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The lower status of plants relative to animals, one of the defining characteristics of Western thought, is under challenge from diverse research in botany, philosophy and the more-than-human social sciences including geography. Although the agency of plants is increasingly demonstrated, scholars have yet to fully respond, for plants, to Lulka's call to attend more carefully to the details of nonhuman difference (Lulka D 2009 The residual humanism of hybridity: retaining a sense of the earth Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 34 378–93). This paper advances the concept of the shared capacities of plants, in order to take them seriously in their own terms, and to consider what that means for human–plant relations more generally. We identify four capacities illustrated through plant lives: distinctive materialities; moving independent of humans; sensing and communicating; and taking shape as flexible bodies. Together these provide a sense of plant worlds in which distinct but highly variable plant forms have their own lives, interacting with humans and others in contingent ways. As empirical illustration we explore the adversarial relationship between rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) and invasive plant managers in northern Australia. In this case biosecurity strategies are affected by and affecting of rubber vine, assembling plants (as individuals and collectives), feral and stock animals, fire and helicopters, human skills and legislation. Recognition of plant capacities challenges us to rethink several concepts often framed against a human norm, including agency, subjectivity and the ethics of killing.
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The distinctive capacities of plants: re-thinking
difference via invasive species
Lesley Head
, Jennifer Atchison
and Catherine Phillips
The lower status of plants relative to animals, one of the defining characteristics of Western thought, is under
challenge from diverse research in botany, philosophy and the more-than-human social sciences including
geography. Although the agency of plants is increasingly demonstrated, scholars have yet to fully respond, for
plants, to Lulkas call to attend more carefully to the details of nonhuman difference (Lulka D 2009 The residual
humanism of hybridity: retaining a sense of the earth Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 34 378
93). This paper advances the concept of the shared capacities of plants, in order to take them seriously in their own
terms, and to consider what that means for humanplant relations more generally. We identify four capacities
illustrated through plant lives: distinctive materialities; moving independent of humans; sensing and communi-
cating; and taking shape as flexible bodies. Together these provide a sense of plant worlds in which distinct but
highly variable plant forms have their own lives, interacting with humans and others in contingent ways. As
empirical illustration we explore the adversarial relationship between rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) and
invasive plant managers in northern Australia. In this case biosecurity strategies are affected by and affecting of
rubber vine, assembling plants (as individuals and collectives), feral and stock animals, fire and helicopters, human
skills and legislation. Recognition of plant capacities challenges us to rethink several concepts often framed against
a human norm, including agency, subjectivity and the ethics of killing.
Key words plants; biosecurity; agency; invasive; more-than-human; Cryptostegia grandiflora
Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, The University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies (CCCS), University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia.
Revised manuscript received 13 August 2014
[The copyright line for this article was changed on 19 November 2015 after original online publication.]
Plants and humans are influential co-producers of the
biosphere, and their mutual futures depend on collab-
orations and conflicts of many kinds, not least in the
significant land management issue of invasive species
control (McGeoch et al. 2010; Mooney et al. 2005).
The need for diverse scholarship on our relationships
with plants has never been greater, but we are
hampered by an entrenched intellectual heritage. The
difference between animals and plants, and the lower
status of the latter, has been one of the defining
characteristics of Western thought since Aristotle
defined animals as those who move and plants as those
who do not (Hall 2011). That heritage is being
challenged in various disciplines, and a body of
botanical and philosophical research now makes the
case for plants to be engaged with as subjects, rather
than objects (Hall 2011; Marder 2011a 2011b 2012).
Geography is an important place to extend these
conversations because of its heritage of approaching
humanplant relations from various perspectives.
This paper conceptualises the distinctive capacities of
plants with the aim of advancing understanding within
more-than-human geography and extending conversa-
tions between human geography and biogeography.
Engaging with human geography, we start from
Lulkas (2009) argument that there is a residual
humanism in the use of the hybridity concept when
nonhumansare lumped as a singular entity. He called
for a thick hybridityin which an adequate sense of
difference is maintained. While more-than-human
geographies have demonstrated the agency of plants in
contexts that include trees (Jones and Cloke 2002),
gardens (Hitchings 2003; Power 2005), invasion (Barker
2008; Ginn 2008), crops (Head et al. 2012) and seeds
(Phillips 2013), there has been insufficient attention in
this literature to the category plant. We draw on new
research involving scientific sensing to conceptualise
plant capacities: the shared capacities of one grouping of
beings called plants, and the differences they bring to
relations with humans and others. We understand plant
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of
the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2015 40 399413 doi: 10.1111/tran.12077
©2014 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of
Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License,
which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial
and no modifications or adaptations are made.
capacities as relational achievements, the relations in
question enacted with the sun, water and soil, and also
often with humans and other animals. These are
contingent relationships in which categories and forms
should not be reified, even though they may congeal and
be stabilised for very long periods of time.
From biogeography and ecology, we draw particular
attention to recent concepts of anthropogenic biomes
(or anthromes) (Ellis and Ramankutty 2008) and novel
ecosystems (Hobbs et al. 2006 2013a) that, in contrast
to mainstream biogeographic approaches, have explic-
itly brought the human into the system under consid-
eration. The profound transformations and future
uncertainties in the landscapes of the Anthropocene
require such consideration (Lorimer 2012; Robbins and
Moore 2013), but much of the relevant action is
happening at much more local scales than, for example,
seen in anthromes.
The issue of invasive plant management is a signa-
ture challenge of the Anthropocene, and one to which
both human geography and biogeography are making
important contributions (Warren 2007; Webber and
Scott 2012). In this paper we develop a particular case
of rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora), managed as an
invasive species in northern Australia. Presenting a new
empirical study on rubber vine management, we show
how the distinctive capacities of plants are expressed in
particular ways in rubber vine and its relations with
humans, animals and a host of others. Our ethno-
graphic focus on the practice of an adversarial rela-
tionship provides new perspectives on such relations.
As Lorimer has argued, most work in more-than-
human geographies
has tended towards affirmative relations and has yet to focus
on examples in which the interested parties human and
nonhuman are engaged in lethal and antagonistic rela-
tions. (2012, 6045)
Ginn (2013) has recently used the concept of
detachment in considering gardenerslug relationships
in British gardens. As with slugs, many human inter-
actions with plants involve the death of the latter, thus
invoking questions of ethics and responsibility, whether
towards individuals, species or landscapes. The policy
rhetoric of invasive plant management is very much
about human control; however, the experience is often
rather different on the ground, where no practitioner
doubts the agency of plants.
We understand questions of ontology and biopolitics
as a deeply empirical affair(Hinchliffe and Bingham
2008, 1541), emergent from contingent relations. As
such, we explore one attempt to manage, or live with/
out, plants: rubber vine biosecurity in northern
Australia. Questions of how our conceptualisation of
plant capacities might manifest in other spaces and
times remains critical, but open. The case included in
this paper demonstrates how the capacities of plants,
enacted by rubber vine in relation with others (includ-
ing humans, animals, helicopter, fire and legislation),
challenge us to rethink how agency and subjectivity are
Plant subjects in human geography
Human geographers and others have contested the
idea and practice of human exceptionalism, and used
this to rethink human and nonhuman identity and
subjectivity (Anderson 1995 2007; Emel et al. 2002;
Haraway 2008; Plumwood 1993; Whatmore 1997).
Feminist thought has been an important part of this
challenge to the constitution of the autonomous,
rational Cartesian subject (Plumwood 1993). If the
human cannot be privileged in ways long assumed,
there are many challenging discussions to be had
around how we develop more ethical relationships with
animals (Whatmore and Thorne 1998), bacteria (Hird
2010) and the indifferent earth itself (Clark 2011). A
somewhat parallel conversation has been happening in
anthropology. Notwithstanding its rich heritage of
ethnographic study of the ways human societies engage
with and conceptualise plants (Geissler and Prince
2009; Mosko 2009; Nazarea 2006), multispecies eth-
nography (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010) now attempts
to recognise the plants themselves, along with other
nonhumans, as key players.
Recognising the value of such an approach with
plants, Jones and Cloke argue that there is considerable
scope for widening discussions of non-human agency to
embrace beings or entities which are more markedly
different than animals from the human(2002, 8).
