Rhododendron Ponticum, And Scottish Eco-Tourism

img 6981 300x225 Rhododendron Ponticum, And Scottish Eco TourismLiving in an area that sees plenty of sun, and hot dry summer weather, Rhododendrons are the last plant I would expect to see running amok through my neighborhood, but this popular garden plant is doing just that through the British Isles.

My sister and her husband recently traveled to Scotland to stay with friends, and catch up on some our family history, in the Scottish Highlands.  While they were there, they  discovered that the number one targeted invasive species “across the pond” was the popular garden plant the Rhododendron.  While the plant is innocuous throughout most of the United States, keeping to itself, and minding it’s manners, in the cool moist climate of Scotland, it has been changing the face of the Scottish Highlands, and spreading at an alarming rate.  Like most invasive species, the Rhododendron ponticum has several trademarks that make it both a nuisance, and an ecological threat, including rapid reproduction, soil altering qualities, and inedible and poisonous foliage and flowers for wildlife.  This beautifully blooming plant has rapidly taken over entire under-stories of the forest from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Highlands, where unfortunately, after centuries of forced human relocation, cattle outnumber the people, and habitat managers are hard to come by.

Fortunately for the Scottish people, their clan system has been a boon when it comes to organizing new initiatives for the country, and The Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland and Islands Enterprise, and others groups have worked together closely with the local people to educate, and encourage large scale action toward a detailed Highland Biodiversity Plan.  Sharing a few similarities with other habitat initiatives that I participate in, this Highland program seeks to protect the areas that have been compromised by years of neglect, and uncontrollable invasive growth, to rebuild the diverse habitats that make Scotland unique.  There is an urgency here though, to save the plant and animal life that occurs only on this small pocket of the planet, before it is completely overcome by the invasive competition, such as the Rododendron ponticum.  The “UK Biodiversity Action Plan” reported on 238 priority species, and 42 priority habitats in need of help in Scotland alone, with 192 of the species, and 40 of the 42 habitats falling within the boundaries of the Scottish Highlands.

Obviously there will be huge obstacles standing in the way of such a monumental habitat restoration project, so I began doing a little research into the local projects run with such brilliance by the Scottish people, and discovered a new wave of eco-tourism that targets the Scottish Highlands themselves, bringing in extra hands to help.  According to BBC’s Gardeners World, a group calling themselves the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, has devised a wonderful scheme to attract eco-conscious people to volunteer their “holiday,” to environmental projects across Scotland and England.  They are known as BTCV Conservation Holidays, and specialize in “Eco-tourism”, providing volunteers with food, shelter, plumbing, and a service project with local people, in an exotic location, most often located near historical or tourist locations. The “Ardross Castle project” specifically targets the Highland Rhododendron, and has been making great strides in controlling the plant, in areas that would have be overcome without large scale management.

The BTCV company began only a few years ago as 40 volunteers, but their eco-tourism packages have hit such a chord with volunteers, that there are now projects available in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America, working on biodiversity, and sustainable living. Their package deals allow potential volunteers to choose a type of work that most suits them as well, with skills ranging from dry stonewalling, coastal clean-up, and woodland management, to name a few. The group can also help tourist volunteers target the local attractions after their projects are done, to make a vacation more complete.

Eco-tourism is a brilliant idea in my book, because it helps channel an individual’s efforts in a way that not only makes a difference on an environmental issue, but it invests each volunteer in the specific area that they are working with on at a deeply personal level – which I think will make more of a difference in the long-term future.  I think BTCV is also tapping into a quirky human trait as well, that makes it easier for many of us to provide menial labor, and charity in a beautiful location, before we feel comfortable doing it at “home.”  I think it’s commendable that companies like this assist local people, like those working in the Scottish Highlands, to create regular influxes of volunteers into areas that ordinarily wouldn’t receive much help or word of mouth recognition.

