Friday, March 29, 2013

This clock won't tell time

Species name: Thunbergia grandifolia

Common name: clockvine

Location: Dominican Republic

One day my mom and I went on an excursion that drove all around the countryside and visited a traditional house and farm in the middle of nowhere (and what a beautiful middle of nowhere it was!). We got to walk all around the house and look at the gardens, and they led us through their "agricultural plot" behind the house that had a lot of traditional Dominican food growing. This was one of the plants that was being used as an ornamental species in one of the gardens of the home, and I bet it won't be long before they regret planting it. The clockvine is native to China, India, Nepal and Burma where it grows like a weed. It is capable of living happily in any tropical habitat, loves both very soggy soils and dry, arid soils, can tolerate full sun as well as full shade, and other plants in the garden are the least of its troubles. In some tropical areas of the world, like tropical Australia, it has taken "invasive weed" to a whole new level. It is nearly impossible to eradicate because of its successful growth from either seeds or underground rhizomes, and so it will likely destroy all of the native habitat is has grown into before snuffing itself out.

Since this vine is such a beautiful flowering vine, it's no surprise that it's popular around the world for its ornamental value. In fact, almost every species of the genus is prized for their flowers and very fast growth (as well as the ability to tolerate almost every environmental condition that is thrown at it; including light snow for some species!). Unfortunately, this means that this vine has become invasive on all continents, everywhere it has successfully grown. Something needs to be done to ban the sale of these plants!

There are also studies that are currently looking at what to do with these vines, since they're already in numerous locations around the world in gardens (where they are relatively easy to control as long as you have garden shears and some time on your hands) and have since escaped cultivation. There was the suggestion that these plants would make excellent biofuels since they grow so quickly and are so tolerant of environmental fluctuations, but I'm not sure if anything has been done about this suggestion. They are most definitely "sustainable" in the traditional sense, but at what price? Once we harvested all of the plants that are growing in wild areas, then what? Do we plant more of them and risk them escaping again? Using highly invasive species for biofuels (either fermenting parts of the plant to produce bioethanol or just burning the plants directly to produce energy) is a very fine line to walk between rehabilitating an ecosystem and encouraging its complete destruction.

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