How I admired the beautiful xylosma trees growing at the Natural Gardener, their multi-trunked stems and evergreen leaves arching over the small shrub section of the store. And so, I took the plunge and purchased one for the bed by our bedroom window. I needed something to create a canopy to screen us from the neighbors in winter.
Why now, do I question you, xylosma? Well, because as a gardener, I must be aware of the ecological decisions I’m making as well as the aesthetic ones.
The xylosma is a Japanese evergreen tree that looks not unlike a well-behaved and more structurally pretty version of our dreaded invasive Japanese ligustrum. It has shiny green leaves and very small black berries. The folks at Natural Gardener said that their specimen, probably 15-20 feet tall, had grown that much in six years. “Perfect,” I gasped! “Exactly what I need for this spot in my backyard.”
Here's what it looked like when planted early spring last year (dark green blob in the center of the image):
And now, maybe doubled in size:
Only now that my little tree is in my yard and growing at quite a clip, I sometimes question the decision, because this non-native plant has all the making of becoming an invasive mess some day. As far as I can tell, it’s well behaved now, but it (1) grows fast, (2) has no natural pests on U.S. soil, and (3) makes little black berries. Now, all of these things could easily help this tree spread all over the damn place. So I ask myself: am I, like “innocent” gardeners everywhere, responsible for the eventual spread of an invasive species? Oh, I would feel terrible about that.
This xylosma will play absolutely no role in the ecosystem here. No insects can use it as food. No birds can eat those insects. I feel that I would’ve been better off planting something in that space that actually fit in with the ecosystem.
Well, perhaps birds can use it’s thick evergreen canopy to build a nest. And maybe they’ll benefit from the black berries without spreading them around. (Are they sterile?) But it saddens me that no butterflies, moths, beetles, flies—no nothing—will find this a suitable host. At least for many years. But I'm pretty darn sure that I'll enjoy it, and isn't that worth something?
In the end, I’ll leave this tree and probably love it. Perhaps I already do love it. When I can no longer see the neighbors’ roofs and I can hang lights or birdfeeders from this tree, when it casts lovely shadows in the bedroom, maybe I’ll forget all of these concerns. Regardless, it’ll still be a quiet lonely tree, far from its home and community.