They examined trees to provide a detailed and grounded
account of the non-human agency of particular beings,
things and materials(2002, 48). In doing so, they
cautioned that a purely relational formulation of agency
risks losing the analytic possibilities of understanding
differences within networks, in the abilities and agencies
of particular beings/things. For Jones and Cloke, this
meant the possible loss of the tree-ness of trees, and
therefore their specific agentic possibilities;
the failure to articulate non-human agency within its own
ecological time-scales as well as in its own places has made it
difficult to grasp the notion of non-human agency within
extant and more anthropocentric views of agency. (2008, 82)
There are connections here to Hirds (2010, 37)
argument that since bacteria sustain life on earth
through their production of key chemicals (oxygen,
nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur, carbon), and that
because symbioses are obligate for animals but not
bacteria,these species-defying organisms do precede
relating. In Hirds case, relationality seems to include
only relations with humans; however, it is presumably
400 Lesley Head et al.
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©2014 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical
Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
possible to conceptualise bacteria or other nonhu-
mans as relational achievements without humans
necessarily being involved.
A number of geographers have recently analysed
vernacular human experiences of the agency of plants
(Cloke and Jones 2001; Hitchings 2003; Hitchings and
Jones 2004; Power 2005). Such experiences are char-
acterised by people in both positive and negative terms.
Plants display individual liveliness and beauty (Hitch-
ings 2003), exert calming influences (Hitchings 2006)
and draw (and are drawn into) patterns of care with
people (Power 2005). On the other hand, plants have
lives of their own beyond human control, which can
lead to uneasiness and awkward encounterswhen
plants are perhaps no longer often thought about in
terms of their capacities and behaviours(Hitchings
2007a, 372). For Ginn (2008) animals and plants are
both active participants and subversive agents in the
colonial landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand, the
context in which Barker discusses contemporary agency
and changeability of gorse and its management. Barker
argues that gorse itself has interjected(2008, 1609) in
the way conceptual boundaries are constructed, for
example by acting as a nursery crop for native species.
It may be that Australasian practice has been somewhat
ahead of social theory in its pragmatic engagement with
exuberant life (Clark 2013), yet as our empirical case
shows, much Australian legislation and policy are
distinctly less comfortable with such exuberance.
Like Jones and Cloke (2008), Lulka was keen to ask
whether a purely relational hybridity had gone too far:
There has been, it seems, considerable equivocation
about the place of nonhuman corporeality in geograph-
ical writings that has yet to be fully resolved(2009,
381). He argued that there is currently no depth to the
term nonhuman. And because there is no depth to the
term, there is no way of conceiving that nonhumans
may act in hybrid ways, largely out of reach of society,
that have nothing to do with humans(2009, 383).
Adding depth to how we conceive of plants and their
relations, in his close engagement with forest ethnog-
raphy, Staddon found that
At virtually every turn ... forest resources are not just
objects of human intention and action but also subjects in a
much more fully dynamic and fascinating relationship and
indeed ...the very language of subjects and objects began to
break down. (2009, 72)
It is notable that these independent nonhuman lives
are always easier to imagine with animals than plants
(see for example Risan (2005) on the subjectivity of
cows). Engaging deeply with beings such as plants is
easier said than done. Most of us profoundly back-
ground plants. There are distinctive methodological
challenges in accessing some of the more subtle aspects
of plant agency (Hitchings and Jones 2004). However,
contradicting this approach, it is not difficult to accept
that plants move, assess, evoke, grow, adjust, spread,
use, limit and resist as they enact their own worlds, and
ones shared with we humans (Latour 2005, 72). By
conceptualising the capacities of plants as we do, we
hope to highlight some of these possibilities and
stimulate further conversations about how to consider
plants more fully. Following Haraways (2011) advice of
staying with the trouble, we need to spend more time
with plants differentiating the nonhuman and deep-
ening our studies of them.
The human in biogeography
If human geographies have been rather slow to
specifically consider plants, within biogeography there
has until recently been a converse gap on the question
of humans. Although biogeography would in theory
claim a holistic remit that includes humans as part of
earths biota, its usual practice has reinforced humans
as different from and separate to the rest of nature.
Most biogeographers now recognise that the vegetation
patterns they are studying reflect both deep time
evolutionary pathways and the muddy and indecipher-
able blurof human influence (Mackey 2008, 392), but
an outdated view of the world as natural ecosystems
with humans disturbing them... remains the main-
stream view(Ellis and Ramankutty 2008, 445). Palae-
oecological evidence of long-term human impacts
was among the first to challenge that view (Kershaw
1986; Willis et al. 2007; for other exceptions see
Atchison 2009; Ladle and Jepson 2008; Laris 2011;
Pickett et al. 2011).
Two influential bodies of recent work have recon-
figured biogeography and ecology to systematically
include humans, and are particularly relevant to the
discussion of invasive plants. Ellis and Ramankutty
(2008) revised global biomes a key analytical unit of
conventional biogeography to explicitly include
human agency in vegetation systems. They character-
ised 18 anthropogenic biomes(2008, 440) (later
anthromes), based on empirical analysis of popula-
tion, land use and land cover at a spatial resolution of
~86 km
. Examples included rice villages,residential
irrigated croplandand populated forests(Ellis and
Ramankutty 2008, figure 1). This is the first systematic
attempt to render visible the extent to which human
presence and processes have become embedded in the
structure of biomes. It has been driven by the bottom
up empirical evidence of a transformed earth, albeit as
the authors acknowledge, there is still much to find in
the humanplant relationship below their smallest pixel
size. Indeed anthromes are understood as mosaic
formations that contain considerable variability
(Ellis 2013). Anthropogenic loss of native species and
anthropogenic introductions interact to increase
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©2014 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical
Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
species richness in many regional landscapes, even
while global biodiversity is thinning (Ellis et al. 2012).
The second, related body of work advances the
concept of the novel ecosystem:
a system of abiotic, biotic and social components (and their
interactions) that, by virtue of human influence, differ from
those that prevailed historically, having a tendency to self-
organize and manifest novel qualities without intensive
human management. (Hobbs et al. 2013b, 58)
Here the presence and influence of people is
recognised, but within a framework characterised by
uncertainty and surprise, that humans do not control.
That such a perspective is still considered controversial
in mainstream biogeography and ecology can be seen in
the vociferous debates over applying these perspectives
to questions of invasive plant management (Davis et al.
2011; Simberloff 2011). Our empirical focus in this
paper on practices of engagement between plants,
people and others, at very fine-grained scales, draws
both these bodies of literature into conversation.
The lively capacities of plants
In this section we draw mainly on recent biological
research to conceptualise what we call the capacities of
plants. Given the diverse ways in which the concept of
relationality is understood in the literature, we empha-
sise three ways in which we see such capacities as
relational. First, we do not assume humans have to be
part of the relations, although they often are. Second,
relationality can be intra-organism, referring to the
‘El Questro
check point
02040 km
W. A.
S. A.
Figure 1 The Western Australian (WA), Northern Territory (NT) border zone.
Management focus is on rubber vine outbreaks in the headwaters of Lake Argyle
Source: Prepared by Peter Johnson based on 1:100 000 topographic maps
402 Lesley Head et al.
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©2014 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical
Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
processes constituting that organism. It is not only
about external relations. Third, relationality is not a
synonym for dynamism and fluidity. It can congeal and
solidify in forms and processes that persist over long
periods of time in the case of plants, extremely long
periods of evolutionary time.
Particular plant species or individuals may have
additional capacities such as rubber vines facility to
burn or to manifest in varied form but this concep-
tualisation offers a sense of what plants can do,
providing a basis for further exploration. These are
shared capacities that constitute their liveliness and
difference from other beings, and provide the basis
from which we go on to understand their agency and
Distinctive materialities
Plants are considered by scientists to (usually) share a
set of five capacities or practices that distinguish them
from other beings. First, performing photosynthesis,
plants enacting their capacity to eat the sun(Morton
2009), is the most profound difference between plants
and animals. All living organisms require carbon in one
form or another for essential life processes like growth
and metabolism, and since photosynthesis is the only
way to convert carbon from inorganic (non-available)
to organic (available) forms, life depends on this
process that most of the time is done by plants.
