Native vs non-native.... all theory thread DESIGN PRINCIPLES

Judith Hanna jehanna at
Tue Aug 29 05:18:15 EDT 2000

 Scott wrote (replying to Ava and me):

>" Rather than wait in the indecisive clutch of native versus non-native I
think it better to try and rebuild a healthy functioning ecosystem using
the best of the natives but not being afraid to use analog species for
those niches that are critical for the functioning of the whole."

That seems a good statement of the balance of responsibility needed -- a
balance affected by the the degree to which a functioning indigenous
ecosystem is either still there, or can be recreated. It particularly means
that, in introducing new species, a responsibility for not bringing in new
species that will increase the existing threats to communities of native
species. I'd say the simple design checklist (decision flow) should run:

-- Is there a native species for this use niche? If so, that's first choice
to use?

-- If not, what is the best available species, from wherever?

-- What impacts might that species have? These would include 
# allopathies (inhibiting growth of other plants -- which may in some
situations be a useful effect)
# tendency to spread (invasiveness)
# and others that don't occur to me at the moment...

The 'minimum maintenance' principle needs to be balanced against a
precautionary effect here -- if a plant can be kept in check by diligent
pruning/weeding, then when that work ceases, it spreads.

I guess I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because Australia has such
unique indigenous plants and animals -- and I've seen so many examples, in
a variety of contexts, of apparently harmless garden plants getting away
and invading what was formerly apparently healthy bushland. At the same
time, there are planty of introduced plants, and ways of managing them,
that don't threaten the native ecology -- other than the simple limited
replacement in the area in they are growing. 

If you're gardening within an urban area, completely surrounded by
buildings and other man-made gardens, then even invasive exotics aren't
likely to get far -- and pretty well anything growing will be a benefit.
But what will most help native birds and insect life to survive in the
urban area will be the plants they're adapted to and in balance with. (In
the UK, city gardens support more birdlife than monoculture farmland). But
if you have a watercourse nearby, particularly, or any other 'green lung',
then exotics that escape may well get away as a threat to natural species
already under pressure. 

If you settle, as many permies do, in a smallholding out in the wilderness
to commune with nature -- then of course you're taking on a greater
responsibility and can be expected to look after the local character of
your local wilderness, and avoid endangering it by unwise introductions.

I guess a fairly simple guideline is that a plant that dies when you
neglect it is safer (for surrounding wilderness) than one that survives
when neglected, or self-seeds.

And this, of course, has to be balanced against 'minimum maintenance'
intelligent laziness...

I think this discussion also highlights the importance of remembering that
permaculture is about dynamic design based on understanding sustainability
objectives and impacts. That is why I do not think the permaculture
principles (or guidelines or rules of thumb) either can be or should be set
in stone as absolutes. The three ethics, yes -- though what I shorthand as
'fair shares' gets put in lots of different words.

Like the Ten Commandments too, it's not being able to recite the words that
matters -- it is how you explain why and how they apply, and put them into
practice. Putting the principles in your own words, and own order, is part
of gaining understanding -- and it is important that discussions about
reaching consensus on permaculture principles don't lose this 'grow your
own' from the ground up aspect. Discussion around consensus and sharing
understanding is good; trying to set it in stone is a hark back to
formalist reductionism. 


At 12:13 28/08/00 -0600, you wrote:
> I agree with Ava's thoughtful reply and would like to add my own dilemma
>regarding native versus non-native plants.
>     ""       
>         I guess it depends on your definition and seems to be more bound
>up with geo-political boundaries than biomes.
> I think that the ecofascism label is often misapplied to people who are
>concerned with rampancy and over competition from exotic species
>introduction but I have certainly encountered what I would call ecofascism
>from those who think that all non-natives are verboten   """"   
>    Rather than wait in the indecisive clutch of native versus non-native I
>think it better to try and rebuild a healthy functioning ecosystem using
>the best of the natives but not being afraid to use analog species for
>those niches that are critical for the functioning of the whole.
> Scott  
>    --- You are currently subscribed to permaculture as: jehanna at
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Judith Hanna
jehanna at
15 Jansons Rd, Tottenham, London N15 4JU

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