When Europeans settled new lands, they had a habit of bringing all their favourite plants and animals with them. The result has been a plague of invasive exotic species all over the world. It’s easy to dismiss these settlers to as misguided imperialists, and I’ve done so myself.
But being a stranger in a strange land more than once in my life, I have to admit that I understand the desire to bring a little of the homeland to a new land.
Autumn is when I feel it most.
Most native New Zealand trees are evergreen. There are no native autumn colours, no piles of native leaves to be raked and jumped in. No smell of wet leaves carpeting the ground on crisp autumn mornings.
Last year my daughter and I found a lovely little path along a stream on one of our city walks. Dropping down to the stream edge from the street, I was first struck by the fact that all the trees were non-native oaks and maples. Then I was struck by the smell, and the rustle of fallen leaves on the path, and the glow of yellow that suffused everything. The familiarity of that little stretch of path lifted a weight I didn’t know I carried—the weight of being away from home. For the three minutes it took us to stroll through that little patch of Northern Hemisphere trees, I was in my element. The illusion came to an end all too quickly as we stepped back out onto the street.
So, while I still advocate native plantings, and whittle away at the non-natives on our own property as our young native trees grow, I don’t pass judgement on those early Europeans. They carried a weight in their hearts greater than mine—once they were here, there was no going back for most of them. Never to return to their homeland, they needed to bring a piece of it here. I can sympathise.