild boar with Chinese mitten crab stuffing anyone? Snakehead with African honey bee-honey glaze? Still not interested? Me neither. Let’s keep ‘em out!

Dan Hilburn
*Available from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem 97301 or <>

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