In carrying out photosynthesis, plants trophically
underpin terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems.
They also maintain stable oxygenation of the atmo-
sphere and water availability. Over geological time-
scales, plants drive the carbon cycles of the planet.
Photosynthesis also produces complex sugars and
other compounds, allowing plants to store starch and
form cellulose cell walls abilities dependent on
multicellular generation. Starch provides energy for
growth while cellulose becomes fibrous, giving structure
and strength to plants. Finally, plants alternate gener-
ations in their lifecycles or perform sporic meioisis
during reproduction.
In taxonomy, this set of five
capacities clearly tied to material forms and relations
differentiate plants from other beings.
These capacities came together in evolutionary time
long before humans, and consequent plant materialities
have implications for humanplant relations. Plants
capacity to photosynthesise affords humans the oppor-
tunity to live and breathe, eat and thrive. Plants have
affected the ways our bodies evolved, and continue to
be fundamental to our daily bodily relations. Morton
(2009) argues that we are not so much embedded in the
earth as in the relationship between the earth and the
sun, a notion worthy of consideration in efforts to
decentre humans in humanplant studies. These mate-
rialities also pervade and help shape the capacities in
the following sections.
Moving without humans
As mentioned, Aristotle defined animals as those who
move and plants as those who do not. Immobility
continues to be a widely accepted defining criterion for
plants, including in geography (see Lorimer 2010, 493;
Lulka 2009, 386). However, Hall (2011) has shown
many faults with this logic, founded mostly on failures
to observe actual plants, for instance contrasting
Aristotles practices with those of his pupil Theophra-
stus. In geographic discussions of plant mobility, agency
is usually attributed to people, for example in discus-
sions of portmanteau biota and colonial plant move-
ments (Crosby 1986) and in the definition of native
species (Chew and Hamilton 2011). Our point is not to
ignore the significance of human movements of plants,
but rather to also consider the mobility of plants that is
independent of humans (albeit relational with such
things as wind, internal water pressure and angles of
the sun).
To see plants as immobile is to have a very partial view
of what constitutes mobility. Compensating for the
limits of sessile living, some parts of plants move. For
example, mobility during the reproductive phase relates
with the capacity of plants to alternate generations
during their lifecycles. Protective sporopollenin enables
the spores and pollen of terrestrial plants to widely
disperse away from the rooted parent organism, allow-
ing future generations to overcome potentially restric-
tive or difficult local conditions (Kinlan and Gaines
2003). Although the movements of plant parts (fruit,
pollen, seeds) are widely considered to be at the mercy
of other agents of dispersal (animals, wind, water),
plants capitalise on the movements of others to their
own advantage (Clark 2000). Plants use animal mobil-
ities for purposes of reproduction and more. When lima
bean plants are attacked by herbivorous spider mites, for
instance, they excrete a substance that attracts predatory
spider mites, which then eat the herbivores (Huey et al.
2002, 417). In this move, lima bean plants act, with and
against spider mites, to stop their own destruction.
Even as they are rooted in place, plants move. Since
Charles and Francis Darwin (1881) postulated that plant
movements might be due to turgescence (osmotic
pressure relationships as plant cells respond to environ-
mental stimulus), changing technologies have allowed
scientific knowledge of plant mobilities to become more
detailed. Edwards and Moles (2009) define three cate-
gories of plant movement: circumnutation, tropic
responses and nastic responses. Circumnutation
describes the corkscrew-like radial twining motion of
the growing tips of plants, which all plants do (though at
different rates and for various lifespans). The questing
and grasping movements of pea tendrils, for example, are
well known and easily observed. Response movements,
whether tropic or nastic, can be rapid or gradual,
The distinctive capacities of plants 403
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©2014 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical
Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
rhythmic or irregular. In tropic responses, sensing plants
move toward potentially beneficial and away from
potentially problematic encounters with light, gravity,
structures or water. The mimosa plant, which quickly
collapses its leaves from where it is disturbed, is known
for this kind of response. In contrast, nastic responses
occur when plants react in a non-directional way.
Examples of this kind of plant mobility include the
folding in of leaves at night as part of sleep movements
(Kiss 2006) or the rhythmic opening and closing of guard
cells around stomatal pores in leaves.
Sensing and communicating
The facilitation of the above kinds of movement
depends on plants sensing and communicating. Inter-
nally, plants communicate through assemblages of
proteins, minerals and chemicals, carrying complex
signals to various cells and tissues (Trewavas 2002).
Over time and through such processes, learning and
memory may develop (Trewavas 2005). The Venus fly
trap, for example, can be said to have sensory memory
similar to animals in its ability to detect, react to and
trap its prey. The rapid closing of leaves (or trap)
occurs when at least two sensor hairs respond to
stimulus and chemicals are released, signalling speci-
fied leaves to close (Ueda et al. 2007 2010). Debates
about chemical signalling challenge our ideas about
passivity, by suggesting that plants perceive, process
and react to environmental information.
In part, plant responses are considered passive rather
than active because human lifetimes provide the refer-
ential framework (Edwards and Moles 2009). At human
timescales, the multiple dimensions of plant agency are
obscured, both more intimate and more abstract than
with any animal(Morton 2009, 231). If, however, plants
are considered within their own lifetimes and scales,
their responses become active (in sometimes quite
sophisticated ways) rather than passive.
Trewavas (2002 2005) has argued specifically for
plant intelligence to be recognised, referencing plants
many reproductive, adaptive, communicative, planning
and predictive capacities (see Firn 2004 for a contrary
argument). This debate is significant for showing how
botanists are currently thinking about plant lives and
provides productive connection to social science efforts
to recognise naturesactive voice(see Plumwood
2009). The concept of intelligence has such a strong
connection to human-centred concepts of mind and
consciousness that it is hard to attribute it to other
beings without resorting to a human yardstick. We note
two ways in which plants may stimulate further thought
in this area. First, intelligence is arguably an essential
characteristic rather than a relational one. In our
relational analysis of capacities we are trying to
attend to what plants do rather than what they are
(e.g. intelligent or not). Second, the disagreement
between Trewavas and Firn is partly over whether
plants are individuals, with Firn arguing that plants
cannot be intelligent because they are not individuals.
Animals again provide the reference for what it means
to be an individual. Plants, however, challenge this
sense of individuality, as we now discuss.
Flexible bodies
The fact that plants take many different, fascinating
and sometimes seemingly bizarre forms is a staple of
natural history books and documentaries. Here we are
concerned not so much with differences of form, but
with what this allows us to infer about the plant self or
individual. The way in which understanding of the body
is bound up in understanding the self has been
extensively discussed in feminist analyses, and a num-
ber of authors have extended this thinking to other-
than-human bodies (Atchison and Head 2013; Hitch-
ings 2003; Marder 2012; Rayner 1997).
Plants confront understandings of the body that use
the human or even animal body as reference point.
Plant identity stretches across what Rayner (1997) calls
dynamic boundaries. These boundaries include those
between self and non-self, fixture and indeterminacy,
and individual and collective form. Growth in animals
constitutes the enlargement of juveniles, leading to a
relatively clear delineation of the bodily self. For plants,
however, growth involves reconfiguration of cell con-
federations(Firn 2004). These dynamic boundaries of
plants often lead to uncertainty in human engagements
with plants, for example discomfort in a London garden
(Hitchings 2007b) or indecision in invasive species
eradication (Atchison and Head 2013).
To summarise then, our argument is not only that
plants have agency (a point well made by others) and
subjectivity (a more controversial proposition) but also
that focusing on plant worlds shows how human-
centred our conceptualisations of agency and subjec-
tivity have been. Thinking more broadly about alterna-
tive modes of mobility, communication and the
individual self, as expressed in plants, challenges us to
open up those larger concepts. These movements,
senses and flexibilities come together to give a general
sense of what it means to live as a plant, but though
these are (mostly) shared by plants, each species, even
each plant, has its own dynamic manifestations of form
and relations with humans and otherwise. Engaging
with different categories of plant (trees, wheat, seeds,
food) gives researchers different insights. In the
following case, our focus falls on rubber vine.
