Aliens in the Backyard: Plant and Animal Imports Into America

Aliens in the Backyard: Plant and Animal Imports Into America

by John Leland
     
 

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Aliens live among us. Thousands of species of nonnative flora and fauna have taken up residence within U.S. borders. Our lawns sprout African grasses, our roadsides flower with European weeds, and our homes harbor Asian, European, and African pests. Misguided enthusiasts deliberately introduced carp, kudzu, and starlings. And the American cowboy spread such alien life

Overview

Aliens live among us. Thousands of species of nonnative flora and fauna have taken up residence within U.S. borders. Our lawns sprout African grasses, our roadsides flower with European weeds, and our homes harbor Asian, European, and African pests. Misguided enthusiasts deliberately introduced carp, kudzu, and starlings. And the American cowboy spread such alien life forms as cows, horses, tumbleweed, and anthrax, supplanting and supplementing the often unexpected ways "Native" Americans influenced the environment. Aliens in the Backyard recounts the origins and impacts of these and other nonindigenous species on our environment and pays overdue tribute to the resolve of nature to survive in the face of challenge and change. In considering the new home that imported species have made for themselves on the continent, John Leland departs from those environmentalists who universally decry the invasion of outsiders. Instead Leland finds that uncovering stories of alien arrivals and assimilation is a more intriguing—and ultimately more beneficial—endeavor. Mixing natural history with engaging anecdotes, Leland cuts through problematic myths coloring our grasp of the natural world and suggests that how these alien species have reshaped our landscape is now as much a part of our shared heritage as tales of our presidents and politics. Simultaneously he poses questions about which of our accepted icons are truly American (not apple pie or Kentucky bluegrass; not Idaho potatoes or Boston ivy). Leland's ode to survival reveals how plant and animal immigrants have made the country as much an environmental melting pot as its famed melding of human cultures, and he invites us to reconsider what it means to be American.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Leland writes, "[T]he wilderness is gone and the word native nearly meaningless," and he has accumulated anecdotes on innumerable foreign plants and animals to make the point. Despite the sweeping statement, this is not an especially provocative book. It's a loosely organized compendium of facts on-or merely tangentially related to-flora and fauna that have traveled to, or within, the U.S. Even the coyote figures here, having expanded far beyond its pre-Columbian territory in Mexico and the Great Plains. Quick dips into this are entertaining: Leland is a lively writer and has amassed a mountain of research, pulling in everything from the Thugs of India (in a discussion of jimsonweed) to Archy, Don Marquis's poetic cockroach. Reading more than a few pages at a time, however, is overwhelming: the author offers no overarching principle or line of argument. Leland (Poacher's Creek), a professor of English at Virginia Military Institute, mentions scientific controversies on species' taxonomy or origin, but never delves into the science of invasions. The chapters on psychoactive plants and the environmental impact of Native Americans are particularly interesting, but this won't satisfy readers seeking understanding rather than information overload. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781611172133
Publisher:
University of South Carolina Press
Publication date:
10/15/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
248
File size:
4 MB

What People are saying about this

John Leland
"Go fishing. Sure, you’re an alien, your cane pole’s an alien, the worm you’ll use is an alien, the fish you’ll catch is an alien, and the pond it’s in is unnatural. But that’s the American way. We’re all strangers in a strange land."
from Aliens in the Backyard
Thomas R. Dunlap
"Aliens in the Backyard takes readers on a fine ramble through the fact and fiction, lore and legend of introduced species, covering everything from the boll weevil to the ailanthus tree, accidental and deliberate introductions, and species that came by themselves. Leland’s account contains solid biological information but also odd facts and curious consequences that should have readers turning the pages and, once they finish, looking at the plants and animals around them with a new understanding."
author of Saving America’s Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990

Meet the Author

John Leland is the author of Learning the Valley: Excursions into the Shenandoah Valley and Porcher's Creek: Lives between the Tides, second-place winner in the 2003 Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Leland is a professor of English at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.

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