My thoughts: I’m not sure if I would ever participate in eco-tourism.  I’d like to think that I will commit to environmental causes closer to home, for my own volunteerism, but the idea of traveling to another country to learn about the people and the place is intriguing.  If I was to volunteer with a company like BTCV, I’m sure that it would be in an area that I felt ancestrally tied to, as a way of learning some of my own cultural history, and spending some time absorbing the customs and rhythm of the place and people.

What do you think:  Would you ever participate in a form of eco-tourism?  Would it make a difference if you felt a personal, or historic tie to the location? Do you think that eco-tourism is here to stay, or is it another fad riding on the heels of our global warming fears?

Recognizing and Removing Invasive Plant: The Multiflora Rose

img 0113 225x300 Recognizing and Removing Invasive Plant: The Multiflora RoseThe story of the Multiflora Rose is one I would have loved growing up, because unlike other invasive plant species, the story of the Multiflora Rose begins as a Western, complete with cowboys and gunsmoke!

Once upon a time out west there actually were “free range” cattle, who probably ate organic food, and slept on bedding made of 100% natural fibers (if you consider hay a fiber).  These cows however were difficult to keep track of, and occasionally wandered out of range, or “found new homes,” and when the time came to round them up, the cowboys had a difficult time accounting for every animal.  A new idea was born somewhere in the late eighteen hundreds, and “green fencing” was invented in the US.  I’m sure that this wave of “green thinking” was a breakthrough for it’s time, saving cowboys and ranchers time and money that had previously been spent in the purchase, mending, and placing of wooden fences. Cattlemen of all types discovered a favorite plant in a new import from Asia, called the “Mutliflora Rose,” a plant that thrived in its role as a living barrier and hedge around pastureland, channeling the traffic patterns of steer and cow across the prairie.  The rose was dutifully planted across the west, and served it’s purpose beautifully!

A natural, flowering, rosebush fence  must have been the best of all possible worlds, providing function, and beauty – two things I love myself!  Unfortunately, in the mid nineteen hundreds, the plant was selected again, this time by the highway administrations of the day, to fill in median strips, and brighten up the roadsides throughout the United States.  Hindsight being 20/20, we now know that the plant has a tendency to spread, and take over naturalized woodland areas, choking out native vegetation.

I was recently taking a walk through the woods, in a designated wildlife area that I manage, and found this rose cheerfully blooming away. I quickly made a note of the young rose’s location, and planned coming back another day to spray the plant with Round-Up.

Why You Need To Recognize this Plant:

  1. This plant currently infests up to 45 million acres in the Eastern United States alone!  Severe infestations lower property values, and cause our government to spend 30 million (plus) per year to help agricultural businesses, and recreationsal spaces reclaim their land from this plant.
  2. One single bush can produce half a million seeds, that once fallen on the soil, can remain viable for up to 20 years.  That’s one long term problem you don’t want to deal with!
  3. Each bush can grow to a height of approximately 6-10 feet tall, and 13 feet wide. Rare specimins have grown 20 feet tall.
  4. The plant’s growth pattern creates tangled, thorny thickets impenitrible to humans, small mammals, and deer, ruining park land, and fields, and causing eye and skin reactions in cattle.
  5. Wild birds especially find the fruit of this plant irresistable, and will unintentionally spread this plant, through their feces, throughout your neighborhood, or property.  Quick identification of this plant, and timely removal will save you untold amounts of work in the future.

For the eco-conscious gardener, homeowner, or business person, this is one plant to keep an eye on, and remove by hand, or with herbicide, when possible.  It is one exotic invasive plant that is gaining turf in backyards, and highway islands across the nation, and the government can use our help in eradicating it.


  1. Green methods include: cutting, and bagging, controlled burns (by professionals please!), and mowing. Mowing with large equipment will kill young plants, while heavy infestations will need regular mowings for up to a few years to kill mature plants, and prevent it’s spread.
  2. In areas where Multiflora Rose is returning after mowing or pruning, an herbicide, or Round-Up sprayed on the exposed (freshly trimmed) stump, will kill the shrub.
  3. Large infestations often call for broadcast spreading of herbicide to kill the plant in place.

For more information on this plant, visit The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library