Driving through Ballycroy National Park, we began seeing an addition to the typical green landscape of Ireland: pink flowering bushes. Our driver, Desmond, identified them as rhododendron, a beautiful but invasive species. Brought to Britain in the 1700s by a horticulturalist that was captivated by their beauty. They were immediately popular among many, who in turn planted them in their home gardens. Rhododendron quickly and easily spreads. It is also attracted to Ireland’s damp boglands. With toxic leaves, there are no animals that eat the plant, leaving it without predators or competition. As a result it continues to spread throughout Ireland. It is nearly impossible to keep them from spreading further, much less to get rid of those already suffocating the Irish landscape.
Ireland already has a very small amount of tree coverage. Currently, tree coverage amounts for only eight percent of land coverage in Ireland. To meet EU standards, efforts have been put into place to plant more trees. However, with the spread of rhododendron also comes a threat to the trees of Ireland. Since the bushes are thick and unmanageable, they often kill out whatever lies beneath them.
Throughout the rest of the day, we saw massive amounts of rhododendron covering mountains and valleys alike. Entering Achill Island, they surrounded the bay. When I first saw the rhododendron, like Desmond said, I thought they were beautiful. However, with the knowledge that this invasive plant species threatened the other plant life I had come to admire each day as we drove through various parts of the country, I felt disheartened every time I saw the rhododendron.
It’s easy to think that bringing back a single plant won’t make any difference or impact on the landscape in which we live, but it’s not that simple. Around the world are a variety of ecosystems and we need to respect and appreciate the beauty that already exists within them. Otherwise, we risk unleashing a beast that destroys our own backyard.