Beautiful Invasions, Part I: The Rule of Tens

Adrienne Domingus
6 min readOct 15, 2022

The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it. — Edward O. Wilson

The summer my husband and I married, we drove to Seattle from Denver, where we were living at the time. We drove through Wyoming and Montana on the way there — you can almost forget Idaho exists — and back home as newly married people through Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, mountain bikes on the roof of our car. Along vast stretches of the highway were profusions of happy yellow blooms. They struck me as pretty; only Justin thought to ask what it was, a question that back then didn’t occur to me. Pretty was enough. But I looked it up, and as I have done so often and continue to do, I learned something from Justin’s instinct for curiosity: the plant is called scotch broom.

Scotch broom is native to North Africa and parts of Europe. It was brought to the United States in the 1800s as an ornamental plant for people’s gardens — I’m not the only one to think: pretty. Later, when in the early 1900s automobiles were introduced and their prevalence grew from there, roads and highways were built, clearing swaths of land across the country: over rivers, through and around mountains. Through agricultural areas, connecting cities. And so: scotch broom. It has a deep and sturdy root system; where the land was clear cut for the highway, the edges tended to erode, falling back into itself, which of course defeated the purposes of the automobiles and their drivers. Scotch broom seemed just the thing to hold this crumbling earth in place. Unfortunately for these would-be road preservers, it is toxic to livestock and has now spread well across the entire region. With each plant producing tens of thousands of seed pods each year, each of which can survive in the ground for more than fifty years, it’s nearly impossible to eradicate once established, and can outcompete the things that used to grow there. Well-intentioned people either didn’t consider the implications of their actions or didn’t have the information they would have needed to do so effectively.

Invade (v): to enter for conquest or plunder

Invasive (adj.): of a non-native organism: growing and dispersing easily usually to the detriment of native species and ecosystems

Ecosystem (n): the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit

To invade, then, requires some intention. Simply to enter a space is not to invade. Arrival alone…