As we look at the flora and fauna of our world, we see a beautifully designed system. Plants and animals sustain each other in a balanced network of life, but problems arise when humans do things that upset that balance. One way we do that is by accidentally or intentionally causing a non-native species invasion with no natural predator or forager. The species then has no control factor to balance it, and plant growth or animal reproduction becomes out of control.
An example of a non-native species invasion is the kudzu plant. This vine can grow up to a foot per day and is known as “the vine that ate the south.” It has taken over parks, roadsides, and forests in some areas. Kudzu vines wrap themselves around the trunks of native trees, out-competing their host for sunlight and even nutrients by girdling its bark and strangling the tree.
Kudzu is native to Asia and some Pacific islands, but people brought it to North America as a decorative plant in the 1870s. As late as the 1940s, the U.S. government urged farmers to plant it to prevent soil erosion, and people promoted it as a fast-growing plant to shade porches. The consequences of human actions have become evident, costing millions of dollars.
One of the worst U.S. invaders is the inappropriately named tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima ), native to areas of China and Taiwan. It was brought to the United States in 1784 as a decorative tree. However, its habits of sending out shoots, known as suckers, colonizing areas, and suppressing competition by producing chemicals that inhibit the growth and reproduction of other plants. This non-native species invasion also creates an objectionable odor and hosts another invasive species, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). Eradicating this “tree of hell,” as some call it, is difficult because if you cut it down, it will quickly regrow from new shoots.
All of these invasive species serve a purpose in their native lands, where they fit into the balance of the natural world. The problem comes when humans upset God’s balanced system. In many ways, humans have not been good stewards of the job God assigned us to “rule over” the Earth (Genesis 1:26) and “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
— Roland Earnst © 2023