Aliens Have Landed in the Gardens of England

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Aliens have landed, literally, they have parachuted in to many parts of the country. They have jumped over garden walls, they have drifted along our waterways, they have followed trains along their tracks, they have attached themselves to animals and to the clothes of humans.

The aliens are so established in many parts of the country that the ordinary tools used by man to eradicate them have proved futile. They have continued to dominate in places where the natives once tenanted, but are no longer there. They are not little green men from Mars but they are akin to the Trifids, these alien plants that have invaded Britain over the last decades, and it is claimed that they are one of the biggest threats to our biodiversity, with head line grabbing stories such as "Japanese Knotweed takes over the country".

How real is the threat ? In many areas where the aliens have been removed, their place has been taken over by native invasive plants such as nettle, bramble and nettle. It is argued by some conservationists that alien species need to be eradicated to protect our countryside. they complain about Japanese knotweed,Fallopia japonica, while ignoring a large bramble thicket situated close by. { brambles, are, to those that oppose spending vast amounts of money trying to eradicate aliens, as the thugs of the British flora}. The same argument has been forwarded in the respect of Himalayan balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, yet ignoring a bed of nettles near by {another "thug"}.

My own opinion of these four examples is as follows--- Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam need to be controlled especially when they occur at nature reserves and local beauty spots. For these locations are havens especially when they are situated among urban localities. The Japanese knotweed was introduced by the Victorians as a garden ornamental plant, that escaped over the wall to get established in many areas across the country. It has no natural predators and expensive chemical sprays do little to halt its spread. The rootstock runs deep below the surface and if but a tiny piece is left in the ground after cultivation , then surely a new plant will emerge from it. It has got so prolific in places that talks have taken place about introducing a beetle from Japan that is known to eat the plant. The trouble with this theory is that, are we not introducing another alien species to keep in check another ?.

To the best of my knowledge the Japanese knotweed is not used for any medicinal or culinary purposes in this country. On the other hand the bramble "thug" is a vital habitat for many species for protection and food. it provides pollen and nectar, fruit and aromatic leaves. They are all utilised in medicinal and culinary preparations which are beneficial to man. I rest my case!

The Himalayan balsam is not only invasive { see my hub LOCAL LAKES AN OASIS OF TRANQUILITY }.  They produce lots of nectar that attract bees and other pollinators to their large prominent flowers, leaving smaller native flora less pollinated in that particular region, thus producing less seeds.  the nettle on the other hand is a vital part of the food chain. Insects eat the leaves and lay their eggs on them . When the larvae hatch they also use the nettles foliage as a food plant. The nettle is beneficial to man's health and is employed for culinary purposes.{ see my hub NETTLES JUST A WEED? YOU MUST BE JOKING! } once again I rest my case!.


Benign Alien.

THE LARGE FLOWERS OF THE EVENING PRIMROSE ADORN MANY A BLEAK AREA. picture by Tarquin.
THE LARGE FLOWERS OF THE EVENING PRIMROSE ADORN MANY A BLEAK AREA. picture by Tarquin.

Are We Going Overboard?

Are we in danger of going overboard in this dislike displayed in many quarters, for non-native flora? In Britian the vast majority of plants that have arrived here by one means or another are fairly benign. examples are the evening primrose ,Onethera erythrosepala and the Oxford ragwort, senecio squalidus.

The alien species can be placed into two groups. High impact plants { as far as the environment is concerned} and low impact plants. Many of the plants that are non-native have been with us for centuries and are now established as being part of the British flora. For instance the Victorians introduced the Rosebay willow herb into their gardens from which the seeds parachuted over the walls and into the general countryside. There are now few localities without this familiar plant among its flora.

However, gout weed or ground elder Aegopodium podagaria has been with us since medieval times where it was utilised as medicinal and culinary purposes. The species is listed on the D.E.F.R.A. list of invasive alien species. It is known that at least 140 non-native species have been here with us for over 500 years. Another 2,000+ have arrived during the last 500years.

There are a large number of aliens that have established themselves in urban situations Rosebay willow herb, Oxford ragwort and pineapple weed are examples, but with exception of the rosebay , not many get established in the wider countryside. If all the species of flora were as rampant as the "head lines " suggests the countryside would look a lot different than it does today. So lets keep a prespective about these invaders and enjoy the countryside with ALL its diverse flora.  below is a tiny sample of high and low impact non-native species. 

HIGH IMPACT PLANTS----Japanese knotweed, Fallopia japonica.

                                         Himalayan balsam. Impatiens glanduliflora.

                                        Giant hogweed , heracleum mantegazzianum.

                                        Spanish  Bluebell. Scilla hispanica.

LOW IMPACT EXAMPLES---Sycamore , Acer psuedoplantus.

                                         Pine apple weed, Matricaria discoidea

                                        Oxford ragwort, Senecio sqalidus.

                                        Canadian golden rod, Solidago canadensis.

