Designing future life with invasive plants

  Turning invasive plants into renewable raw materials for furniture and textiles is all well and good, but once it gives these species considerable economic value, it also makes cleanup more difficult.
  | Another way to open up invasive plants |
  ”I can make Japanese knotweed into puff pastry, and the twig part tastes a bit like the edible rhubarb that is often used in pastries.” Co-founder of Ferrowood Environmental Consulting Paul Beckett said. He has experience dealing with invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed.
  ”You have to be very careful when you’re dealing with invasive alien species,” he warns after seeing restaurants, energy producers, and others try to use Japanese knotweed creatively. The warning comes at an opportune time as species become raw materials. The so-called “alien invasive organisms” refer to those alien species that multiply and develop rapidly after being introduced into a new living environment. caused great damage.
  Among them, Japanese knotweed is very representative. It is native to East Asia and has spread to all parts of the world. It is extremely difficult to deal with. In the UK, allowing Japanese knotweed to spread in the wild is a criminal offense, and even taking it off one’s land can be punished by law.
  Despite the challenges, some designers are trying to see invasive alien species in a different light, trying to use these “ghosts” as raw materials for the production of furniture, paper, textiles and construction.
  Hogweed spread rapidly after being introduced to Europe from the West Caucasus as an ornamental plant, and its sap is highly toxic. In the Netherlands, Studio Shafter, founded by designer Erik Shaft, has used the plant to create three types of wall panels: giant hogweed. The by-products produced in the plant are processed into foam boards and the burls are ground up into cardboard.
  Also in the Netherlands, Polina Berchina’s Ravina Studio has created a series of home objects, including containers, stools, rugs and sculptures, from a composite material containing nettles. “In Russia, it has long been a tradition to use nettles to make clothes, fishing nets, sail ropes, medicines, food and insulation for houses. Artisans will extract the fibers from the stalks to make yarn and paper,” she said. It’s very similar to the process of producing flax.”
  Japanese knotweed costs the UK more than £40 million a year in economic losses. In London, Brigitte Koch and Irene Moracia turned knotweed into tiles, while Marina Bellintani explored its potential in areas such as bioplastics and natural dyes; in Slovenia, Tula The firm made knotweed into paper. Behind this is the multi-pronged approach of the Ljubljana Municipal Government and the Pulp and Paper Association, which intends to create “business opportunities” and explore a sustainable way to deal with invasive alien species.

  In the past, Turana Office obtained invasive plants at the annual community event, but now it is not satisfied with this. “We took an abandoned construction site overgrown with invasive alien species and set up a production laboratory there,” says Jaya Osolo, Turana’s co-founder.
  The designers had a simple idea: With the current huge demand for renewable raw materials in society, why not make full use of these abundant and redundant resources, thereby promoting their demise? Their ideas coincided with those of Portman agronomist Tao Orion. In his 2015 book, “Beyond the War on Invasive Species,” Orion dismisses the mechanical and chemical approaches to eradicating invasive alien species, arguing for a more pragmatic, gentler approach. “Pumen Agronomy” aims to design and build a sustainable food ecosystem by drawing on the energy flow patterns in nature and imitating the ecological levels and symbiotic cooperation of various plants in the forest.
  |Who defines “invasion”? |
  In Orion’s view, the word “invasion” is subjective. Many of what are now called “invasive alien plants” were originally introduced to solve environmental problems. For example, kudzu was introduced to North America in the 1920s and 1930s to combat soil erosion, where it spread rapidly.
  Attitudes towards these species improved after World War II with the publication of books such as The Ecology of Plant and Animal Invasions by biologist Charles Elton, which addressed the risks of blindly transplanting inappropriate species into new environments. There has been a shift.
  The 1962 horror sci-fi film “The Age of the Three-Pointed Tree” was adapted from the novel of the same name by John Windham. The “three-pointed tree” in the movie is a genetically modified artificial plant with terrible poisonous thorns, keen senses similar to animals, and three movable “feet”. Plant in large quantities. Later, a strange and dazzling meteor shower caused most of the human beings to lose their sight instantly. The three-pointed tree took advantage of the weakness of human beings to launch a “rebellion”. “‘The Age of the Three-Pointed Tree’ portrays exotic plants as intruders, adding to the fear in people’s hearts,” Shaft said.
  However, some designers believe that since globalization, colonization and climate change have caused so many species to migrate around the world, and these species multiply rapidly and become difficult to eradicate quickly, it is better to use these exotic plants as renewable materials, thereby avoiding the Waste of resources. But at the same time, they also admit that this method is difficult to completely eradicate invasive plants. Others, like artist Ala Assad, choose to use his work to challenge people’s attitudes towards alien species, hoping that humans can live in harmony with more plants.
  In the United Kingdom, Japanese knotweed is a “big problem” that has turned pale. Since the end of 2000, many banks have refused to apply for mortgages for houses with knotweed growing nearby. However, this approach is about to change. In 2023, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors will release its latest report, downplaying the argument that knotweed threatens the real estate industry, but still emphasizing the risks it poses.
  Author Philip Santo said: “Knotweed doesn’t actually do any real harm to a home, and the awareness of it doesn’t outweigh the problems it poses—knotweed is manageable.”