Living with/out rubber vine in northern
We focus on the being/s named by scientific taxonomy
as Cryptostegia grandiflora (Roxb) R. Brown (rubber
404 Lesley Head et al.
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©2014 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical
Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
vine), a woody perennial in the Apocynaceae. In
biogeographic terms rubber vine is endemic to Mada-
gascar; however, its current distribution is attributed to
human agency, particularly as part of colonial experi-
ments in rubber plantations (Brockway 1979; Meve and
Liede 2002). Like other milkweeds of the Apocynaceae
and Asclepidiaceae families (Farrell 2001), rubber vine
produces latex, an aqueous alkaloid suspension made
in living plant cells. More than 20 000 species of
(mostly) tropical plants create latex, which acts to
chemically mediate ecological interactions(Lewin-
sohn 1991, 64). Providing a coordinated defence
mechanism, rubber vines latex and its secondary
metabolite, rubber work to reduce herbivory, entrap
insects in stickiness, and seal wounds preventing
infection (Agrawal and Konno 2009). Colonial efforts
to turn rubber vines latex to human purposes for
rubber production proved commercially unviable. After
experimental sites were abandoned, rubber vine na-
turalised, spreading across extensive areas including
Haiti and southern Florida (Findlay 2009). Several
factors contribute to rubber vines successful spreading.
First, it adapts reproduction to conditions. Rubber vine
flowers opportunistically with rainfall, producing more
pods per vine and more flowering events in wetter years
(Grice 1996). Second, it is prolific, producing large seed
pods with up to 8000 seeds per mature plant per
reproductive event (Grice 1996). And third, it uses
multiple dispersal methods floating pods disperse
widely in collaboration with flows of water or wind.
In Australia, rubber vine has been recorded since
1875, probably introduced as a garden ornamental into
mining camps in Queensland. It quickly became estab-
lished in areas such as the river systems of the Gulf of
Carpentaria (Palmer and Vogler 2012). It grows on a
wide variety of soil types including saline soils and
across savannah, riparian and coastal habitats with
rainfall between 400 and 1400 mm a year (Palmer and
Vogler 2012). In northern Australia rubber vine has two
growth habits: it grows as free-standing but also
interconnected bushes (or shrubs) where water is
scarce; and along riparian corridors it forms towers of
vine from prehensile-like whips (ARMCANZ 2001),
climbing and smothering other plants as its vines
intertwine to create thick mats spreading across kilo-
metres of canopy.
Australian biosecurity strategies target rubber vine
as a weed of national significance(WoNS). With its
dense growth habit, it is considered a threat to
biodiversity in woodland and subtropical rainforest
environments, including Ramsar wetlands and World
Heritage Areas in Queensland (ARMCANZ 2001).
Rubber vine also poses significant costs and risks to the
pastoral (increasing the cost of mustering and reducing
pastoral productivity) and tourism industries, perhaps
the real reason for the resources it attracts under
invasive species governance programmes. Under the
WoNS programme (NRMMC 2007), a national priority
action framework for each species (including rubber
vine) directs funding and guides planning across
jurisdictions, for example in the designation of eradi-
cation, containment and control zones (see Figures 1
and 2). The nature of Australian federalism, in which
natural resource management is a state rather than
federal responsibility, increases the complexity of the
governance challenge and leads to multiple state
classifications and regulatory frameworks for rubber
vine and other invasives.
We are not necessarily arguing that rubber vine-
invaded landscapes constitute novel ecosystems as
defined by Hobbs et al. (2006). There are many
tensions inherent in the concept of novel ecosystems
(Marris et al. 2013), including debate around the issue
of invasivesinclusion. Richardson and Gaertner (2013)
argue that invasive plants and novel ecosystems have
been too loosely conflated, the former not necessarily
producing the threshold changes necessary for the
latter. Nevertheless, many widely discussed examples of
novel ecosystems contain invasive plants, and there is a
live discussion in northern Australian savanna bioge-
ography about whether invasives such as Gamba grass
(Andropogon gayanus) are on the verge of triggering a
shift to fundamentally transformed ecosystems through
their influence on fire regimes (Setterfield et al. 2010).
We do argue, however, that rubber vine and other
invasives must now be understood both conceptually
and in practice as part of the ecology of northern
Rubber vine now covers an estimated 700 000 ha
across Australias tropical north and manifests within 35
million hectares, or 20 per cent, of Queensland (ARM-
CANZ 2001); however, the scale of its distribution
means that it does not show up in either biome or
anthrome analyses. This region of northern Australia is
part of the tropical grassland, savanna and shrubland
biome and the remote rangelandsanthrome (Ellis et al.
2013, Appendix S3). Invasive species are mapped as
comprising a relatively small (less than 2.5) percentage of
native species (Ellis 2013, figure 1J). Clearly the scale of
such analysis needs to be complemented by more fine-
grained analyses of how the people and the plants
interact on the ground, particularly for a plant like rubber
vine, which is considered highly problematic.
In the following sections we report results from
ethnographic fieldwork with invasive species managers
in northern Australia in the dry seasons of 2011 and
2012, extending from eradication sites in northern
Western Australia (Figure 1), across the Northern
Territory to containment zones in North Queensland
(Figure 2). Interviews were undertaken in Kununurra,
Darwin, Mackay and near Georgetown in the Gulf of
Carpentaria, with government weed officers, scientists,
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indigenous rangers, local and state community envi-
ronment groups, and two pastoral station managers.
Both men and women were well represented. Partici-
pant observation of surveillance, monitoring, eradica-
tion and control processes was also undertaken at
several sites. The three following sub-sections reflect
themes that emerged from our analyses of field
observations and interviews. The capacities we have
outlined above as shared among plants are threaded
through these relations of biosecurity, displaying
shifting levels of influence as well as combining with
additional capacities of rubber vine.
Figure 2 Rubber vine management zones within Queensland showing the outlier or outbreak targets, the containment
line and infestation areas
Source: Prepared by Peter Johnson, based on National WoNs Management Groups (20082011) and Pest
Information Group, Biosecurity Queensland (2008)
406 Lesley Head et al.
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Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
Appearing, seeing and sensing
Whereas rubber vine senses its surroundings to move
into and around suitable habitats, so managers need to
see and sense these movements. Paul has been a federal
weed officer for the past 20 years, focusing on rubber
vine eradication at the edge of outlying occurrences
within Queensland (Figure 2). Part of his job has been
to help state weed officers coordinate their efforts
across different jurisdictions. He has also played a
significant role in communicating knowledge about
rubber vine management to landholder groups. As Paul
explains, a rubber vine seed takes about 18 months to
germinate and grow to reproductive age, when it can
flower and set seed again. On the very large properties
of the area, this short window of time provides little
opportunity for pastoralists to take notice, let alone
mobilise resources to manage rubber vine. As Paul puts
it, they cant see it at the moment. The combination of
relatively quick reproductive capacity and remote
location makes it difficult for Paul to undertake an
effective weed awareness programme. In most cases,
once landholders or managers detect plants rubber vine
has exceeded the outbreakor outlier category. It
suddenly creeps up on you, and then can only be
managed under more pragmatic controlprogrammes.
Conversely, climbing vine entanglement takes place
over a longer timescale. Daryl, previously a district
agronomist in Victoria, made his tree changeto the
Queensland Gulf with his family over 30 years ago.
Daryls description illustrates the slow process of
rubber vine growing in, and then over, standing trees
and other vegetation. This process is so insidious that it
took his fresheyes to really notice.
In the riparian zones at 2 metres [high] theres a tree it
[rubber vine] can climb ...It might take 10 to 15 years to get
up there and its just slowly climbing and not doing much, and
then eventually it gets to the top, because it loves sunlight,
needs sunlight, and it might be two or three little vines that
have done this over time ...Now once they get up there and
theyve got their castle to sit on, then they just explode and
the weight of the rubber vine plant starts to break the little
branches out of the tree, the top of the tree, then it takes out
the bigger branches and then it starts to seriously damage the
crown of the tree and thats usually, I say its around the
40 year mark, from experience ... Theres nothing clever
about it, its just the fresh eyes I think, and I would see
changes occurring and the people that lived there would go,
oh yeah, maybe its changed a bit. And Im thinking, no,
when we came up here in 82 I know that that river system
was clean, you know, there was no fringing vegetation. And
10 years later its gone 2 or 300 yards out into the open land.
