Ruminations on Invasives …

As a student in Environmental Studies I feel like it has been drilled into me that invasive species are “bad”. Evil species hell bent on taking over the planet! I’ve been taught to shudder a little bit when I came face to face with English Ivy or Scotch Broom … At least I was. That all changed when I met Oliver Kellhammer. Oliver talked about how while it is important to value native species, it is not always realistic in the long run, or even moralistic. Humans have a tendency to idealize certain periods in history and Oliver suggested that this is the case with certain pre-colonial ecosystems on the West Coast. In fact, he argued that by idealizing these native plant-dominated ecosystems we are actively fighting against the natural push of evolution and change that occurs across every ecosystem over time. Moreover, we should keep in mind that not all so-called invasive species are so much invasive as they are “tropical” species that can bring new and different things to the ecosystem they now find themselves in. The term “tropical” was first used by Oliver during his talk and it is something that made me really start to re-think how I think about “invasives”.

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Upon returning home from Linnaea I saw the English Ivy crawling up the rock face by my house and continued to puzzle over how we should think about these introduced species. I decided to do some research to see what other people had to say. As I looked, I found that there were many cases where, indeed, researchersare saying that these invasives, while not necessarily part of a native ecosystem, can be highly beneficial to the soil and native species in a region. Take, for instance, this article about the beneficial relationship that the local bird population forms with the honeysuckle plant in the Pennsylvania region (https://www.livescience.com/30119-invasive-species-plants-good.html) or this article that provides a variety of other beneficial effects of invasives (https://www.wired.com/2011/02/good-invasives/).

While I am certainly not saying that we should let Scotch Broom further proliferate across Vancouver Island and the west coast, there are certainly some positive impacts that invasives can have to an ecosystem. For instance, invasives can provide additional ecosystem services that native species cannot (as in the case with the honeysuckle plant in the previous paragraph), replenish regions that have been previously thought irrevocably damaged by humans (ruderal ecology), and even sustaining and adapting ecosystems that are struggling as a result of climate change. It is also important for us to remember that many plants and species that we know and enjoy are non-native in variety as well.

To be honest, I still don’t know how to feel on the issue. I am passionate about encouraging the return of native species around where I live and making sure that invasive species are not going to, as aforementioned, take over the world. However, I’ve found that my perspective on what “invasive species” are has been changed and I’m opening my mind to include the possible positive impacts that non-native species can have on our ecosystem.

Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinense)

goji 1SOURCE: http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2011/12/permaculture-plants-goji-berry.html

Scientific Name: Lycium barbarum, Lycium chinense

Common Name: Goji Berry, Wolfberry, Box Thorn, Matrimony Vine, Red Medlar, Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree

Family: Solanaceae (nightshade)

Botanical Description:

Goji Berry (Wolfberry) plants are medium-sized, deciduous shrubs with small purple/blue flowers that produce small, bright red fruit, usually called Goji berries, or gogi berries. Goji berries are a variety of the wolfberry. The berries have high vitamin content. The shrub can grow between 2.5 to 4 meters in height. The plant flowers between June to August and the seeds ripen from August and October. The flowers possess both male and female organs (hermaphroditic) and are pollinated by bees. The plant is part of the Solanaceae – or Nightshade – family, which is related to eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, and nightshade itself. The plant has a lifespan of 4-5 years.

Preferred Habitat:

Suitable locations for habitat include hedges, on walls, and on disturbed ground. The plant can be grown in all kinds of soils (sandy, loamy, clay), can grow in semi-shaded or shaded conditions, and can grow in maritime conditions.

Geographical Origins:

The original habitat of the goji plant is unknown at this time, but it has been speculated that it is likely from the southeastern parts of Europe or the southwestern region of Asia. Currently, Mainland China and Taiwan are the primary cultivators of commercial goji berries; however, goji berry plants are grown in most parts of the world.

Cultural / Historical Significance: 

Goji berries have played an important part in traditional Chinese medicine, and have been an important staple in other medicines around East Asia. Chinese cuisine also incorporates Goji berries in a variety of soups, teas, and congees.

In the late 1990s, it was introduced into North American culture and cuisine via trade with Taiwan and Mainland China and earned the reputation as a super-food due to its high antioxidant levels. Also, despite it being considered “new” plant in North American society, it has been grown for several centuries – as early as the 1700s – in continental Europe and the UK.

Edible Uses:

 The Goji berry plant has many edible uses, primarily revolving around the berries of the plant. The most common way to eat Goji berries is after they are dried, though raw and cooked berries are also acceptable once the fruits are fully ripe. When dried, they can be used for a sweet snack. The leaves of the plant can be used in teas.

goji 2
SOURCE: http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2011/12/permaculture-plants-goji-berry.html

Medicinal Uses:

The plant has a long history of medicinal use, both as a general, energy restoring tonic and as a cure for a wide range of ailments. The berries are a great source of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamins A, C, and E.Goji berries have the following medicinal effects when consumed:

Goji berries have the following medicinal effects when consumed:

  • lowers blood pressure
  • lowers blood cholesterol levels
  • treats diabetes
  • protects against liver failure
  • treats poor eyesight
  • treats feelings of vertigo
  • treats lumbago
  • helps with impotence (increases sperm production)
  • relieves menopausal symptoms
  • reverses cancer growth

Goji berry plant bark has the following effects if consumed or applied to the skin:

  • controls cough
  • lowers fevers
  • lowers blood pressure
  • lowers blood cholesterol level
  • helps with chronic fever
  • helps stop internal haemorrhaging
  • prevents nosebleeds
  • prevents tuberculosis
  • helps with asthma

Goji berry plant leaves, when boiled into a tea, has the following effects:

  • halting or reversing cancer growth
  • treats inflammation
  • treats skin diseases

Other Uses:

The plant can be used as a hedge and is good for soil stabilisation as the root system for the Goji berry plants are extensive.

goji 3SOURCE: http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2011/12/permaculture-plants-goji-berry.html

Other Fun Facts about Goji Berries

  • Named the “Wolfberry” likely due to confusion about the scientific name… “Lycos” means “wolf” in Greek.  “Lycium” means “originating from Lycia”, a region in modern-day Turkey.
  • Ranked number one on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) Scale, which ranks foods with the healthy antioxidants (compounds that destroy free radicals that cause cancer and ageing).

References

Goji Berries: Origins – Consumption – Nutrition Facts – Health Benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.nutritiousfruit.com/goji-berries.html

J. K. (1970, January 01). Permaculture Plants: Goji Berry (Wolfberry). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2011/12/permaculture-plants-goji-berry.html

Lycium Barbarum Goji, Box Thorn, Matrimony Vine PFAF Plant Database. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Lycium%2Bbarbarum