Invasive species

Oh, my aching back. 🙂

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Yesterday was the day. We had circled the weekend on our calendars. We were going to stay home and tend to our yard. That might sound crazy to those of you still dealing with ice and snow, but here in Texas the average last frost is mid-February and the garden advice we hear is to prune back your roses around Valentine’s Day for new growth and blooms to start again in early April.

Doing yardwork together is something that Dave and I have enjoyed ever since we bought our home. We have a rhythm in the way we do things – I do the weeding and handwork, and Dave does the heavy lifting and and anything that requires power tools. Booker loves the time outside with us, and she and Pearl always seemed like furry supervisors, lounging in the sun while watching our every move. It’s hard work, but we know at the end of the day, we are going to feel good about our day’s work and be reminded of how much we love the home we have made for ourselves.

Weeding is the hardest, but also to me the most therapeutic of all the yardwork activities. The visual reward from pulling the weeds is immediate. Even before the mulch or fresh garden dirt is put down on it, a freshly weeded bed looks infinitely better than it did just a short time before. It’s more than that, though. I tend to get pretty introspective when I’m weeding.

In our area, we have a lot of trees in the neighboring yards called Japanese Ligustrum. We had one in our backyard when we first bought the house. It was back in the corner, and we thought the shade it provided would be great. We tried for a couple of years to plant different flowering shrubs or plants around it to add some color. Nothing survived. For a while, we thought it was because the tree provided so much shade that nothing could get sun. Finally, we consulted our neighborhood nursery. It was then that we learned about this miserable plant, which is actually considered a noxious weed by both Federal and Texas authorities. Texas Parks and Wildlife considers it a “prohibited exotic species.”

When you look at a ligustrum tree, it’s not ugly or foreboding. It does provide a nice shade, and its leaves are a dark, waxy green that looks for all the world like a fertile, perfectly fine tree. Its shade seems like a lovely place under which to place a nice seating area, and plant some beautiful flowers. If you hadn’t ever had any experience with a Japanese ligustrum tree, you wouldn’t know what an unpleasant environment you were about to make for yourself. And unless you eventually acknowledged that something about that shade and that dirt wasn’t allowing anything around it to grow, you might keep trying to find something that would be compatible there.

“The problem is,” said the guy at the nursery, “everything about that plant is awful. The birds eat the berries, and then those berries contain seeds. So every bird that eats those berries then spreads those seeds everywhere they – ahem – go. And the roots of the tree are so poisonous that they take over and kill everything growing near. You can’t plant anything if there’s a ligustrum nearby.”

Even if you cut down a ligustrum tree, it’s virtually impossible to really take care of the roots and everything around. Partially because its toxins contaminate the dirt around them, and also because there are so many of them around. Your neighbor’s ligustrum poisons your yard, too. It’s bad stuff. Every week we have little ligustrum sprouts pop up all over our flower beds. And they grow quickly. If you don’t get those little seedlings pulled in a timely fashion, you have a little sapling on your hands. Harder to pull, but still comes out with a little effort. But, neglect that sapling for too long, and you have a little tree. A little tree that you can’t get rid of, no matter how hard you try. A little tree that will eventually poison everything around it. So you have to stay on top of them.

As I pulled out the ligustrum growth in its various stages yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed like a metaphor for emotional pain and damage that results from living in an unhealthy environment over time. I thought about the pain and emotional trauma that happens to us when there is some kind of toxin in the environment and that toxin is not contained or mitigated. The longer your emotional roots are exposed to that toxin, the more likely you are to soak in that toxin. That toxin will then either impact you so negatively that you will wither and fade until you are able to figure out how to extricate yourself from that toxic environment, or, if you don’t address and acknowledge the toxin for what it is, you’ll continue to grow and figure out how to thrive in it, and before you know it, you’re toxic too. Not only will you figuratively “kill off” any new growth that is introduced in your environment, but you will be so firmly stuck in that miserable “dirt” that no one can get you out, and the only way you will be able to exist is to remain amongst all the other similarly poisonous growth around you.

Ligustrum is not like a rose bush, full of thorns but if managed properly is taken over by gorgeous, fragrant blooms that enhance any environment. It’s not like a regular tree that sheds its leaves and stands bare and unremarkable until spring, when it’s again transformed into a beautiful, generously shady addition to our yard that might even bear fruit or a lovely flower. Ligustrum is ligustrum. It will always be ligustrum. And the longer you allow it in your garden, the harder it will be to remove and the more damage it will do to everything around it.

Those ligustrum sprouts are reminders to me that if I want this “garden” of a life we are cultivating for ourselves to thrive, we have to remain vigilant with the emotional and environmental “ligustrum” that gets dropped on us from time to time. Whether it comes from circumstances beyond our control with loved ones, or stress from work, or even when we start to perceive that someone around us isn’t tending to their own “ligustrum” and we need to set some boundaries or barriers or risk being infested, too – the sooner we identify it and yank it out by its roots, the healthier our garden will be.

A wise friend once quoted to me, “That which isn’t transformed is transferred.” And ligustrum never transforms. It will poison everything. Weed it out!

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