The Great Exotic Versus Native Debate

Yesterday I walked to the cafe on the bay to get some breakfast for us. While I waited for the food, I started talking to a grandfatherly man who was peacefully sipping coffee outside. I told him how much we loved the town and asked whether everybody there was as nice as the people we had met. Los Osos had all kinds, he said, and told me about the main source of contention in the town:

Across the bay is a grove of eucalyptus trees, and eucalyptus trees, though beautiful, have several points against them: they are messy, nothing can grow under them, and they are not native to California. There are people in Los Osos who fight to have the eucalyptus cut down and native trees planted in their stead.

Eucalyptus trees were brought to California during the Gold Rush by well-meaning Australians who thought the wood could be used for railroad tracks (it can’t). The trees love the weather here, and it turns out they are useful as windbreakers. They are fast growing, and can get as tall as 65 feet in 50 years.

I looked over to the grove and felt sad. I do not like the idea of cutting down trees — any tree. I happen to be very fond of eucalyptus, their musty smell and the rustling shade they provide remind me of the eucalyptus forest in my childhood town. Also, as a non-native species to California myself, I wonder: when does an exotic species become native?

There are so many examples like the eucalyptus. It is very popular to hate the yellow oats which cover the hills and choke the wildflowers, but they came here with the Spaniards, almost 250 years ago! At Henry Coe State Park the administration thought for a while to remove the dams the ranchers had built and release the water from the park’s many lakes and ponds. But these dams have been there for years and years, and the animals have learned to depend on the constant source of water. The question arises what is exactly the original or natural condition of the land?

Change. We love to resist it, don’t we? We always think it was better once upon a time, before the change had come. Life was so much better before the oats and the dams, before Chinese food and eucalyptus trees and before all those crazy immigrants. California must have been beautiful before the Dinosaur settlers stomped on all the native plants. Not that we’d know. Back then there were no people around.

Our world changes all the time. It really does. Mind you, I am a firm believer in taking care of our land and helping species survive. But I’m also trying to remind me, you, all of us, that even the most native species were exotic once upon a time.

Comments are closed.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109