Centre of Alien Activity on Skye

Yesterday I visited the American Skunk-cabbage. It looks good under the birch:

Under the trees

Under the trees

but it is multiplying fast with 45 mature flowering plants:IMG_1598a

and about 200 seedlings and immature plants:IMG_1597a

and one specimen has broken away from the poorly vegetated swamp to a drier habitat with bracken:IMG_1595a

Pretty as it is, though the smell is not great – though nothing like a squashed skunk on the road in the American Mid-west, trust me – I think it should go.  The problem is not apparent at this time of year but after flowering the leaves become enormous and shade out everything below. Skye & Lochalsh Environmental Forum will discuss it at their next committee meeting.  If they want to take action, they will need to discover and talk to the landowner.

Carl Farmer says that in Argyll “Skunk Cabbage…certainly out-competes native vegetation here.” Indeed I have seen it there growing in the sort of habitat one really doesn’t want it where sundews, bladderworts and butterworts would be expected.

This area is a centre for alien plants with large patches of Gaultheria shallon (Shallon) that probably give shelter to birds and small mammals, but it has completely obliterated the natural vegetation apart from the trees.  This is a lesson in what happens if you let these things go. The best one could attempt with this now is control, not eradication.  It is another pretty thing:


but look what happens:IMG_1604a

And again, there is lots of Gaultheria mucronata (Prickly Heath), yet another pretty thing:

Gaultheria mucronata 031203 (5)

but, whilst it is not as dense as Shallon, it too forms large patches where little else can grow:


There is also a great deal of Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum or more likely part of a hybrid swarm best called Rhododendron × superponticum) – see Naturalised rhododendrons widespread in Great Britain and Ireland by J. Cullen.

And a few self-seeded Pinus contorta (Lodgepole Pine).

There are general philosophical questions about how much we should resist change, whether the whole ecosphere is now so affected by human activity that we have a responsibility to manage it, why we are more upset about foreign plants rather than natives when they are invasive (Bracken? Brambles?), but enough for today…..


2 Responses to “Centre of Alien Activity on Skye”

  1. John Says:

    Hi Stephen,
    I fail to see any justification for not removing these plants. They were put there by man not by natural means. We should do everything we can to prevent them from damaging the local ecosystem. With regard to Bracken and Brambles, they rarely become invasive unless their habitat is damaged in some way by man.

  2. Stephen Says:

    Well, we have came to the same conclusion. If I was being picky I would say that they were probably not put in this particular spot by man, but would almost certainly not have arrived without our help. On the other hand that earlier North American invader Eriocaulon aquaticum (Pipewort) is now revered as a Nationally Rare plant in the British Isles. The local ecosystem is already highly unnatural. I agree about invasive natives usually being the result of human damage to habitats – or at least absence of previous management regimes.

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