Endemic! Week: Invasive Species

Endemic! Week: an entire week of microfiction crafted around the word “endemic.” If you missed the introduction, read about it here.

Vigilante Gardening

Joe surveyed the kudzu-covered water tower. An invader, that plant. It could take down power lines and uproot whole trees.

He grabbed the vines and climbed. It’d seemed innocent enough when introduced. No one anticipated its aggression. Bereft of natural competition, it choked out the local species, leaving ecological devastation in its wake. Native flora lived under siege, restricted to nature preserves by this newcomer.

What’s the best way to kill weeds? With herbicide, of course. Joe, last of his tribe, emptied the cyanide into the town water supply.

Kudzu, after all, wasn’t the only invader on these Cherokee shores.

——————————————————————————————————-

Kudzu Light
Kudzu: looks innocent, right? (Photo credit: matt.forestpath (flash200))

Today’s Endemic! Week story uses the word endemic in its ecological sense. Local plant species are endemic to an area, as are Native Americans to America. The invader, be it kudzu or the colonial European settlers who arrived a few centuries ago, could be seen as a sort of epidemic which runs through the native populations, causing a sudden mass die-off. For those of us living in the United States, this is one of our great national shames.

For me, it’s not even the fact that disease caused such devastation among the Native American tribes at the arrival of the Europeans. Aside from the cases where smallpox was spread on purpose as a biological warfare agent, germ exchange happens when people groups meet for the first time. What really gets me is the failure of the European settlers to recognize the sovereign nations already present. Human beings who had lived there for generations were forced from their homes without thought or consideration. The colonial see-it-and-take-it mentality floors me.

Makes you want to do something about those invasive weeds.

Kudzu taking down a forest.
Kudzu taking down a forest. (Photo credit: SoftCore Studios)

Kudzu, by comparison, is a more recent invader. It was introduced to the United States in 1876, and reached the South by 1883 as an ornamental plant. Unfortunately, taken outside its native turf in Southeast Asia, kudzu has no natural competition to keep it under control. It thrives in hot, sunny conditions and is tolerant to drought, which makes it grow rapidly in Southern weather. It kills off local plants by shading them to death. Worst of all, it’s so aggressive that it grows over everything in its path, be it tree, car, or water tower.

Of course, people are not weeds, and poison is not an appropriate way to rectify a shameful historical genocide. Joe’s a sociopath, but one whose motivations I can at least understand, if not condone. Revenge fantasies are all well and good (who doesn’t enjoy seeing Hitler get what’s coming to him in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds?), but they don’t solve any problems or show us a better moral way. Answering murder with murder gets us nowhere.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s an easy solution to the historical injustice. The epidemic weed has become endemic to the very regions it invaded. One problem with removing all the kudzu at once in the South is that it would open up vast amounts of land to erosion. Removing the invader would actually hurt the land more. In the same way, removing descendants of the European settlers at this point would be painful, difficult, and harmful. Still, the statistics show that the descendants of the Native Americans continue to feel the effects of evils done so many years ago. How do we find room for justice in this picture?

I’m in over my head on this question; I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think the United States and other nations dealing with the aftermath of colonialism can or should do to fix the evils of the past?

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