Ecological Ring-Around-the-Rosy: When Invasives Aren’t All Bad

Adrienne Domingus
4 min readJan 6

I am trying to kill the fig buttercup
the way I’m supposed to according
to the government website,
but right now there’s a bee on it.
— Ada Limón

I can suffer the blackberries their existence in September, when they provide me with pie. My work to remove them all, which will never be complete, picks back up in October once the berries have all been eaten by human or bird, fallen to the ground in a purple splat so dark it’s nearly black, or begun to petrify still on the vine. This work continues through the darkest and rainiest months, but stops again in March. Through the summer I attempt only to hold any ground I’ve gained.

The vines of a Himalayan blackberry bush, my least favorite rubus, live for two or three years and can grow to be as thick as my thumb. When they die back, new ones grow in their place, but the old ones remain — dead, dry and brown, but entangled and still sharp. Over time a veritable thicket forms, impenetrable to a human, but not bad at all as a nesting site for songbirds, who use it like they might a brush pile or stand of native rubus or other woody shrub. This is why removal efforts halt in March, as birdsong largely absent in the preceding months, begins to make its return. The risk of destroying a nest is too high — what good would an invasive-free piece of land be, if there were no birds?

Carpenter bees, one of the most widespread native bees in the United States, are also known to nest in the previous season’s brush: a female will hollow out the woody vines and lay an egg inside, leaving behind enough pollen and resources for the larvae to feed on once it hatches. She’ll then close up the hole with plant matter and move on. This is too subtle for me. No matter how I pride myself on noticing, on seeing the world around me, I’ve never seen this. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, not worth pausing for.

So too with honey bees (themselves not native, but more on that later). A foraging honey bee will only feed on one species of flower on any given trip away from the hive, collecting nectar and pollen from hundreds of flowers on a single foraging trip, all of the same type. This, of course, is how a beekeeper can sell you honey of a specific type — if they harvest honey right after what is known as the “flow” (of nectar) of a specific type of flower, they know that all the honey…