Had all the changes wrought by the introduction of Europeans to north America warranted the search for conservation plants? Was there even a need to stop or slow the loss of top our soil? Did such a search justify the use of introduced plants? “Why the Plant Materials Centers Program Was Needed?” makes a case for an affirmative answer. The North American continent ceased to be a virgin somewhere in the middle of the sixteenth century. The tipping point came when the country realized it was being raped, and was jolted into action. The time and the place can be pinpointed: April 27, 1935, soon after a dust cloud of Great Plains soil darkened the skis over the national capital and Hugh Hammond Bennett had testified before the Senate Public Lands Committee. [i]
When looking at the issue of introduced plants, i.e., using plants that have evolved elsewhere, the most important quote to remember may be “In 1492, Christopher Columbus reached the Western Hemisphere. The impact of that landing has dramatically altered every ecosystem in North America.”[ii]Was Columbus a good or bad introduction? Remember Pogo’s words, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”[iii]
T-4464 buffel grass has fallen from grace, discontinued as a cultivar,[iv] but James Smith knew success when he saw it.[v] While the glimmer of a named, superior performing, widely adapted cultivar shines a little less than did the early ones, Smith’s feeling of accomplishment must be appreciated. They had been told, and had every reason to believe, that the Great Plains soil landing in the Atlantic Ocean was the resource that must be saved. T-4464 is still doing that, but once the soil was safe, the priority seemed to shift to saving the native flora, which had failed when the land resource fell in the path of human use.
Read more in Conservation Plants, A USDA Success Story, W. Curtis Sharp
[i] Dust Bowl Trough, loc. cit.
[ii] Charles C. Mann, 1493, Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Knopf Doubleday Pub. Group, 2011).
[iv] USDA-NRCS Discontinued Conservation Plant Releases, http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/releases/discontinued.html (Aug. 14, 2012).
[v] The Dust Bowl and Black Sunday, http://www.altereddimensions.net/earth/DustBowlAndBlackSunday.aspx/ (December 28, 2012).