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What do invasive plants tell us about the history, health and future of local ecosystems? About belonging? What larger stories of colonization, industrialization, people, and place live in the tales of their origins and migration, what they’ve come to symbolize, how they are useful, and how they are harmful? What makes a plant “native” to its environment, given that plants migrate, climate shifts, and life on Earth evolves and mutates to further life on Earth? Why is it important to protect and support native plant communities — what is being lost? Are thriving invasive species doing ecologically beneficial work that we can’t yet see? Are they better adapted to our changing climate? Is it possible that invasive species are the contemporary building blocks of future diverse and healthy plant communities in the anthropocene?

 

Incorporating letterpress printed illustrations of plants and seeds, printed and hand painted signs, potlucks and shared meals, reading rooms, plant walks, and information gathered in conversation with botanists, conservationists, and herbalists, (native/invasive) investigates our understanding of health and harm in our surrounding environment. 

 

The project began in Mancos, Colorado during the summer of 2023 following extensive conversations with conservationists and environmental stewards in my then-home of Moab, Utah. Through the Mancos Common Press, where I was an artist in residence, I was connected with Cara Gildar, an ecologist and former botanist with the US Forest Service. After a series of emails exploring some of the philosophical tension I was feeling around the native-invasive-binary and discussing the local fauna of the Mancos Valley, Cara agreed to lead a public plant walk. She brought an amazing selection of references that we browsed before and after the walk with attendees. We walked a very short but biodiverse few blocks around the press in downtown Mancos, ending along the banks of the Mancos River, meeting both native and invasive plant species along the way. My time in Mancos culminated in a public dandelion potluck, with folks invited to bring a dish featuring dandelions and see the work I created while in residence. I experimented with pressure printing and paper weaving, exploring ideas of interconnectedness and the symbolism inherent in the shapes of different seed pods. I focused on plants connected with fire — Cheatgrass, a widespread invasive grass likely brought here from Eurasia in the fur of livestock, known to carry fire in landscapes throughout the Colorado Plateau that are not fireadapted, and Jane’s Globemallow, a native fire following flower.

 

A second iteration of the project occurred in Silver City, New Mexico, on the edge of the Gila Wilderness. There, while in residence with Power and Light Press, I connected with local herbalist Alex Gonzales. Alex and I harvested samaras from Siberian Elm trees along the Big Ditch, where the San Vicente Creek transformed the City’s old Main Street into a massive gully when it flooded in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Along the banks, conservation groups like the Gila Resources Information Project are working to remove invasives (like Siberian Elm and Tree of Heaven) and restore native Willow populations. Siberian Elm was introduced to New Mexico by the governor in the 1930s to aid with soil stabilization and shade cover. Considered invasive in 25 states, the trees produce an abundance of seeds in the early spring — edible, and tasting somewhat like peas. Alex and I enjoyed a pesto and simple salad of the samaras, served with ham and beans. I printed large signs that read “Good” and “Bad,” still grappling with the imposed binary way of understanding native and invasive plant species. I also began a series of hand painted signs celebrating plant power couples, plants like Cottonwood and Willow that are usually found growing together on the land.

 

Designed to be a nomadic and place-specific exploration, the project will continue in an additional 1-3 locations.

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