On referring to the books for information as to the history of the mimulus as a British wild flower, I found that in some it was not mentioned, and in others mentioned only to be dismissed with the remark that it is an “introduced plant.” But when was it introduced, and what is its range? And whom are we to ask?
And what, we should like to ask of our masters, is a British wild flower? Does not the same rule apply to plants as to animals namely, that when a species, whether “introduced” or imported by chance or by human agency, has thoroughly established itself on our soil, and proved itself able to maintain its existence in a state of nature, it becomes, and is a British species?
And, going farther back in time, it may be said that every species has at some time been brought, or has brought itself from other-where—every animal from the red deer and the white cattle, to the smallest, most elusive microbe not yet discovered; and every plant from the microscopical fungus to the British oak and the yew.
W.H. Hudson, in Hampshire Days, asking what it merans for a plant to be introduced. As he points out, mimulus (he’s probably referring to Mimulus guttatus, or monkey flower) is widely distributed in the UK. The two wild flower books that I just checked still list it as introduced, though one also mentions that it is naturalized.
There is probably more going on here than just a question of whether a flower was native or introduced. Hudson’s parent were English and Irish, settled in the United States and eventually moved to Argentina. Hudson grew up in Argentina, established a name for himself there (and in England) as a talented naturalist, and settled in England when he was 33. As Jason Wilson points out in WH Hudson: the Colonial’s Revenge, Hudson resented the fact that he was never truly accepted into English society. (Having lived as a foreigner in two countries, I can empathize with that frustration.)
Hudson’s question about what is native and what is introduced is still valid, though. And his underlying motivations make it all the more interesting. The talk about introduced plants and animals, in particular “invasive species” is often closely related with the way immigrants (especially illegal immigrants) are spoken of. This is especially true when it comes to eradicating a species, such as grey squirrels or buddleia.
In many cases, the fears about “invasive species” prove to be unfounded, such as the concerns about kudzu taking over the southern United States. These can often have benefits, such as extending the time certain pollinators have access to nectar.
Certainly, introduced species can have an impact on an ecosystem. This is cause for concern and should be paid attention to, but the discussion of so-called “invasive species” can often lose sight of what is happening ecologically, and other social anxieties seem to hijack the discussion. Hudson was complaining about the term “introduced” but I think that “invasive species” is even more problematic. It’s a term that is going to play on those social anxieties whether we want it to or not. Nobody wants to be invaded, and raising the spectre of an “invasion” isn’t helpful when trying to understand something as complex as the ecological impacts of different plants and animals.