Even with a surprisingly mild El Niño, various issues affecting both manmade and natural environments arose this winter and spring season that made me ponder about the environmental challenges landscape architects face. One topic that comes to mind is the hotly debated issue of invasive vs. native species– the worry invasive species or plant cultivar will continue taking over our native landscapes, and in the process, impact the native flora and fauna. Landscape architects are well acquainted with an extensive list of invasive plants and species as a checklist, but perhaps our field needs to reconsider the importance of invasive life.

Scotch Broom Plant

The Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius), while quite beautiful when blooming and pleasant in scent, is in fact an invasive species from Europe and North Africa. It’s done quite well adapting to Southern California’s climate.

Let me first define what an invasive species actually is:

“…A plant, fungus, or animal species that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species), and which has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health.”

In concept an invasive is detrimental to the narrative of a natural landscape’s sustainability, or even the artificial ecosystems that we’ve created. But when we look more closely at invasive species in the wild, many are able to thrive in otherwise impossible settings for native species due to a variety of reasons. Such was the focus of a previous post I wrote about “Fishing in the Los Angeles River”, where I elaborated upon the grey areas existing between the black and white ideals of native species and habitats.

Image of River

I believe that it is important to consider looking at invasive species more closely, identifying and managing their evolution within a context beyond simply being an “infestation”, “unmanageable”, or “out of control”.  Instead we should observe what allows an invasive species to take a foothold in its non-native landscape, and also examine its impact, systems, techniques, and even the potential advantages of them being allowed into our ecosystem.

If you stop to think about it, an invasive species is merely doing exactly what nature intended it to do: fill a niche, sustain itself, grow, and reproduce.

I understand that this concept is more complex than what I’ve elaborated upon, but it is an interesting topic that comes to my mind when thinking about the environmental challenges and considering different perspectives as California’s landscape continues to change in climate, available habitat, and environmental conditions – all factors that may allow certain invasive species establish themselves and become our new norm.


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