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June 25, 2008

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Mike Grant

This controversy is a foretaste of what might happen in the UK regarding the invasive Rhododendron ponticum, and other species that might be legislated against.
R. ponticum is invasive, and destructive of certain habitiats. So you could ban it from sale or ban people from causing it to be naturalised. But it ain't that simple: molecular biologists have found that much naturalised R. ponticum is a hybrid, with small amounts of R. maximum and R. catawbiense in its genome, left over from early garden hybrids (a hairy rather than glabrous ovary is a sign of this cryptic hybridity). So, do authorities ban R. ponticum and its hybrids? If so, that includes many of the so-called hardy hybrids widespread in the trade, and still the mainstay of much rhodo commerce. Or do they ban pure R. ponticum, which doesn't really address the problem? Also, the species, or perhaps its cryptic hybrids, is still used as a rootstock, although not so much in the UK any more.
I believe that Defra (the gov't dept) and the Scottish equivalent will pronounce later this year.

Graham Rice

You're right, Mike, whatever else it is - it's not simple. The problem is that too many people (in the US in particular) want to rip out anything they find growing in the wild that's not native. There are even cases of plants which are native in one area being cleared when they’ve spread by natural means into a neighbouring region. But I have to say that I have no answer to the issue of hybrids that you raise – it will be interesting to see if anyone else has.

But one aspect of this is rarely mentioned: in evolutionary terms, an eruption of buddlejas or Rhododendron ponticum over recent decades may prove entirely insignificant. Or the appearance of other species in new areas may be little more than a response to climate change. There is already anecdotal evidence that Japanese knotweed is actually declining in some areas.

We need to reduce the hysteria, increase research and (in the US) mapping, eschew prejudice – and keep in mind that the distribution of plants changes… plants move, and with our climate changing, they need to.

Al Krismer

Graham,

I bought a Blue Chio buddliea on a trip to park seed Co. in Greenwood. My brother and I plan to visit Spring Meadow later this summer. As for invasive plants the sterile "Mordon series" of lythrum have been banned in some parts of the country Though I never had problems with a clump of them spreading. Its just another example of bureaucratic nonsense.

Al Krismer
Cincinnati

Graham Rice

I've never tried 'Morden Gleam' or 'Morden Pink' lythrums. But over on Dave's Garden (http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/54886/) a poster says: "...research has shown that sterility occurs only when no wild species are growing in the vicinity. According to Armitage, when 'Morden Pink' or 'Morden Gleam' was planted near wild Lythrum salicaria the resulting seed was over 80% viable."

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