Field of Science

Unsustainably stalking the wild asparagus

Some people just don’t get ecology. A local crazy likes to advocate “living off the land” by eating wild plants he’s gathered as if this somehow makes sense and is feasible for more than just one or two crazies per region. The days of a gathering-hunting life-style are long gone and so are the very low human population densities required for this life style to be successful. At our present population density, stalking the wild asparagus is not practical or possible, and asparagus isn’t wild anyways. In this area several plants have become or are becoming rarer because they are over predated by human collectors, in one case (wild ramps) by local foodies, and in the other (ginseng) by people selling to purveyors of herbal medicines. In other places over gathering of wild plants, in this case rooibos, a legume used as an herbal tea, can also threaten populations and negatively affect biological diversity. It may seem like a good idea to harvest wild organisms for “free”, but there just isn’t enough wild left in most places any more to harvest wild organisms sustainably. In the case of rooibos tea and ginseng demand in other places drives over predation, which is a few stealing from everyone in the case of public lands. While trying to study the age structure and reproduction of ginseng locally, plants were disappearing as fast as they could be located, which sort of made our case for over-harvesting. Or like the Phactor, plant and harvest your own ramps from your woodland gardens, but even with plenty of space, harvests have to be limited and propagation encouraged by some intervention to keep the population going.

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