(Daryl, weed manager, land owner, Queensland)
In the north of Western Australia, weed officers
have been (so far successfully) eradicating small
outbreaks of rubber vine for more than 15 years. The
latest detection was made by pastoral station manager
Bob, who noticed the purple flowers and arching whips
of a lone plant just 200 metres from the homestead
yards. Bobs vigilance for rubber vine was honed during
previous work in Queensland. His keen eyes and a few
phone calls quickly mobilised weed officer Trudy, as
well as Paul from Queensland and the multi-agency
team of weed management staff and rangers. During
our go-along interview Bob plunged into chest-high
grass to show us the single plant. In fact, the vine he
was to show us had been dead (after treatment) for
over a month. It was shrivelled and barely discernible
from the shrub it had been growing over, except to Bob,
who pointed out its distinctive spotted purplish stem.
Humans need a particular kind of mobility to do
their sensing of rubber vine well. Although 4WD
vehicles, quad bikes and boats are all used in weed
management, in some areas helicopters are the only
means of gaining access. In particularly remote areas,
provisions for a number of days or weeks are flown to a
surveillance base location. Although there are partic-
ular risks and higher costs with helicopter biosecurity,
the areas that can be covered by a small group make it a
cost-effective option. Moreover particular weeds
including rubber vine are more easily seen from
above (from a low flying helicopter) than from below
(in a vehicle). It is from the air that the characteristic
towers of rubber vine are most easily seen as showy
displays of purple flowers and/or shiny new leaves
against duller background vegetation. However, this is
not a straightforward task: younger plants may not
flower heavily for the first two to three years, and so
may not be visible until they have matured and already
set seed; very large areas may need to be assessed if
infestations are sparsely distributed; and it takes an
experienced set of eyes to know what to look for.
Spotting rubber vine from helicopters is a learned
skill that takes practice in different light conditions.
Paul described this process:
you get a feel for things and at certain times, [if] the sun was
coming from behind you shining on through that canopy,
youd be able to pick out, well, youd be able to go and say,
hang on, yeah, shiny leaf, yeah, it looks characteristic, lets
go, yeah, lets come over this site.
Interviewer: So theres nothing else that might be confused
with it?
Oh, theres quite a few other native species that you can
get very confused with but the distinct characteristics, I
guess this is what we sort of picked up, was about timing in
terms of the seasonal conditions. Youd time your surveys
to suit the conditions on site. For instance if they had rain
now, ... you might do a survey in ... 6 weeks or 8 weeks
time and then obviously the leaf arrangement and that leaf
display, just being a plain green leaf and quite glossy, and
how it sits on that canopy as well. (Paul, weed officer,
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Digital devices operated in the air by the weed
spotters allow for detected plants to be mapped and
gridded. Weed officer Trudy commonly uses the soft-
ware Aussie explorerto chart each rubber vine
location, aided by a GPS running in the helicopter
cabin. After locating the plant(s), a surrounding area is
griddedand checked to ensure it is rubber vine-free.
Once the plant has been identified, a plan for managing
and surveillance of each outbreak is quickly put into
place. Weed officers now manage visit and treat 24
sites along these river systems as part of their annual
workplan (running until 2017).
Using various devices to enhance their own seeing
and sensing capacities, these plant managers are thus
responding to the particular materiality and mobilities
of rubber vine the creeping presence in the landscape,
the gloss on a leaf. These responses involve consider-
able skill, and accumulation of detailed knowledge of
the plant as well as the broader landscape. They must
be maintained over temporal cycles that intersect with
the plants life cycle to be effective.
Entangling with others
In the process of embedding itself among other plants,
and eventually becoming the locally dominant vegeta-
tion, rubber vine forms relationships with other nonhu-
mans, including animals. Arthur, a local district weed
officer in the containment zone in Queensland,
described at length how feral pigs and wallabies forage
out on the grassy plains during the day and then shelter
underneath the matted vines at night. According to
Arthur the wallabies have now successfully bred into
very large populations, completely displacing smaller
mammals such bandicoots and pademelon. Additionally
pigs, numbering in their millions, root around beneath
the vines during the wet season when the ground is soft,
discouraging grass growth. These constant disturbance
processes promote the spread of rubber vine together
with other weed species such as Neem (Azadirachta
indica), creating new forest associations among remnant
Eucalyptus open woodland associations that can slow
the movement of water and promote sediment deposi-
tion along the Gilbert and Einasleigh Rivers.
Stock have also changed their behaviour with rubber
vines presence, keenly aware that it helps them elude
mustering. Bob recounted tales of his rubber vine
experiences in Queensland, herding cattle on horse-
back under massive infestations so dense that it was
impossible to herd stock by helicopter. Bob described
to us a number of times when he had chased cattle into
the rubber vine only to be pulled from the saddle to the
ground by the thick twisting mass of whipping stems.
Daryl had similar experiences:
we dont like to admit it but sometimes they [the cattle]
dont like us and they disappear into the rubber vine and its
virtually impossible to push a horse through it, and if youve
got scrubber bulls its dangerous. Well, yeah, it is dangerous
on the ground. The boys can get them out but theyve got to
know what theyre doing and they need to be experienced.
So yes, it can create mustering problems. (Daryl, weed
manager, land owner, Queensland)
In the tangle of vines, where does one plant begin
and another end? For these managers, the mass of
individual plants becomes the collective they have to
deal with, in contrast with other experiences in the
eradication zone where spotting rubber vine individuals
provides the management focus.
Latex as shifting mediator
Depending on the density of infestation, different
combinations of chemical, mechanical, biological and
fire control techniques are used to manage rubber vine.
It is possible to burn rubber vine from the ground, but
for large and remote properties burning can also be
done from the air. We observed aerial burning
demonstrations on two properties in the control zone
in the Gulf of Carpentaria in late June 2012. The
targets for the burn were rubber vine towers on inter-
channel islands along a seven-kilometre stretch of the
Einasleigh River, each tower a once mature eucalypt
tree now standing dead, or collapsing under the weight
of smothering vine. Arthur explained that the aims of
these demonstrations were to restore river access for
the ownerscattle, as well as to convince landholders of
the cost and labour efficiencies of this technique.
Aerial ignition burning allows managers to target
rubber vine towers and is an adaptation of a bushfire
management technique whereby a helitorch is used to
backburn ahead of an unmanaged fire front (ESC
2011). For burning, gelling agents are mixed with
petroleum to create a low flash point, highly volatile
fuelslung in a helitorch below a helicopter (ESC
2011). This gelled petroleum ignites at about 320°C,
but for rubber vine management the aim is to burn
when vegetation fuel loads and weather conditions will
heat the fire to above 600°Cthe point at which the
latex in the rubber vine will ignite and kill the plant.
Early in the morning, we met Arthur and Craig, the
helicopter pilot, on Arthurs back veranda over coffee.
Annotated topographic maps were spread across the
table; the entrance gates and mixing site were circled,
and the sites to be treated along the river channel
noted. Arthur had checked the weather forecast and
judged it to be pretty good 30°C and a light breeze.
The relative humidity was just lower than the temper-
ature (27%), making it safe enough to burn.
