I am often asked whether one can make baskets with invasive plants, and the short answer is 'yes'. The full answer has many considerations, which is the topic of this blog post.
Our planet has a large variety of diverse ecosystems. We know where to find a barrier reef, an alpine meadow, or a seaside beach, and we anticipate seeing certain living organisms in each biome. The origin and nature of a species within an ecosystem is distinguished by the terms native, alien, and invasive.
A species can be native, alien, and invasive, according to how its populations exist within various ecosystems. For example, the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) was introduced to New York and Oregon in 1890 for the purpose of insect control. Its population now causes extensive agricultural damage and contributes to the decline of native birds through competition for food and nesting sites. Accordingly, the European Starling is native to Europe and Asia and both alien and invasive in Canada, Central America, and the United States.
The response to invasive plants has long been one of eradication, whereby we remove the 'bad' invasive plants in favor of 'good' native ones. This blog will not delve into the ethics of managing invasive species, as each country has its own approach. Suffice to say that here in the United States, spray herbicides are used so many of my recommendations are based in that reality.
While land managers and restoration experts focus on eradication programs, basketmakers can make good use of many invasive plants. I once helped a group of weavers remove an entire hillside of Japanese honeysuckle in one week. We did our weaving onsite to avoid introducing honeysuckle to another location, and we each took several lovely baskets home with us. After the honeysuckle spread across the hillside again, we went back for another weaving party.
It's important to note that we didn't just park our cars and start collecting. Several considerations come into play when collecting natural materials:
Information specific to utilizing invasive plants for basketry is available at the end of this blog post. The list is organized in alphabetical order by scientific name with the common name in parenthesis. Specific details include a description, the countries in which it is established as an invasive species (as of 2020), and how the plant can be utilized by the basketmaker. Additional collecting notes are provided for some species.
This listing is not exhaustive; rather, it is provided as a starting point. Country listings are according to the Global Invasive Species Database (www.iucngisd.org) and do not drill down into states/provinces/local areas. Most of the plants on this list have non-invasive 'cousins' that are also useful for basketry. For example, Clematis reticulata (Netleaf virgin's bower) is native to Florida but Clematis terniflora (Japanese clematis) is an alien invasive. Both can be used for basketry.
Finally, this list does not include species that may be aggressive in growth but lack the environmental, economic, or health implications required for classification as an invasive species. A local example of this is Vitis rotundifolia (Muscadine grape), a vigorous, high-climbing vine that happily drapes itself over trees and shrubs. While the species is rather aggressive, it is native to Florida and thus cannot be classified as a Florida invasive. As a basketmaker, I do my part to keep the species under control in my little corner of the world.
Marcia Morse Mullins