Love and Life

First Annual Poison Party

When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all. – E. O. Wilson 

This Good Friday, we did the Earth a solid and had a “poison party” where we poisoned all of the exotic invasives in our yard.

For whatever reason, it seems that in an era where environmentally friendly movements are gaining momentum, the cause of the native plant has been a little neglected. So here’s the deal: exotic invasive plants = bad, native plants = good.

Exotic invasive plants have no natural predators. Fewer insects and birds eat them and depend on them. Native fauna did not evolve to co-exist with them, and therefore don’t get as much from them.

Meanwhile, native plants are adapted over centuries to sustain the insects, birds, and other critters of their specific habitats. They promote biodiversity.

Similarly, because exotic invasives evolved to grow elsewhere, they are often CRAZY receptive to non-native habitats and can propagate like mad. Meanwhile, natives evolved to grow here, and often are slower growing, especially when they are being inched out by their non-native competition.

In the grand battle between natives and invasives, invasives are winning. If you let an empty lot grow up wild, it will fill in with privet and honey suckle and tree of heaven — all non-native. If you’re lucky, you might find one native plant for every 10 invasives. Take this pattern to the inth degree and we’ll have a planet with a marked scarcity of variety.

And in general, consumers remain unaware of the battle. You can even buy invasives in Home Depot.

What kills me is that there are beautiful native plants that could fulfill all of the same functions that privet and honeysuckle and ivy play in our landscaping. There are so many beautiful Tennessee plants that we could be (read: should be) cultivating.

So, now that Jonathan and I are masters of a little less than a half acre of Tennessee ground (not to mention the additional half acre my parents own next door), we’re determined to get the exotics out of our yard and replant with natives.

On Friday, we invited as many weird, random people as we could think of that might be as excited as we are about this issue to come over and help us get rid of some of our privet, honey suckle, and tree of heaven: our First Annual Poison Party. Not surprisingly, “come help us do yard work!” was not a terribly inviting offer (although we had a great time with several drop-bys who couldn’t come to work but whose company we did get to enjoy: Tara, Becca, Rachael, Emi and baby Birdie – we loved seeing you!).

We did get two recruits though! Emily Ezell and her sister Katie came and stayed for several hours helping us clear our back yard. And my mom also came to watch Edmond. So it did end up being a team effort!

For those of you wanting to clear your yard with your very own Poison Party, here’s what you do:

1. Identify the exotic invasive.

2. Cut the exotic invasive close to the roots.

3. Poison the remaining plant by painting concentrated round-up on the exposed inner stalk. (This is preferable to spraying, as that seeps more fully into ground water).

4. Repeat. Ad nauseam.

THEN (and here’s the fun part)

5. Plant your yard with natives. There are so many lovely ones to choose from.

In the last couple of weeks, we have planted blue bells, a blueberry bush, native hydrangea, a river birch, a Virginia pine, and a redbud.

And as we cleared out the privet and honey suckle, we found a few gems. A sourwood and a walnut had both managed to hide out in some underbush, and I can’t tell you how excited I am that now they have a fighting chance.

Below are some borrowed images of some native Tennessee plants to tempt you all, as well as some other resources for those interested in ridding their yards of pesky invasives.





Discover: The Truth About Invasive Species

Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health

Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council

TEPPC Guide to Landscaping with Natives


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