Thomas Jefferson wrote that one of the most important things that you could do for your country was to introduce a new and useful plant. Makes sense right? After all, about 99% of the cropland in the United States is planted with plants that came from somewhere else. Corn, soybeans, wheat, peaches, apples ? none of them originated in North America. Even that Kentucky bluegrass in your front yard, despite its name, isn't really from North America. Originally it came from Europe and Asia. Obviously imported plants play a big role in our American lives. But along with these "good" plants came a lot of "bad" plants, most of them brought over to the United States intentionally. Crabgrass as a forage crop that could be used as an emergency source of grain, dandelions as an herb, kudzu to control runoff. Crabgrass was actually delivered by the U.S. Patent office!
So what is the government to do? How restrictive should it be about letting plants into the country? This is an ongoing debate with some pretty polarized sides. On the one hand we have the food industry, which believes that we already live in a global ecosystem so we should be allowed to bring over new plant materials without a lot of oversight. On the other hand we have native plant lovers who believe that we need very tight restrictions on materials entering this country to avoid the introduction of anything that might threaten our native plants.
When I see all of the arguments about what we should and shouldn't do about introducing new plants, all I can think about is England. England has a centuries old tradition of bringing in all kinds of new plants. As a nation interested in exploration since the 15th century, new plants constantly arrived on Britain's shores. And you know what? They still have a functioning ecosystem. Is that what the U.S. should do? Tough question ? and one that needs a lot of thought.