If you want to help reforestation, it's important to know about a process called ecological succession. This is how nature does it.

The plants most people think of as weeds are very important in this. Botanically, they're known as pioneer species. They're tough, tenacious, and will grow even in unforgiving places.

Pioneers lay the groundwork for larger plants to gradually take over, eventually making a comfortable environment for climax species, like forest trees.

Suddenly I find myself wondering how to encourage kelp forests to grow...

@InvaderXan I'm no expert, but I've heard that a lot of weeds are invasive species--is that the case or is that relevant to this? (I'm strongly pro-weeds in general though!)

@adoxographer @InvaderXan I think it depends on context. The term 'Weeds' might be considered any plant you don't want to see in a garden.

So there are native plants that are considered 'weeds' but are necessary for the local ecology. Of course, there are also invasive plants which are also weeds.

So when you hear the term weed, you have to see who said it: a gardener or a local ecologist / nature person.

@sohkamyung @adoxographer @InvaderXan many weeds are also edible. And as they are pioneer species that grow well in disturbed soil you can grow a nice crop of edible weeds along with your fancy garden plants

@ewankeep @sohkamyung @adoxographer
Yes, true. I think a lot of people don't realise exactly how many edible weeds there are!

There's some overlap in the words commonly used, unfortunately.

Invasive species are, by definition, plants which belong in a different ecosystem. Growing in the wrong place, they often outcompete local plants, harming biodiversity. Feel no remorse in cutting them down.

But to most people, a weed is just a plant which is growing somewhere that humans don't want it to grow. Even indigenous ones.

Though it is, of course, important to know the difference.

Yes, some plants are, depending on both the plant and the area.

Interestingly, gorse and broom are an invasive species in NZ that grow through all the tussock lands, but (as nitrogen fixers and smaller plants) they make a fantastic nursery plant for other natives.

They need anchors (so a reasonable depth and maybe a particular kind of bottom? Thick enough sludge?) and adequate nutrients in the water. And they throw off bits all the time, so if you have habitable conditions kelp has probably already grown there.

Driving through the post-small-farm northeast one can really see this at work.

Half of it's just opening your eyes to the world.
The other half is when someone like yourself says "look at this". :greensun:

@InvaderXan For some reason this lesson from like 6th grade biology really stuck in my head. I think it's really cool!

When I came to Mississippi I felt like something was wrong with their forests and they felt unnatural. Then I found out that much of Mississippi has been clear cut for generations with trees being replanted in regular patterns. This messes up the normal processes of ecological succession

I know what you mean. Forests which have been artificially planted with no thought about how this happens naturally, nearly always feel... not quite right.

@InvaderXan Are you sure "pioneer" is a botanical way of considering plants? I would have thought of it as a proper ecological classification, also because it includes stuff like lichens, which are not just plants, or bacteria.

Some terms like these tend to be shared between several fields of science, in fairness. And yes, there are pioneer species covered by microbiology, mycology, and zoology. But the earliest pioneers tend to be photosynthetic, purely because of the scarcity of nutrients.

@InvaderXan we gotta talk about how colonization interacts with this. in australia, aboriginal people have been using fire management to create patch mosaic landscapes for centuries or millennia. the model of "natural succession" here is often a european construct foisted on a huge diversity of ecosystems. "natural succession farming" MUST be tailored to the landscape to be worthwhile

thank u for writing this up! it's great

This is an important thing to consider. And I must confess, I don't know so much about Australia but, let's be honest, a ton of damage was done by Europeans being clueless about the local ecosystems.

I feel like it is, of course, vital to know the land you're trying to help. And no one knows the land better than indigenous people who've been caring for it for thousands of years!

My front lawn isn't full of weeds, it's just pioneer species.

@InvaderXan @Zach realizing this helped me understand why lawns are so ecologically harmful. they require a lot of energy input to keep them in an early succession state, fighting nature the entire time.

@dthompson @Zach
Pretty much. And not just an early state, but a monoculture. In Northern Europe, for instance, two of the most common lawn "weeds" are dandelions and clovers – two excellent pioneer species. Dandelions have deep roots to draw up nutrients from underground, and clovers fix nitrogen, enriching the soil.

@InvaderXan @Zach both plants I encourage in my lawn (which I am trying to shrink) for those exact reasons. dandelions are one of the earliest flowering plants in my area so they serve an additional function for the bees. maybe this spring I will incorporate the leaves into salads.

@dthompson @Zach
If you pick the flowers and pluck out the petals, they make a refreshing ice tea with a squeeze of lime and a little green tea added in.

@InvaderXan I fell several large trees three years ago, about 50-60 of them due to the beetle borer/fungus. They made some really nice boards. Best thing I did was move the same tree nears the stumps. Fast forward and the EWP are nearly 5ft tall and strong.

Yes, sometimes these things can't be helped. Good of you to help the forest recover!

@InvaderXan That's a really handy diagram.

I work for a conservation charity. When I started I found it surprising how often we're actually working against succession, because if we let everything turn to forest we'd lose the other habitats, and the species that live in them.

Oh, that's interesting. Yes, I guess you need to pay very careful attention to whatever environment is already in place. I was approaching this from the perspective of restoring forests which have been destroyed, and completely missed that nuance!

@InvaderXan @smbsy There's a nature center near me that has designated areas they try to keep in pioneer or intermediate state. They have power lines cutting across the area they care for, so under and around the power lines they keep it cut back for grasses and perenials, away from the power lines they encourage intermediate species. This keeps a variety of environments available for different species and keeps the power company from coming through and clear-cutting.

@jessmahler @InvaderXan That's really cool. A simple solution and a win-win situation all round.

@InvaderXan Another problem with this, as I see it, is that at least under current economic regimes you will neither find any authorities nor private entities that are going to declare any reforestation area – outside of rain forests – as a conservation area for natural succession for, let's say, the next 600 years.
But without that you will not get any forests that are anywhere near the biodiversity of primeval ones, and in shorter time frames moderate disturbance leads to more biodiversity.

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