CID au Grand-Hornu, Belgium
18.10.2020 - 14.02.2021

Mar. 28th, 2020

The paradox of alien plants


Between protection and destruction


Text & images © Minji Choi

According to the European Union, a species is classified as an invasive alien species (IAS) if it is non-native, has been introduced by humans either accidentally or deliberately, and produces negative impacts on human health or economic well-being. But who shall evaluate this and how?

In the past years, I have been investigating the world of plants trying to shift my perspective from the anthropocentric to the plant-centric one. Based on the statement, “We should not harm or destroy plants arbitrarily”, I have been developing projects that wish to provoke a new ethical attitude towards nature - a hybrid between different scientific, aesthetic, moral and religious perspectives. By doing so, I attempted to deconstruct some conventional attitudes based on false distinctions between natural and artificial, between good and bad, between our consideration for the individual and the ecosystem.
Interview for Pine Trees, 2018
[Graphic design by Suk Go]



(NON)Native, Polarities, MU Artspace, 2019
Featured in the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology’s 2008 legislative publication Regarding Plants as Living Beings and Protecting Their Own Sake, the above-mentioned statement tells us that causing indiscriminate harm to plants is morally unacceptable, and handling plants requires appropriate justification. Accepting this assumption, I became uncomfortable with the ideas inherent in discussions about the management and eradication of IAS - both plants and animals - because of a general tendency that assumes that IAS are intrinsically bad.

Through my projects Naturalised Junk and (NON)Native, I was able to explore the ways in which our society deals with introduced plants and assigns them their values. Both projects were based on a case study about the American Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), which is classified as an IAS in The Netherlands. Imported from North America in 1740, the tree rapidly spread across the country and, in the past 60 years, around € 250 million has been wasted by the Dutch government to battle its diffusion.
Naturalised Junk focused on how industrial, political and economic crises affect the importance of a species. The Black Cherry was heavily planted to complement the pine monoculture, which is a commercially important asset for Holland. The conditions being optimal for the tree to overtake and invade open spaces, the Black Cherry had to be removed in order to protect the original pine monoculture. Its right to exist was therefore determined by the industry, showing how plants must conform to human priorities.

(NON)Native concentrated on how the classification of plants into native or non-native species alters how we, the humans, see and manage the natural world. Since the non-native Black Cherry - assisted by birds - moved into protected sites of native species and was hard to eradicate, conservationists called it a ‘forest pest’. The management goal of conservationists being to protect native species, they considered the non-native Black Cherry as inferior and saw it as a threat to the native ecosystem. The Dutch governmental conservation group Natuurmonumenten, for instance, has been using the herbicide glyphosate for the purpose of eradicating invasive non-native species such as the Black Cherry.

(NON)Native, Polarities, MU Artspace, 2019


Naturalised Junk, Geo-Design, 2019

It is important to highlight the fact that, since its introduction back in 1740, the Black Cherry has evolved to become naturalised in the Dutch environment. Nowadays the tree hosts and provides shelter to more than 500 types of animal life. So, while the non-human native ecosystem has welcomed the introduced species, human culture still does not accept naturalised non-native species.

On the one hand, invasive alien species may pose a serious danger to humans, and we certainly need to prevent risks. On the other hand, however, since we caused these species’ immigration and invasion, we should ask ourselves whether we have the right to eradicate them. As the justification for the destruction of plants relies on human knowledge and morals, we have to be aware that sometimes our desire for the protection of nature could result in its own destruction. Lastly, defining certain species as IAS does not mean that we automatically gain the ethical justification to kill them.


Bibliography

Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH), “The dignity of living beings with regard to plants. Moral consideration of plants for their own sake”, April 2008
Bart Nyssen, Jan den Ouden, Kris Verheyen, Amerikaanse Vogelkers, Van Bospest tot Bosboom, KNNV Uitgeverij, 2013

Barbara Gravendeel & Menno Schilthuizen, “Amerikaanse vogelkers door evolutie ingehaald”, 10 December 2016





About the author
Minji Choi is a Korean artist, designer, and researcher, currently based in the Netherlands. In recent years, she has focused on the cultural symbolism of plants in relation to the urban landscape and industry by shifting from the anthropocentric perspective to the plant’s point of view. www.minji-choi.com@minji_choi___



Mark





Plant Fever is a project conceived by d-o-t-s and produced by the Belgian museum CID au Grand-Hornu. Graphic identity by Matthieu Visentin.