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Attack of the Killer Asparagus


I had one of those horticultural dreams the other night. You know what I’m talking about. The ones where you’re being attacked by giant loppers and you’re running through a field that’s been sprayed with a sticking agent so that it’s like running on fly paper and it’s slowing you down and the loppers are gaining on you and as you look back over your shoulder you can see that the loppers have a face that you can’t quite recognize but they are shouting “Snip! Snip!” as they get closer and closer and it dawns on you that the voice sounds remarkably like your fifth grade teach Sister Mary Malathion and now you’re really sorry that you threw that spit wad or maybe you’re actually sorry because you used a very toxic chemical in your garden many years ago when you didn’t really understand anything about gardening and you wish you could take it back but it’s too late or maybe it’s something else altogether but it doesn’t really matter because Sister Mary Loppers is right behind you and…

Ahhh!! That’s where you wake up drenched in honey dew.

I’m sure I’m not alone. It happens to all of us, right? Anyway, I’ve been having dreams again, though they’re not all, thankfully, about loppers and nuns. But they’re disturbing, nonetheless.

I think it’s because I made the mistake of going to the National Park Service site listing invasive plant species of natural areas in the United States.

If you’re a gardener and you’ve been on Neptune for the past couple of decades (and who can argue with spending a few, precious weeks exploring Hardiness Zone minus-247 on that lovely blue-green planet), you might have missed the discussion about invasive plants. These are the plants that have found ways to overtake and out-compete the native plants in our landscapes. How they do this isn’t exactly clear, though scientists now think that these species are capable of stealing credit card numbers to book extremely cheap flights to the U.S. In addition, many of these plants appear to be on steroids, which isn’t exactly fair but, hey, tell that to Barry Bonds.

There are various levels of invasive plants. Here’s how I interpret them, which may or may not conform to any particular scientific or even rational criteria.

Level 1: This plant is sooooo not invasive that you’re lucky if it survives more than two months in your garden, which applies to approximately 93% of the plants that you will buy in your lifetime.

Level 2: This plant is capable of overrunning the 93% of the plants that you’re desperately trying to keep from being overrun.

Level 3: This plant is what is called “aggressive,” which means it steals lunch money from the 93% of plants that you coddle and then punches them in the node. I blame you, not the plant.

Level 4: This plant is called “invasive.” It breaks into your home, raids your refrigerator, bogarts the remote and refuses to watch anything but HGTV.

At this point, I’m going to do two things: First, I’m going to break one of my cardinal rules, which is to say that I’m going to give you some actual information. You see, for years I have taken pride in writing a benign, fact-free, informationless column, based on a simple premise: I make things up and I get paid to do it. Second, I am issuing a warning. If you ever, ever want to have a good night’s rest again you will not go to the National Park Service site listing invasive plant species of natural areas in the United States.

Don’t say that you haven’t been warned. Here it is: invasive.org/weedus/

Now put down your books, because I’m springing a mini-quiz about invasive plants on you. Here are three facts, allegedly from the site. I made up one of them. See if you can spot my contribution.

• Some of you (and you know who you are) might want to move to Utah when you discover that marijuana (Cannabis sativa) could be invasive in that state.

• Gourmet cooks have been flocking to Arizona, South Dakota and Tennessee, where common asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is considered potentially invasive.

• Ingestion of the so-called Love Potato (Dioscorea amora) has resulted in so many Elvis-style Las Vegas weddings that some people are considering renaming the plant Dioscorea presleyi. Of course, it’s considered invasive in Nevada.

Hey I didn’t say I wouldn’t embellish the real facts. Good luck spotting the fake. Especially since you’ll need to search the site to determine the correct answer. Think I’m going to just hand it to you? Dream on. Oh, and by the way, after you do that, let me know if Sister Mary Malathion-Loppers catches up with you.

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