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Gardening: Invasion of the Invasives

The strife is loose ... and it is purple.

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His 35-millimeter monsters weren't radioactive or programmed to destroy. They were just pretty, programmed to smell nice. His masterpiece was the 1956 film "Invasion of the Invasives," a low-budget movie so unpopular there are no longer any copies. Hardly any of the script remains. But the story involves an urban planner, Professor Henbit, who persuades American cities to plant hardy non-native species in their parks and back yards. These were the aliens; these were the invaders.

Reprinted here is a fragment from what I believe is the final scene, in which the hero, Burt, a botanist, and Margarita, a plucky yet alluring scientist, face the urban planner, Henbit, in his office.



Burt Henbit! Your monstrous schemes have doomed us all!

Margarita: Explain yourself, please!

Henbit: (Chuckling) I really just gave the people what they wanted.

Burt: What can you mean?

Henbit: The people want non-natives, my friends. They want tolerant plants, drought-resistant plants, plants that grow fast, reproduce and spread. We are aggressive Americans! And we want aggressive plants!

Margarita: But these invaders have forced out or destroyed all the natives. The diversity necessary for an ecosystem is gone!

Henbit: Quite plucky, isn't she?

Burt: Never mind, you! Why did you trap us all?

Henbit: The people wanted natural fences ... so I put up bamboo —

Margarita: Bambusa! Pseudosasa!

Henbit: Er, yes, those. I put up bamboo around the cities, and before you know it, the bamboo had sealed everyone in. But what a marvelous zoo I'd created for you all! You insisted on flowering fruit trees, so I gave you cherries and Bradford pears!

Margarita: Prunus avium and Pyrus calleryana, you mean!

Henbit: Quite. Though they displace native fruit trees and are susceptible to disease, still you had to have them. And where would you be without your friend the Russian olive? Without the crown vetch? These two were brought in to control erosion ... only they rooted too well!

Burt: You're the real son-of-a-vetch!

Margarita: Coronilla varia!

Burt: Why do you keep saying the scientific name of everything, dear Margarita?

Margarita: Because the names may be the only thing to survive this.

Henbit: True enough! Downtown's already been taken over by my invasives.

Burt: Ye gods, man! The honeysuckle! It's everywhere! The Japanese, the Morrow's, the Standish's, the Belle's, the Amur, even the Tartarian. So sweet!

Margarita: I'm not going to try to keep up with that. ...

Burt: And everyone just let it grow! Let it swallow the city! And you ran wis-

teria up all the walls! Now it's crushing our civilization in its perfumed grip!

Henbit: Yes, it's all very fragrant.

Burt: It's a wasteland!

Henbit: It's a fragrant wasteland.

Margarita: And don't forget the purple loosestrife, you fiend! Lythrum salicaria! You did the worst possible thing with the most invasive one of all! You planted it on the edge of natural areas! It swallowed the forests, it covered the rivers! All our ponds and streams are blanketed!

Henbit: Yes, a lovely magenta quilt to tuck you all in. ...

Burt: Why couldn't it be milkweed? It's pretty and it's less invasive! Why not milkweed?

Henbit: Listen. You can almost here the Oriental bittersweet just pushing out the last of the American bittersweet. ...

(Suddenly, a large oak crashes through the window, strangled by wisteria, crushing Henbit.)

Henbit: (Gasping) I ... just wanted endless life ... endless green. I wanted to see kudzu creeping over the horizon. ... (Henbit dies.)

Margarita: Homo sapiens.

Burt: Well, he was right about one thing. ...

Margarita: What's that?

Burt: It is bittersweet ... for Americans.

Margarita: Oh, Burt! (Throws arms around his neck. They kiss.) That's Celastrus scandens, by the way.

(They laugh, grimly.)



Every so often, someone comes along to warn us about ourselves. Grant Nectar tried to do that and ended up bankrupting the film company. He declined in the years following "Invasion of the Invasives," ending up living out his days in a sanitarium. His last public statement was: "People will do whatever they want. It's just in their nature."

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