There was no mention of eradication. The bushy
rubber vine sitting away from the river was not to be
targeted; their more open structure makes them
difficult to burn, and setting fire to those further from
408 Lesley Head et al.
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Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
the river also runs the risk that the fire will escape and
burn valuable pasture. Preparation work for the burn
began a few weeks before. Arthur and the owner did
reconnaissance along the various treatment sites to
check vehicular access, mark out a mixing sitefor the
helicopter to land and refuel safely, and assess the fuel
load (or grass cover) underneath the rubber vine
towers. Enough grass cover helps to get the fire started,
but too much will allow fire to escape into surrounding
country. For this burn, the property owner had taken
the cattle out of the paddocks 12 months previously to
get decent grass cover. In the previous week, with the
weather forecast available, a burning permit from the
local fire warden was arranged through the local police
In the following days we watched Craig manoeuvre
the chopper around the towers of vine, angling it so the
ignited fuel dripped from the swinging helitorch onto
the towers below. Plumes of smoke rose steadily, and
within minutes of ignition brown kites came circling in
for a look, posing an additional danger for the
helicopter. Craig flew in widening circles over each
inter-channel island, keeping the helicopter out of the
smoke plume and maintaining visibility. The fuel
canister, filled with a two-part gelling agent mixture
adjusted for heat and humidity, was reloaded three
times during an afternoons work.
After burning was complete, we flew with Craig
along the river line visible in the distance by rising
smoke threaded along it (Figure 3). Although still
smoking, the fires were essentially out. Very little
surrounding vegetation had burnt, but the thick basal
stems of targeted rubber vine were burnt through and
everything on top would now die off. A helicopter and
hundreds of litres of potentially explosive fuel initially
seemed like a very blunt instrument, but we were left
with strong impressions of the targeted and controlled
nature of the burn, and of Craigs calmness and skill.
William, an ecologist who has been studying the
effects of this burning approach over the past three
years, explained later that the key is understanding the
conditions and how they will interact with the latex.
Its just burning. But what happens is that when you get sort
of mass destruction it starts igniting, it gets hot enough to ...
ignite ... the latex ... and if you get that ... green rubber
vine will just burn through that, but its getting it to that
point in the wet season that was a problem. But you can kill
rubber vine with quite a slow fire. You dont need a raging
inferno to kill it. So at this time or later in the dry season you
can kill it with a very steady backburn and it will just run
through and the flame heights will be really low and quite
manageable. And really that may not even burn the canopy
at all. (William, government weed ecologist)
The demonstration burns we witnessed will kill as
much as 80 per cent of the vine biomass that was
ignited, which pleases Arthur. He has struggled to
convince the bureaucrats that new methods, more maps
or more meetings are not needed instead, what is
required are people on the ground and consistent
funding. We learn later that the owner was also happy
with the aerial burning. On his property average for
the district at approximately 480 km
a seven-
kilometre stretch of river was done in just three to
four hours, work that might otherwise have taken three
or four men a week of burning from the ground. The
longer term aim of opening up spaces among the vines
to improve pasture grass cover will depend on follow-
up burns in the years to come. A successful demon-
stration then, but managing rubber vine requires
ongoing vigilance.
Rubber vine: capacities and agencies
Rubber vine illustrates the lively capacities shared by
plants, and it does so in its own specific ways. It takes
varied bodily forms, energised by its capacity (and
need) to eat the sun. It lives and takes shapes in ways
beyond relations with humans for example, in
producing latex that protects from herbivory, enlisting
wind and water to aid its dispersal, or creating the
branching whips by which it grows, entwines and
spreads. Rubber vine moves without humans at scales
from the landscape to individual branches; it spreads
across zones, pulls people off horses, provides refuge
for animals. It senses and responds with various parts of
its bodies. The agency of the plant is clear; rubber vine
is not passive.
The variety of practices demonstrated here show
that people already engage with rubber vine as a
subject. It is read as a threat, and is implicitly
recognised through the need to legislate, both as part
of a group (invasive plants) and as a named individual
species (in WoNS). Humans and other animals live with
rubber vine, adjusting their lives and strategies while
also working to affect rubber vine manifestations. This
Figure 3 View from the helicopter after aerial ignition
burning, Einasleigh River, Queensland, 2012 (Photo:
Jennifer Atchison)
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particular plant has transformed biosecurity practices
in very specific ways, urging on the use of helicopter
searches and fire for instance. From the human
perspective, this management strategy is also only
possible with exceptional skill and technology, in very
particular places. These practices are not used against
other weeds because they would not be effective. The
differences of rubber vine from other plants are clear.
Burning as a management practice is only effective and
possible in this way due to the combustibility of latex
within the plant, in combination with its habit of
climbing and forming dense fuelconcentrated towers
that can be seen and targeted from above. So the
materiality of latex, which evolved in a particular
context, is now used by humans against the plant as part
of their relationship with it in fact in order to kill it.
The pragmatic human response to the relationship also
recognises that long-term victory is not possible if
conceived only as eradication. Rather, the plants
resistance to invasive plant management is acknowl-
edged. Instead, from the human point of view the
relationship is about setting priorities, protecting assets
and adapting to the plants.
Our argument is not that rubber vine stands for all
invasive plants, nor that invasive plants stand for all
plants in discussing relations with humans. We have
drawn attention to the differences of rubber vine from
other plants, and how these differences have drawn
specific human biosecurity responses. However there
are some consistent trends; as an assignee to the
category invasive plants, rubber vine illustrates some of
the contradictions these plants pose to human under-
standings of plant mobility and sensing. When acting as
invasives, plants are understood to be not only mobile
but aggressively so, marching across whole landscapes.
In the process, they marshall a range of sensing and
communicative capacities. Their agency is clear but
unwelcome, and resisted using practices of killing.
Further, our account of rubber vines capacities
demonstrates the interplay between a sense of plants
as objects (things to kill/burn/study) and subjects (active
participants in the landscape and in biosecurity) that
reflects challenges to the subject-object dualism in
some more-than-human work. There is much scope for
that thinking to further consider plants.
We have argued that it is timely for geographers to
more systematically explore the differences and simi-
larities of plants enacted with other beings. Drawing on
recent botanical understanding, we have conceptua-
lised the capacities of plants as shared and differenti-
ating, pre-dating humans and changing in interaction
with them. We outlined these capacities as including a
particular materiality; mobility (without human inter-
vention); sensing and communicating; and taking shape
as flexible bodies. To be clear, we do not consider these
or any other qualities to be intrinsic; they are them-
selves relational. Relations can solidify into particular
forms and processes and endure over evolutionary and
shorter timescales. They can also be disrupted, fall
apart and be reconfigured.
These points apply to humans just as much as plants,
so part of the value of such an approach is that it helps
us reflect on our ways of living and knowing. As Kohn
argued, the reason this work matters is not just that it
voice, agency or subjectivity to the nonhuman to recognize
them as others, visible in their difference but [that it
forces] us to radically rethink these categories of our analysis
as they pertain to all beings. (Kohn quoted in Kirksey and
Helmreich 201, 5623)
Plants challenge thinking about agency and subjec-
tivity against a human norm; in contrast to many
animals, plants are so different from us that we are not
at risk of confusion. The point is not that plants possess
agency, but that they enact distinctive agencies sun
eating, mobile, communicative and flexibly collective.
So far, in the context of invasive plants, human
engagement with such agencies shows an interplay
between object and subject, depending on the circum-
Rubber vine has helped ground our conceptualisa-
tion not that each capacity is highlighted in a way that
can be listed, but each is involved and several are
particularly prominent. Rubber vine forces us to
rethink the individual in a tangle of vines, where
one plant begins and another ends is not always
obvious. It manifests as two very different bodily
collectives and demonstrates strong agency in both. It
is highly mobile spreading unseen or undetected,
adapting its reproduction and overtaking other plants.
People interact with it as an adversary; a problem to be
eradicated, a species to be regulated, an impediment to
mustering and a non-native.
Smaller categories under the umbrella of plant (tree,
species, seed, invasive) also have unsharedcapacities
that must be examined in empirical specifics. We have
shown how they are brought to bear in the wider set of
relations that constitute the management of rubber
vine as an invasive plant in northern Australia. We have
traced the difference that non-human difference makes
in the environmental governance of biosecurity. If
plants were understood not just as things that can or
should be done to, but rather things that act back in
partnership and conflict policy would (and should)
look rather different. Policymakers could first learn
from the experience of practitioners on the ground
where, as our empirical results showed, people are very
conscious of plant capacities and affordances.
