22 April 2008

The Yard Without Me

Inspired by “The World Without Us,” a fantastic book by Alan Weisman, I thought I’d perform a little thought experiment myself.

In the book, Weisman wonders what the world would look like if all humans were to suddenly and completely disappear, not from some catastrophe that would generate its own damage (like nuclear war) but just quietly gone. Perhaps the Rapture would do it.

The book is meticulously researched, and the Houston chapter—outlining the everlasting effects of the petrochemical industry—scares the bejeezus out of me. But there are other little tidbits—like domestic cats are here forever, dogs won’t make it—that make the book extremely interesting.

So, here’s my experiment, admittedly with way less research than Weisman:

What would happen to my yard without me? (Um, I’ve seen a few neighbors who are carrying through with this thought experiment already).

For sure, the yard would become a thick forest of invasive ligustrum, non-native Arizona ash saplings, native hackberry and elms. Cedar waxwings would sit in our pecan and ash and poop the little ligustrum and hackberry seeds all over the place. I’m always pulling seedlings up from the lawn and beds. And every fall the Arizona ash sends forth a gazillion whirligigs all over the garden, into the street, down the gutters and throughout the Boggy Creek watershed.

I’ve seen a few Arizona ashes that’ve taken hold down at the creek. Whether or not they are the progeny of our tree is another story, since Arizona ash is/was widely planted around growing Austin as a quick shade, quick fix tree. (Subsequently, it’s a piece of crap, always breaking branches and never living very long.) In my yard, the ash seedlings form a green blanket across the garden beds, and if I weren’t there to pull them up, there’d be a forest of ash soon enough.

The understory, I think, would eventually stabilize with lots of inland sea oats, a native that’s a good spreader, and beautyberry, which is a nice shrubby thing with berries that seem to find their way all over the yard. Non-natives sure to elbow their way in would be the nandina from next door.

The widow’s tears (false dayflower) would quickly consume my raised veggie beds, and the horseherb would carpet the ground. After a while, as the wood rotted from the veggie beds, pecan trees and redbuds would begin to battle for that space, once given to making food for me and John. Eventually, of course, the pecans would reach for the sky, while the red buds would hang their heads and resolve themselves to work their magic in the shade.

Evidence of those rectangular beds would quickly disappear under the slimy feet of snails and the earthy smells of mushrooms.

The non-native ruellia (petunia) would easily take over the pea gravel patio, but perhaps some balance would form between it and the inland sea oats.

Virginia creeper would totally consume the garage and might just spread over everything. But, maybe there would be a nice bumper crop of hawkmoth caterpillars to keep the creeper in check. It sure would be a pretty red in the fall, but I guess I wouldn’t be around to appreciate it!

Of course, Bermuda grass, crab grass and St. Augustine would make a serious go of it. I’m guessing that they’d form a nasty tangle of grass in the beginning but eventually lose hold as they were shaded out by the ligustrums, ashes, hackberries and elms…I hope they’d lose. I hate those beasts.

You know, a live oak or two might make a stand, too. The squirrels and blue jays bury their seeds around the yard, and oak volunteers are not uncommon. I’m already trying to figure out what to do with two volunteers that have reached shrub size. One, I think I’ll leave as a future replacement for an older pecan tree.

I imagine the wildlife would change too, but I have less of a sense for that. Perhaps the greater number of mid-level saplings and small trees would increase bird diversity (right now it’s all high branches and low shrubs).

Okay, that’s enough of that. It’s a long post already. Nature is not stable, so I can’t predict a finished product, but I can bet that some dynamic balance will result in a new ecosystem around the yard.

Now, I best get back to pulling up that darned Bermuda grass...


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. My garden would quickly turn into a hackberry and pecan woodland too, I think. Those birds and squirrels sure are busy spreading the wealth around.

sister*bluebird said...

My place would turn into Oat Grass, cranesbill, dog rose and red cedar. Due to domestic chickens and Turkeys intermingling with some aspects of wild population, we might eventually end up with Piebald Turkeys if they figure out how to mate. Domestic Turkeys dont always know how to do that. [long story}. This area would also quickly become a giant warran for moles and rabbits.

Mary Beth said...

Thought provoking post. I'm afraid my garden would become a Trash, uh ASH, Forest. Every couple of years, I convince my husband to remove one more ash from the property. Like you I spend too much time to count, pulling those little ash seedlings from beneath each tree. I'm heading out to the garden, now, to imagine what it would do if left to its own devices.

herself said...

Kevin Kelly has a chapter in his book online The Natural Flux that describes how unattended land goes from weeds to hardwood forest.

You'd probably enjoy reading it.

Mary Beth said...

On another note: When you have a chance, stop my my blog. I've left an award for you there.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I am sure the cedars would take over here.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, and thought provoking to boot. I've spent some time pondering this subject. Not that I would be so interested in my garden (which, by the way I take pride in), but more about what would happen to my family and friends. Being the product of a farming community, I know how to fend for me and mine (harvesting and canning). My question to myself is---Would I want to survive this type of upheaval?
In answer to the question of what would happen to my acreage...It would would return to the beloved grasslands that it was to start out with!

Annie in Austin said...

Very thought provoking, Lee.
Each year I pull up a forest of Pecans, oaks, hollies, cedar elms, Arizona ashes, Chinese tallow, nandina and ligustrum- they'd have to fight it out. I'm not too sure about the understory having any natives. The most invasive, solid mass-forming ground cover I've ever seen is that &*%@# Asiatic jasmine. It reminds me of the old horror film "The Blob" but in shiny green instead of red.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose