There's a little ALIENS-L listserver buzz today about this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. Written by George Ball, current president of W. Atlee Burpee & Company, it's a scathing piece calling people concerned about invasive plants "botanical xenophobes." I am not sure where Mr. Ball gets his misinformation, but frankly it is quite insulting. Who exactly is suggesting we stop all use of non-native plants? Those people volunteering their time pulling purple loosestrife out of their local swamp aren't trying to keep anyone from growing onions or garlic in their garden. In fact, most plants of the vegetable garden have been selected for traits that make them extremely unlikely to escape into the wild (though of course there are exceptions).
The recent ESA position paper didn't call for a blanket ban on all non-native species either, it recommended creating a reasonable risk assessment protocol and judging each species individually. It would be great if Mr. Ball would do the same for people.
Coincidentally, what was I doing this afternoon? I was planting (Burpee brand) Jalapeno peppers and other plants from seed. This will be the last time I buy anything from the Burpee Company. Shame on you, Mr. Ball!
P.S. - The piece also makes reference to three well-established invaders in the U.S. having been accidental introductions: kudzu (Pueraria lobata), starthistle (Centaurea), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). While all three species had multiple vectors of introduction, both accidental and intentional, the main pathways of kudzu and purple loosestrife were certainly intentional. It would be nice if gardeners could absolve themselves of all responsibility for plant invasions, but we cannot.
Update 3/24/2006: I have just sent an email to the Burpee company to let them know how upset I am about Mr. Ball's op-ed piece, and to inform them that I am boycotting Burpee until they satisfactorily change their attitude about invasive plants. If you feel likewise, you can email Burpee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call their customer service line at 1-800-333-5808.
Anyone want to recommend an alternative source for garden veggie seeds?
Update 3/29/2006: Burpee is apparently proud of George Ball's little diatribe - they've posted it on their website. Also, the New York Times printed two Letters to the Editor last Sunday, in response to what Ball wrote (but that link will probably fail unless you have an NYT subscription).