410 Lesley Head et al.
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Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
We have extended previous work on conviviality and
mutual flourishing by focusing on an adversarial
example. In fact the ethics of death and killing are
never far from humanplant relations, whether it is
weeding, eating, biosecuring or harvesting. In this way
planty capacities have much to offer ethical discussions
by taking us beyond the avoidance of death as the
preferred baseline. In the rubber vine example, humans
have become very attentive to the ways in which these
plants live and proliferate, as well as altering their own
practices in order to become more effective killers.
Rubber vine is also a killer of other plants and animals,
so it is necessary then to think explicitly about killing
and killability, but in very different ways from a moral
extensionismargument in which human sentience or
consciousness remains the yardstick. (This argument is
already widely considered problematic in relation to
animal ethics (Whatmore 1997; Wolfe 2008).)
The combination of ethnographic approaches and
methods of botanical sensing used in this paper has by no
means broken free of the magnetic attraction of the
human core(Hitchings and Jones, quoting Jones and
Cloke 2002). We recognise an epistemological tension in
our case study in that we have approached human
rubber vine relations through the human lens. There is an
important conversation to be had about whether we can
do otherwise, and much more work is needed in this area.
We consider this tension to be a productive one. The
scale of our approaches bodily, local, grounded offers
an important way to analyse the intricacies of practices
and relations within anthromes. It thus helps heal the
traditional biogeographic disconnect between the invis-
ibility of invasives within biomes, yet their conceptuali-
sation as continental invaders. We as researchers like
invasive plant practitioners need to expand our ways of
sensing in order to gain further insights into plant worlds.
This research was funded by the Australian Research
Council (FL0992397). We thank our many participants
for sharing their insights. Thanks to Stephanie Toole for
assistance in the field. Comments from several anon-
ymous reviewers helped us strengthen our arguments.
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... Myers has explored how people learn to "conspire" with plants (Myers, 2017, p. 299) while discussing how plants enrol other creatures, including humans, in their care and propagation. Head and her colleagues have drawn attention to the collaborative work of plants and people in the making of landscapes and indeed in making the world a habitable place while also acknowledging that conceptualisations of agency and subjectivity in human-plant relations have often been human-centred (Head et al., 2015). In the following discussion, we attempt to apply such perspectives to the case of the Kwanso Variegata daylily. ...
... Plants, in contrast to animals, for example, are generally understood as immobile, tied as they are to the ground by their roots (cf. Head et al., 2015). In gardens, however, we are constantly reminded that plants can indeed also move, with or without the help of humans and other co-actors. ...
With an artographic disposition, we engage alongside wildlife in two distinct rural landscapes, the far west coast and the northern prairie of Canada, to articulate our theory–practice nexus through ‘desire lines’ that map movements in our situated geographies. Desire lines are known as social trails, or colloquially, as a cow path or goat track, where the width and erosion of desire lines can be indicators of how much traffic a path receives. We extend desire lines as more-than-human ‘sculpted circuits’ to explore often overlooked rural patterns of movement, or in our cases, those lines crafted by animals in our situated and changing environments, namely with deer and squirrels. Our entanglements with desire lines begin with a stance that draws upon implicated social, biological, political connectivity, and questions animal and human animal understandings in turn.KeywordsArtographyWildlifeDesire linesEncounters
... Minor experiments furthermore require an attention to non-humans, for instance to plants and their adaptive capacities, a point that plant geographies and vegetal political ecologies have recently emphasized strongly (see Argüelles & March, 2022;Atchison, 2015;Fleming, 2017;Gibson & Warren 2020;Head et al., 2015;Pitt, 2017;Margulies et al., 2019;Ernwein et al., 2021;Lawrence, 2021). Thus, tentative, ambiguous experiments include humans and non-humans that respond in varying ways, and that enable the emergence of novelty (Jellis & Gerlach, 2017, p. 564). ...
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This article explores the role of experiments in eco-communities in Southwest France and Catalonia and focuses in particular on the production of post-capitalist natures in experiments with plants. Drawing on Deleuze & Guattari, it first orders experimental practices (around irrigation) in terms of a spectrum from 'minor' to 'major', emphasizing in particular the generativity of 'minor experimentation' that is often exploratory, tentative, and ambiguous. It secondly argues that it is crucial to consider how experimental practices relate to other non-experimental practices on-site, highlighting the relationship between minor experiments evolving into 'majoritized' or stabilized interventions, that may be subject to processes of 'scaling up.' Thirdly, it emphasizes the importance of approaching minor experiments through a careful attention to 'difference' that emerges, rather than directly critiquing such experiments. By contrast, the outgrowth of such experiments merits critical examination, according to more clearly defined, external yardsticks, by which political ecological scholarship can critically adjudicate the value of such experiments. The article does so by examining the ways in which experiments may be 'captured' by capitalist logics, hoping to positively contribute to a political ecology of experiments that fruitfully combines critique with more positive and hopeful experimentation.
Weeds are known as ‘plants out of place’, but how do we come to understand what belongs in place and what does not? Organisms that thrive beyond boundaries of control threaten life that is ‘in place’, or nature. As a threat to life and nature, weeds are transformed into objects of hate and elimination. Exploring the collective hate of weeds helps to untangle the affective dimensions of colonisation. Using the story of the blackberry in Dunedin, both through its settler history and contemporary relationship with urban foragers, this paper describes how weeds have become powerful affective objects.
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Abiotic stresses like drought and heat continue to impact crop production in a warming world. This paper distinguishes seven inherent capacities that enable plants to respond to abiotic stresses and continue growing, although at a reduced rate, to achieve a productive yield. These are the capacities to selectively take up essential resources, store them and supply them to different plant parts, generate the energy required for cellular functions, conduct repairs to maintain plant tissues, communicate between plant parts, manage existing structural assets in the face of changed circumstances, and shape-shift through development to be efficient in different environments. By illustration we show how all seven plant capacities are important for reproductive success of major crop species during drought, salinity, temperature extremes, flooding, and nutrient stress. Confusion about the term 'oxidative stress' is explained. This allows us to focus on the strategies that enhance plant adaptation by identifying key responses that can be targets for plant breeding.
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C. grandiflora has been termed the worst invasive alien plant species. However, its allelopathic potential has not been studied yet. The goal of this research was to study the allelopathic potential of C. grandiflora on the germination and seedling growth of L. usitatissimum and G. abyssinica . Plant specimens and samples of C. grandiflora were collected from the Minjar-Shenkora district, North Shewa Zone, Ethiopia. An experimental investigation was conducted to check the impact of its leaf and root extracts on the growth and germination parameters of the indicated test plant species. The root and leaf samples were extracted with water and methanol (99.85%). Leaf and root samples of 25 g were steeped separately in 250 ml of each of the specified solvents to make the stock solutions. The experiment was conducted in 9-cm-diameter Petri-dishes and laid out in completely random designs, replicated thrice with five blocks, each block representing a different concentration of extract (25, 50, 75, and 100%) and control. Twenty-five seeds of each test plant were placed in a petri-dish along with five ml of each extract. Differences between treatments were evaluated using one-way-ANOVA and Tukey's Honestly Significant Difference (HSD) Test. Results revealed that the inhibitory effect of water extracts of roots and leaves samples was concentration-dependent. With leaf extracts as opposed to root, the inhibitory effect was more pronounced. Hence, when L. usitatissimum seeds were treated with 100% concentration of water extracts from leaf samples of C. grandiflora germination-percentage, seedlings dry-weight, plumule, and radicle length were reduced by 80, 79.3, 73.6, and 79.4% respectively compared to the control. The above parameters also dropped considerably when G. abyssinica seeds were treated with the indicated concentrations. Conversely, the germination of seeds from both test plant species was entirely inhibited in methanol extracts. From this study, it can be deduced that these invasive plant extracts have herbicidal properties. Further phytochemical and molecular study is recommended to identify the active ingredients of C. grandiflora and determine their characteristics. Besides, the integration of identified allelopathic substances as a tool in the management of invasive species is proposed as an environment-friendly option to lessen the deterioration of ecosystem services.
