Thursday, June 30, 2011
Gorse - the cockroach of weeds
You might think this is just an excuse for a sheep picture.
On behalf of Scotland I’d like to apologize to New Zealand for bringing gorse here and ask, “What the hell were they thinking?”
I can't find any actual citation that early Scots settlers brought Ulex Europaeus to Aotearoa. But let's put it this way: there is an underlying, and rather accusatory, assumption that the Scots were to blame.
If you've seen both countries, it is not hard to imagine that some of those early Scots, pining for the Auld Country from here at the end of the world, decided that a bit of the flowering yellow shrubbery would be just the trick.
Little did they know ... or perhaps they did and just didn't care. The bloody stuff is indestructible and spreads like the proverbial wildfire. It is thick, armed with vicious thorns, and can grow to 21 feet. (Actually, that sounds more like the Godzilla of Weeds.) It's perfect for the many flightless birds, including the Kiwi. Nothing of any size or vile intention can get through this stuff. But it pretty much makes any land useless for farmers.
Gorse now covers five percent of New Zealand. It's pretty enough from afar, but once you get close it's frightful.
I was talking to a friend last night about invasive plants in general and gorse in particular. Turns out he knew a bloke who'd based his post-graduate work on studying gorse and its negative impact on New Zealand. He had to do his field work in a motorcycle helmet and leather overalls. He was still cut to shreds. He grew so tired of the constant pain that he quit his studies.
When I say the stuff is indestructible like a cockroach, it might actually be worse. I know I run the risk of offending the members of the Gorsebush Lovers of Caledonia with such frank talk. But gorse actually seems to enjoy most traditional efforts to destroy it. They cause it to regenerate. And when I tell you that gorse seeds can lie dormant on the ground for 50 years, germinating quickly after the adults have been removed, you'll see what I mean. Now if that ain't a Frankenseed, I don't know what is.
Millions of dollars are spent each year trying to obliterate gorse. But my friend, who knows about such things - and yet is still my friend - says that, basically, once gorse has taken root the best a farmer can do is give up the ground and fight the fight elsewhere.
As Wikipedia says, "Unfortunately, most methods of removing adult gorse plants, such as burning or bull dozing them, create the ideal conditions for the gorse seeds to germinate."
One small grace, gorse forms about 300,000 kilometers of hedges and windbreaks in Canterbury. It's not much but, other than my apology, it's all I've got.