Saturday, 7 April 2012

Environmental Weeding

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

This post is full of contradictions.

I've spent my Easter Saturday holiday getting very scratched and itchy, bitten by ticks and leeches, tired and sore, clearing lantana just so we could get to the worse weed - Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia).

I had a wonderful morning doing it in a group with friends, really satisfying to see the difference we made in one session (with another one tomorrow).

I wish I didn't have to do it.

One of the best and most satisfying things I have done in my life was a four year riparian restoration project, where we planted a forest. For years I spent most Saturday and some Tuesdays clearing lantana, moth vine, crofton weed and cockspur by hand from several kilometres of creek bank, replanting with sandpaper figs and Brown pine, Quandongs and Bunyas, Celery wood and native Quince, food for parrots and possums and gliders and bush turkeys.

I wish they'd all go and live there and leave my garden alone!

After only a decade, it is a forest. The creek flows through it in dappled shade,  its banks held by roots, its water clear and drinkable, a breeding ground for fish and turtles and yabbies.  We have even seen a platypus there. If it was still degraded, maybe I'd be too busy to deal with Madeira vine right now. If it was a smaller area, maybe we would have noticed the Madeira vine sooner.

Madeira vine is a native of South America, introduced as an ornamental and now a serious environmental weed. Now I'm not a knee jerk weeder. Many weeds are opportunistic plants that occupy a vacant niche caused by disturbance, and disappear as they encounter competition from more permanent species.  Often they are the symptom, not the cause of a degraded ecosystem.  But there are some, and Madeira is amongst them, that don't play nice. Madeira will smother rainforest trees. It will take over whole areas in just a few years. It will spread downstream carried by the water to take over new areas.

And it is impossible to eradicate by hand once it has got a go on.  Every time you disturb the vine, it drops trillions of little bulbils, each of which will take root.  When you try to pull it up, it breaks leaving the roots to regrow and the vine impossible to disentangle from the host tree, dropping its trillions of little bulbils.  It will resprout from a leaf dropped on the ground. And the bulbils will survive up to five years.
So I spent my Easter Saturday clearing lantana, just so we could get at the Madeira vine amongst it. Had a lovely day. Discovered the scale of the infestation is horrible. Believe that generally, when you use poisons, you only make the problem worse.  Wonder how on earth Madeira can be controlled otherwise.

It isn't simple, this simple, green, frugal life.