The Rule of Unanticipated Consequences

PerennialsSeveral years ago w bought a dilapidated cape-style house, took it down to studs, and rebuilt it. With the house came lovely borders of flowers that ran along the house foundation. We need to move the foundation, which meant the irises and other perennials had to be moved, or allowed to be destroyed. As it turned out, there lurked, among the irises, goutweed, a notoriously aggressive flowering plant. When we moved the beds to more open space in our yard, the gout weed took over; now it resides in every perennial bed and is threatening to overwhelm our neighbors’ perennials as well.

The thing is, we had no idea that the plant was invasive. Maybe we should have done some research before moving the beds, but we had a very brief period in which to act. As a result, an act of stewardship and conservation became a gardening mishap of significant proportions. We now know that goutweed is a beautiful pest! It has been planted as an ornamental worldwide, and is also used as a spring green and a medicinal plant. Sadly, goutweed is, once established, almost impossible to control or eradicate. Oh! The irony!

The goutweed has escaped our yard and made its way into the woods behind our home. I’m assured by folks who are more knowledgeable than me that it is unlikely to go far, but it can overwhelm local flora where it is able to establish itself. We also inherited a couple of burning bush shrubs. They are also invasive, and in spite of our efforts to eradicate them, have made their way into the forest margins. Again, we are assured they are unlikely to travel far; still, we are disturbed to watch as they join the gout weed in taking over the area along the access road.

We have, in short, aided in the creation of an unintended small-scale environmental disaster. Sometimes I imagine we should have known better, yet mostly I just acknowledge not having any idea of the consequences of our attempted good deed. Rather than berate myself, I try to remember there are always unintended consequences. Moving plants, people, or unhappy spirits may aid one person and injure someone else. Sometimes we pretty much guess the consequences of our actions; most of the time, though, we simply can’t anticipate the consequences of our living and doing.

When all beings and systems are interconnected, every action carries the probability there will be consequences we can’t anticipate. We are each going to create ripples in the fabric of the universe; we can only do our best, try to anticipate the results, and do what we can to repair any damage.



9 thoughts on “The Rule of Unanticipated Consequences

  1. I work for a conservation foundation and find it interesting to ponder the labeling of “invasive species” and “native species”. Time and distance play a huge part: when did this species invade? From how far away? Species are bound to mix and change; that’s what they do. Is that really a “problem”? Why? It’s an interesting battle to examine.

    1. I agree. As a species, humans clearly have the ability to disrupt existing ecosystems on a large and small scale. Some of these disruptions be extremely destructive. But some of these disruptions have the unintended consequence of spreading a uniquely beautiful and medicinal plant to a larger area. Perhaps the plant has an agenda of its own – producing more medicine for a peoples who are in need.

      1. I am very reluctant to assign an agenda to the plant itself, other than some instinct to survive and multiply. I do agree that humans can be extremely disruptive, often in an attempt to “undo” a previous disruption. I advocate as little disruption as possible!

  2. This reminds me of when I planted a herb in my parents’ garden and it completely took over. But who knows whether this is ultimately a good or a bad thing, as you say, we never know what the final consequence will be.

Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.