Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All
by Alexis West of Redmond, OR
photo credit: ALXSw
According to Oregon Wild, some 500,000 acres of Oregon wildlands were developed in 2015. I find myself saddened to witness the western states morph into lawns, sprawl, and invasive species of plants and animals brought and force d upon the unsuspecting landscape by unwitting new… settlers. If you are developing land you are impacting, you are settling. That means less wildness: vehicle traffic and danger, exhaust fumes, unnatural lighting patterns, unnatural sounds. That means less habitat for all species that were innocently at home in trees, brush, and burrows, in the least, there’s somatic adjustment and at worst, displacement – a forced migration. Home sapiens is usually an invasive species with exceedingly egocentric manners. And we hit harder on what little is left as the options for indigenous species become increasingly narrow. It doesn’t have to be this invasive: a new settler could help deer, elk, or antelope by using undulate-specific-non-barbed fencing, a new settler could provide a surface water source and not remove surface water into a pipeline. A new settler could leave brush and wild plants for forage, cover, and animal burrows. Unless that new settler wants to blend with what life has been there, and invest in the long term notion of sustainability, the new settled place becomes another collection of structures, power lines, roads, vehicles, empty of connection to the land itself and empty of the creatures which once considered it home, habitat.
In this new settling, thus landscaping and gardening have become very critical, as many native species of plants have been mislabeled as ‘noxious’ since the mid-1990’s and are on the decline. Most county extension agents and federal ‘experts’ are still on the petroleum agriculture bandwagon and the best information these days is offered by the non-profits who have taken the role as defenders of nature. Case in point, the stability of pollenator populations (bees, butterflies, bumblebees, moths, dragonflies) have suffered from decades of poisoning and are now in serious decline.
As a result of corporate campaigns, county and state governments began routine chemical spraying along roadsides & waterways in the 1990’s. (Bayer, Dow, and Monsanto remain the most powerful chemical global corporations in the US.) In addition to routine roadside poisoning and surface water contamination, vast acres of agricultural fields across the U.S. are sprayed for chemical-based agriculture using herbicides and pesticides. The die-offs and decline of native pollenators is directly linked to the massive use of herbicides and pesticides. Honeybees, wild bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and moths are dying in alarming rates. The birds who eat poisoned invertebrates are also at risk. Audobon Society reported that in 2015 some 314 species of songbird populations are seriously in decline. The space between rare and extinct is very small. From the loss of pollenators what follows is that the food supply of homo sapiens is at risk. The message from our iconic pollenators is that most of the U.S. is toxic. URL’s for further research are listed at the end of this article.
This is not abstract conjecture. Just up the road, a new landowner from the east coast mentioned he is poisoning all the weeds around his place. When I asked, he advised someone told him mullein is a ‘noxious weed.’ Let me cut to the chase, mullein is not noxious, nor is milkweed, nor is shepards purse, nor dandelion. Many common plants that volunteer in disrupted soil hold the soil from erosion. Many are medicinal. If you don’t eat shepards purse, milkweed pods, or dandelion, there are many small mammals that do. But let me focus on mullein for now. Spare your mullein plants. Celebrate your mullein plants. Let me share why.
While Mullein is more or less common across the west it “has found it’s niche” (Moore) in the West’s pinon/juniper and ponderosa belts. One can expect it to either be established in most of the West, or follow after soil has been opened, after development.