Native Alternatives To Invasive Plants, by C. Colston Burrell
It is easy to credit this book with good intentions. The author has an obvious desire to encourage the greater use of plants that have been neglected among America’s native plants in exchange for exotic and invasive plants that are popular but that can crowd out native plants that the author thinks are worthy of more attention. That is certainly a noble aim and one that is easy to celebrate, but this book has a few things against it that keep it from being as helpful in its goals as it could have been. For one, this book has a massive scope and thus a rather superficial approach. The author tries to write about native and invasive plants all over the entire United States, and this is far too wide of a scope for the rather basic approach that the author takes. The other issue is that the author writes about plants with a rather fussy and even snobby, not stopping to think about why it is that certain plants are grown outside of their native regions as opposed to others, even if the author can make a strong case for why some other plants should be cultivated more than they are.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it is dominated, as one would expect, by the book’s titular materials. The book begins with a discussion of how to prevent plant invasions, a look at the role of roadside managers, as well as some questions and answers about invasive plants and native plants, including the plant provinces of North America. After that point, the vast majority of the book consists of a rather superficial and basic (although very beautifully photographed) discussion of invasive trees, shrubs, vines, herbaceous plants, and grasses and some native alternatives. It should be noted that as the scope of this book is the plants of North America that native plants are defined rather broadly across broad regions of the United States. Some invasive plants, for example, are expanding in a range from Canada to Hawaii to Florida, which is just an immense amount of space to cover and to suggest alternatives for. After that the author discusses places where one can get more information, as well as some information about the book’s contributors, a list of invasive garden plants, as well as an index of invasive and native plants for the reader to consider.
One of the more interesting aspects of this book is the question of who the book’s audience is. While this book is very interesting in its visual aspects–the strongest aspect of this book is the richly colorful photography about the trees and other plants that the author discusses–the book is not really aimed at the ordinary reader. Rather, this book is aimed at people who make choices about what plants to cultivate in public spaces like roads and parks and other public spaces. This is not a book about gardening with native plants–which is certainly an interesting and worthy subject–buy rather about the public policy question about which plants get chosen to be planted in public places, and what that means when it comes to celebrating plants that the author views as being threatened by invasive species including the edible fig plant as well as European aspen, to give but a couple of examples among many. This book would be easier to enjoy if it had a less irritating tone, and while it may seem a bit harsh to judge a book because of questions of tone, that is a matter that I find rather seriously important when it comes to books I read for pleasure and information, and it is an area that could have easily been fixed if the author had stepped down from his Olympian heights to ponder why it is that some plants are chosen over others as a general rule.