  Beckett of Ferro Wood Environmental Consulting has given legal opinions on Japanese knotweed and served as an expert witness in cases involving knotweed. He said the risks that knotweed posed to real estate were overstated. “The extent of the damage and sinking it caused is not as great as the legend. In fact, many plants can cause damage to buildings, and knotweed is not that special.”
  But on the other hand, Beckett is cautious about the use of invasive plants. He believes that “an industry with invasive alien species as the core should not be developed unless the species is well known and a lot of money is invested to ensure that it can be effectively controlled.”
  | Utilization and eradication are only two options ? |
  Many experts are also skeptical of the use of alien species for development, highlighting the enormous difficulty of containing the spread of these plants, arguing that assigning economic value to these species will make cleanup more difficult. In Nairobi, Kenya, Ann Witt, an invasive species expert at a non-profit organization, used the black wattle as an example: Although the black wattle has seriously affected the biodiversity and natural environment in southern Africa, the development around the black wattle The tannin and wood export business is hard to stop. “The use of invasive alien species can have substantial economic benefits, especially in low- and middle-income countries, but in our experience it’s not a good idea,” he said. What incentive do people have to eradicate them when resources are available?”
  The Luma Design Laboratory in Arles, France, has established an invasive plant association to study the seasonality of species in the nearby Camargue wetlands, working closely with botanists and local communities. migrate. They are grappling with the tension between the exploitation and eradication of invasive alien species.
  So far, the group has made adhesives and ropes from agave, textile dyes from plants such as sorrel and amorpha, and benches and tables from Japanese knotweed. The latter was designed by Sammy Riel, who says the Knotweed tables and chairs are “incredibly light and unimaginably strong”.
  In EU countries, Japanese knotweed is not subject to strict legal restrictions like in the UK. European Union law has certain restrictions on the spread of “priority invasive alien species”, but Japanese knotweed is not on this “blacklist”—mainly because it is already too abundant.
  The European Union stipulates: “The commercial use of existing invasive alien species may be temporarily permitted under justified circumstances to ensure that management measures to eradicate, limit or contain them are carried out smoothly, provided that appropriate control measures are in place, Avoid further spread of invasive species.”
  To meet these requirements, Riel and his team took great care in the production process. “We’re going to build our workshop as close as possible to where the Japanese knotweed is being harvested, so there’s less movement of the plant,”
  Riel said. We shouldn’t just because these species aren’t Local ones have certain risks, so we regard them as “sabotage elements”; on the contrary, we should explore the possibility of them becoming raw materials. But Riel emphasized that this kind of exploration must have a solid technological foundation and be limited to a certain area. He does not encourage people to develop large-scale manufacturing around alien organisms.

  | Building an “Counter Alliance” by Sharing Designs |
  Riel is currently working on open-source designs and drafts for assemblies made from invasive plants, so that his designs can be made elsewhere with minimal tools. Open source design means open design drafts, instead of simply sharing the pictures of the packaged works as in the past, but open source files, so that everyone can clearly see every layer, every component and even every style , and can freely carry out secondary editing, modification and reuse.
  American “later” architectural firms have adopted similar ideas. In 2020, the firm presented a design for a house that incorporates exotic plants such as kudzu and bamboo on display at the Knoxville Museum of Art. The firm also worked with students at the University of Tennessee to use digital tools to scan, sort and arrange fallen branches of Bradford pear trees for eventual architectural design.
  ”We wanted to look at ways to use natural materials directly in architecture without going through standardized processing or traditional processes,” said Later co-founder Katie MacDonald. With unique and novel structures, many invasive species can be used directly without further processing.”
  There are already precedents for promoting the use of invasive species through design: Asuka Ecological and Environmental Research Trust, a non-profit organization in India, A craft economy has been built around lantana. Lantana, a flowering shrub native to tropical regions of the United States, poses a great threat to the survival of native plants in India, seriously affecting the livelihoods of local farmers.
  ”Currently, nearly 40 percent of India’s forests are covered by lantana,” said Sandeep Hanshanal, head of the project. The organization has trained more than 650 local furniture artisans in lantana as a bamboo substitute, and the craftsmen can train many more.

  The demand for orders from local enterprises continues to grow, and artisans have also established a lantana craft center, in which nearly 80% of the income of members comes from the use of lantana. Their plan is not just to ship orders across the country, but to create a network that resembles an analog ecosystem.
  The Asoka Ecological and Environmental Research Trust is working with designers to develop other uses for lantana and to propose engineering proposals, such as making lantana particleboard. They are also working on alternatives, so that if lantana becomes scarce, other materials could be used instead. In this way, an over-reliance on lantana can be prevented, as this plant can also be replaced by other exotic species.
  | What can we learn from this? |
  Not everyone is in favor of these experiments, and the use of invasive species remains controversial. Despite the best intentions of the designers, there is no guarantee that these experiments will not get out of hand and make invasive species even more destructive.
  However, we can realize from it that human beings have very limited control over nature, and we need to live in harmony with nature, not override it. These examples also warn us that it is not advisable to blindly expand production, but to develop the manufacturing industry according to local conditions.

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