How do plants that move and spread across landscapes become branded as weeds and thereby objects of contention and control? In a chapter recently published in the International Handbook of Political Ecology, Priya Rangan and I outline a political ecology approach that builds on a Lefebvrian understanding of the production of space, identifying three scalar moments that make plants into ‘weeds’ in different spatial contexts and landscapes.
A few weeks ago I attended a workshop by this name in Wollongong, organized by Lesley Head, Jenny Atchison, and Nick Gill. With keynote papers by Richard Hobbs, known for the ‘novel ecosystems‘ concept, and by Brendon Larson, known for his book Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability, and with presentations by participants as diverse as uniformed state Noxious Weeds Inspectors, indigenous rangers, government scientists, and historians of science, we kicked off a fantastic conversation on how weeds in the landscape are already a ‘new normal’. The threat of invasion is old news; the challenge of living with invasives is the new. In this respect, managers of environmental weeds could learn from those who have focused on cropfield or pasture weeds – they have been ‘living with’ weeds for a long time, and don’t see the world in such black and white terms. For more information and comments, see this Blog by the workshop organisers.
The landscapes that characterize different places on the earth, and from which many people earn their livelihoods and their sense of place, and which support diverse flora and fauna, are often built with a mix of local and introduced plants. Sometimes, introduced plants succeed so wildly in their new home that people come to see them as weeds or pests, crowding out crops or native species, changing soil conditions, altering fire regimes, or affecting the water table. The field of invasion biology emerged over the past few decades seeking to document, understand, and stop such “alien invasions”. But the fervour of this effort has at times crashed head-on with alternative worldviews. One of South Africa’s top weeds, for example, is the Australian native silver wattle, also naturalized in France where it is celebrated for its winter flowers and as an ingredient for Chanel No. 5 and other perfumes . Such conflicting outlooks were on stark display at a workshop I attended in October 2010 at Stellenbosch, South Africa, on Australian acacias as a global experiment in biogeography.