AQUATIC  aliens that have arrived in our waterways cause the same heated debate among conservationists- but that is for another hub.

Now Part of British Flora.

Oxford ragwort now part of the British flora it followed the train  tracks from Oxford to many parts of the country.  Photograph-- Snezana Trifunovic
Oxford ragwort now part of the British flora it followed the train tracks from Oxford to many parts of the country. Photograph-- Snezana Trifunovic
japanes knotweed a bane to gardeners and many conservationists Photograph--MdE
japanes knotweed a bane to gardeners and many conservationists Photograph--MdE
Pineapple weed a low impact invader Photograph by Srimesn
Pineapple weed a low impact invader Photograph by Srimesn

Comments 17 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Debsjocassee, nice to meet you. Alien species are a problem in many regions of the world. I would like to read a hub about the problems you have in your part of the world. Thank you for visiting and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.


Debsjocassee profile image

Debsjocassee 5 years ago

Interesting. I live in the South eastern USA Next to the National Forest. We have similar issues with both invasive plants and insect. May be I will hub about it one day.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi,nice to meet you, thank for visiting and for leaving your appreciated comments.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

Wow!! That was a lot of really great information, with beautiful pictures too. Thank you for this.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Jule wherever possible I too, encourage wild flora, to grow in certain aspects of the garden. I enjoyed your hub about native and non native flowers. Thank you for the visit.


Jule Romans profile image

Jule Romans 6 years ago from United States

I find it interesting that evening primrose- native here in the US- is alien there. I also hadn't fully considered all the implications of high and low impact plants. I must admit, I LOVE a few invasives, and have them in my garden.

I, too, am a fan of nettles. Stinging nettle is a host plant for a couple endangered butterflies here.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

2uesday, You might find my hub "Nettles just a weed -you must be joking" useful. Nettles are favoured by the small tortoise shell and peacock butterflies .Their caterpillars feed on them. Ragwort is indeed toxic to horses when eaten in its fresh state. It is a gradual build up of toxin that does them immense harm. It is ironic that their species name is dedicated to the patron saint of horses. I will do a hub soon about the ragwort. Thank you for your visit.


2uesday profile image

2uesday 6 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

Another good read. I have left a patch of nettles growing near the compost heap as the butterflies seem to visit them. I have heard you can steep them in water and make a plant food. I have also left a patch of brambles at the back of the allotment plot for the birds and creatures, but that might be frowned upon by some. However, they were there before me - brambles and birds.

I think Ragwort is the 'weed' that if it is on land where horses are and they eat it they become ill and can die from the effects, as it is toxic to them. As always D.A.L. your hubpages are interesting to read, thank you.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

DeBorrah K. Ogand , thank you for taking the time to read this hub and for your kind comments.


DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

DeBorrah K. Ogans 6 years ago

D.A.L. Thank you for this very helpful informative hub! You have wonderful vivid illustrations as well! Thank you for sharing, Blessings!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thank you Carol. Glad I helped with the identification.

In answer to your question about non-native insects, only time will tell. Thanks you again for taking the time to read and comment on the hub.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thank you Carol. Glad I helped with the identification.

In answer to your question about non-native insects, only time will tell. Thanks you again for taking the time to read and comment on the hub.


reddog1027 profile image

reddog1027 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I find it amazing that as humans spread out over the world they took plants with them and they still do. One of things I have noticed is that plants that migrated in earlier times were of value to those who brought them. These plants are usually fairly benign. Its the ones that were transported for ornamental purposes that seem to be aggressive.

In the U.S., Monarda is a non-native that fits right into wild flower meadow. One the other hand, purple loose strife, giant hogweed and russian olive,were all brought in for gardens.

For me the question is does importing insects that feed on these aggressive plants help or hurt? Or are we just bringing in another aggressive non-native species?

You also helped me identify a mystery plant on my nature walks, the Japanese Knotweed. Thanks


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

THANKS SHALINI FOR YOUR COMMENTS. YOU ARE RIGHT THAT MAN NEEDS TO BE MORE RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS ACTIONS. IF HE HAD DONE SO IN THE PAST WE WOULD NOT BE PANICKING NOW OVER THE EFFECTS OF GLOBAL WARMING.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Hi D.A.L. - what a relevant and interesting hub! I do wish people were more careful of bringing in new species into countries. We have a couple of really bad problems too in India - the fast spreading weed called Parthenium hysterophorus which is responsible for a lot of skin as well as respiratory allergies and the water hyacinth which is clogging up many of our rivers. Man must mess with nature, mustn't he - and then grumble at the results!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thanks Bard; I have read your hubs ( which are great} on butterflies and moths and know you are very keen on their conservation, and nettles play an important role as you say.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Interesting hub! Tenerife is full of alien fauna and flora too! Some of the plants like Prickly Pears look native but they are not!

I agree with you about Nettles being very important. They are the only foodplant of several butterflies and moths.

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