An ontological approach to medieval archaeobotany could assist in uncovering otherwise obscure evidence of complex human-plant interactions. In particular, archaeobotanical remains could contribute more toward research on medieval medicine and understandings of human and environmental health. This article considers ways in which current archaeobotanical methods and practices may be limiting interpretations of medieval plant remains. We argue that increased immersion in both ontological and sedimentary contexts can improve archaeobotanical research by integrating plant remains with other archaeological and textual evidence. We offer an interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological framework toward broadening the interpretative scope of medieval archaeobotanical datasets, with an emphasis on humoral and spiritual ontologies.
More-than-human geographies haben sich im angelsächsischen Raum als wichtiges Forschungsfeld etabliert und in den letzten Jahren auch in der deutschsprachigen Geographie zunehmend an Bedeutung gewonnen. Die Dezentrierung des Menschen wird durch verschiedene Ansätze wie die Phänomenologie, den Pragmatismus, die Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie, Assemblage-, Affekt- und Mehr-als-repräsentationale Theorien sowie durch praxistheoretische, performative und viszerale Ansätze konzeptionell vorangetrieben. Trotz dieser großen Heterogenität eint die Mehr-als-menschlichen Geographien, dass sie den Menschen als Teil eines größeren Gesamtzusammenhangs begreifen, sich der Welt aus mehr als nur streng rational greifbaren Erfahrungs- und Sinndimensionen nähern und insofern leibliche, affektive, emotionale und sensorische Praktiken, Transaktionen und Intra-Aktionen in den Blick nehmen. Die Autorinnen und Autoren führen in die Entwicklungslinien, Grundzüge und Schlüsselkonzepte der komplexen Debatte ein und tragen so dazu bei, sie systematisch für die deutschsprachige Geographie und interessierte Nachbardisziplinen zu erschließen.
In the practical work of managing a garden, one soon finds that gardens are formed through processes that involve actions and strivings of non-humans as well as humans. In this chapter, we approach the relationship between crafting and the more-than-human from the gardener’s point of view. A specific garden plant, the Kwanso Variegata daylily, represents our point of departure. This daylily is known for its white-striped leaves which result from mutations in the plant's gene set. First discovered in Japan in the eighteenth century, it is now found in gardens around the world. However, the daylily is striving to overcome the very qualities that gardeners have found particularly interesting, its variegated foliage. To preserve these qualities, gardeners need to manage the plant, as it slowly strives to return to green. The maintenance of the plant’s appearance requires that humans repeatedly divide and propagate the desirable white-striped shoots. This example shows that crafting with garden plants and maintaining them can include conflict with the plant’s own processes and inclinations. Our discussion is inspired by emergent perspectives on human-plant relations that forefront the capabilities of plants.KeywordsGardening craftsPlant propagationHemerocallis fulva ‘Kwanso Variegata’Co-becomingInvolution
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We begin developing our relationship with and for Nature during childhood, and over the last 20 years research has advanced our understanding of human relationships with Nature. However, a focus on human-animal relationships dominates environmental understanding, including through the medium of literature, especially children’s literature. It is critical that children know, engage with and care for plants at this time of climate crisis and this could be facilitated through climate literature. The popularity of children’s climate fiction has increased dramatically in the last few years due to what publishers are calling the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’ – resulting in many more books now available that aim to empower young people to save the planet. However, in these texts, we argue that there is still an emphasis on animal and human consequences of climate change rather than on those of plants and the agency of plants (or lack thereof). We argue it is imperative that children understand not just the importance of human-animal relationships in regard to the climate crisis, but also the fundamental role of botanical life forms in preserving life on Earth. Taking three recently published children’s books of fiction we consider how botanical encounters are represented in these texts, and how this can undermine the perceived environmental importance of plants and people’s relationships with them. Informed by the recent work of Lykke Guanio-Uluru (2020), we consider the position plants play in these examples of contemporary children’s climate literature and encourage a more critical consideration of the place of plants.
The militaristic metaphors common in public discourses about invasive species have been criticised for promoting combative management approaches and constraining policy responses. But are they really to blame for entrenching a command-and-control approach to managing weeds in Australia? Since 2000, almost every state and territory has introduced new biosecurity legislation encouraging ‘shared responsibility’. Yet, this term remains noticeably absent from new legislation in Victoria. We aim to examine whether public discourses around invasive plants have remained unchanged to better understand how invasive plants have been framed and whether this can provide insight into the lack of engagement with ‘shared responsibility’ in Victorian legislation. This study investigates figurative language used in Victorian newspapers from 1885 to 2020 to describe three invasive plants and their management: Bathurst burr, blackberry and gorse. The figurative language reveals limited acknowledgement of humans' role in the spread of weeds and emphasis on the diverse impacts of weeds on humans. Militaristic metaphors have existed for over 130 years, but are neither the most predominant nor community-mobilising. Overall, figurative language has focused on individual efforts to control weeds, without critical analysis of the inter-relationships between humans and weeds nor having created opportunities for caring or collaborative weed management.
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This toolkit provides an overview, advice by example, and sources for further information on the best management practices for invasive alien species, to assist and direct those involved with biodiversity conservation and land management. An introductory chapter is followed by a chapter on building strategy and policy for national plans. Methods for the prevention of invasive species and the risk-analysis process, and methods for early detection of new invasives are reviewed. Different management approaches are broadly reviewed. The toolkit contains many case studies covering a variety of ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, marine), including examples from traditional sectors such as agriculture and forestry, and features many different groups of invasive species: mammals, molluscs, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and other aquatic organisms, weeds, trees, and plant pathogens and includes released biological control agents. Whilst the toolkit is global in applicability, there is a small island focus, which recognizes that the impact of invasive alien species on biodiversity is greater in small island systems.
The traditional image of New Zealand is one of verdant landscapes with sheep grazing on lush green pastures. Yet this landscape is almost entirely an artificial creation. As Britain became increasingly reliant on its overseas territories for supplies of food and raw material, so all over the Empire indigenous plants were replaced with English grasses to provide the worked up products of pasture - meat, butter, cheese, wool, and hides. In New Zealand this process was carried to an extreme, with forest cleared and swamps drained. How, why and with what consequences did the transformation of New Zealand into these empires of grass occur? Seeds of Empire provides both an exciting appraisal of New Zealand's environmental history and a long overdue exploration of the significance of grass in the processes of sowing empire.
Land conversion, climate change and species invasions are contributing to the widespread emergence of novel ecosystems, which demand a shift in how we think about traditional approaches to conservation, restoration and environmental management. They are novel because they exist without historical precedents and are self-sustaining. Traditional approaches emphasizing native species and historical continuity are challenged by novel ecosystems that deliver critical ecosystems services or are simply immune to practical restorative efforts. Some fear that, by raising the issue of novel ecosystems, we are simply paving the way for a more laissez-faire attitude to conservation and restoration. Regardless of the range of views and perceptions about novel ecosystems, their existence is becoming ever more obvious and prevalent in today's rapidly changing world. In this first comprehensive volume to look at the ecological, social, cultural, ethical and policy dimensions of novel ecosystems, the authors argue these altered systems are overdue for careful analysis and that we need to figure out how to intervene in them responsibly. This book brings together researchers from a range of disciplines together with practitioners and policy makers to explore the questions surrounding novel ecosystems. It includes chapters on key concepts and methodologies for deciding when and how to intervene in systems, as well as a rich collection of case studies and perspective pieces. It will be a valuable resource for researchers, managers and policy makers interested in the question of how humanity manages and restores ecosystems in a rapidly changing world.
We review the ways in which two of Charles Darwin's lesser known works, The Movement and Habit of Twining Plants and The Power of Movement in Plants, stimulated 20th and 21st century research findings and philosophies. The legacy of Darwin's work permeates research on plant movement. For example, Darwin's demonstration that coleoptiles and roots fail to bend in response to light or gravity if their tips are removed helped researchers work toward the discovery of auxin and other plant hormones. Darwin's methodical observations on vine twining directions and circumnutation foreshadowed the recent discovery that 92% of vines twine in right-handed helices, regardless of their location on the planet. Finally, Darwin's observation of the similarity between plant responses to stimuli and the responses of lower animals foreshadowed the current debate over whether plants have 'behaviour'. Thus, even Darwin's lesser-known works continue to influence research in the present day. (C) 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 160, 111-118.