[Editorial Note: In an effort to reduce confusion due to common names that vary by country or region, scientific names are included so each plant’s identification is clear.]
Our planet has a large variety of diverse ecosystems. We know where to find a barrier reef, an alpine meadow, or a seaside beach, and we anticipate seeing certain living organisms in each biome. The origin and nature of a species within an ecosystem is distinguished by the terms native, alien, and invasive:
- A species that originated in an area without any human intervention is native to that area.
- A species that has moved from its native environment to another location is alien to its new environment.
- An alien species that harms the environment, the economy, or human health is invasive to its alien environment. The harm caused by invasives can include displacing native species (environmental), causing extensive floods (economy), or carrying infectious vectors (human health). The term environmental weed is often used in place of the word invasive.
A species can be native, alien, and invasive, according to how its populations exist within various ecosystems. For example, the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) was introduced to New York and Oregon in 1890 for the purpose of insect control. Its population now causes extensive agricultural damage and contributes to the decline of native birds through competition for food and nesting sites. Accordingly, the European Starling is native to Europe and Asia and both alien and invasive in Canada, Central America, and the United States.
The response to invasive plants has long been one of eradication, whereby we remove ‘bad’ invasive plants in favor of ‘good’ native ones. This blog post will not delve into the ethics of managing invasive species, as each country has its own approach. Suffice to say that here in the United States, spray herbicides are used so many of my recommendations are based in that reality.
While land managers and restoration experts focus on eradication programs, basketmakers can make good use of many invasive plants. I once helped a group of basketmakers remove an entire hillside of Japanese honeysuckle in one week. We did our weaving onsite to avoid introducing honeysuckle to another location, and we each took several lovely baskets home with us. After the honeysuckle spread across the hillside again, we went back for another weaving party.
It’s important to note that we didn’t just park our cars and start collecting. Several considerations come into play when collecting any natural materials:
- Determine whether are any local regulations prohibit the collection/use of invasive plants. This may vary by species and
location; it is up to each basketmaker to do local research prior to collecting invasives.
- Trespassing is illegal. ALWAYS get landowner permission to scout and collect weaving materials. Some locations have regulations against collecting anything more than photographs and trash. In the United States, that includes city, county, state, and national parks.
- While speaking with the landowner, ask if herbicides have been used recently. If so, consider the potential health implications of prolonged contact. What herbicide was used? How long ago was it sprayed? Is it safe to collect?
- Be sure you have correctly identified the plant before collecting it. Many years ago, a student of mine complained about itchy blisters on her hands and arms just before she produced a lovely tendril-covered basket. The entire basket was woven of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).
- Consider how to collect without increasing the plant’s range or endangering yourself.
– Will it drop seeds? If so, collect at a different stage in its life cycle.
– Will plants sprout from stems dropped on wet ground? If so, collect during dry season.
– Are bees attracted to its flowers? If so, collect at an earlier stage in its life cycle, especially if you are allergic to bee stings.
– Does it provide shelter to potentially dangerous animals? Here in Florida, I never collect cattails in May or June. Alligators are aggressive during mating season.
- Finally, be sure you are properly prepared. My collecting bag contains work gloves, cutting tools, garbage bags, rain gear, insect repellent, sunscreen, compass, energy bars, water, and a first aid kit. I keep a brimmed hat, mud boots, snake boots, and a tarp in the trunk of my car. Be sure your cutting tools are sharp.
The following list is specific to utilizing invasive plants for basketry. The list is organized in alphabetical order by scientific name (common name in parentheses) and gives a description, the countries in which it is established as an invasive species, and how the plant can be utilized by the basketmaker. Additional collecting notes are provided for some species.
This listing is not exhaustive; rather, it is provided as a starting point. Country listings are according to the Global Invasive Species Database (www.iucngisd.org) and do not drill down into states/provinces/local areas. Most of the plants on this list have non-invasive ‘cousins’ that are useful for basketry. For example, Clematis reticulata (Netleaf virgin’s bower) is native to Florida but Clematis terniflora (Japanese clematis) is an alien invasive. Both can be used for basketry.
Finally, this list does not include species that may be aggressive in growth but lack the environmental, economic, or health implications required for classification as an invasive species. A local example of this is Vitis rotundifolia (Muscadine grape), a vigorous, high-climbing vine that happily drapes itself over trees and shrubs. While the species is rather aggressive, it is native to Florida and thus cannot be classified as a Florida invasive. As a basketmaker, I do my part to keep the species under control in my little corner of the state.
I’d love to hear how you are using various species in your basketry. Happy weaving!
Invasive Plants for Basketry – Species List
Agave sisalana (Sisal Hemp)
Description: Large, stemless perennial succulent with spear-like leaves in a basal rosette. The leaves have sharp hooks or spines on the edges, and very sharp tips. Flowers are at the top of a long stalk and are branched, candelebra-like, from the main stalk.
Established Invasive: Australia, Fiji, Japan, Madagascar, Palau, South Africa, Tahiti, United States
Weaving: Make fiber for cordage; leaf tip spine can be used as a sewing needle
Akebia quinata (Chocolate Vine, Fiveleaf Akebia)
Description: Twining vine or vigorous groundcover with slender, rounded stems that are green when young and brown at maturity. The palmate leaves alternate along the stem and are divided into five leaflets, the small stems of which meet at a central juncture. Leaflets are generally long, oval in shape, 3-7 cm long, with a purplish tinge that becomes blue-green at maturity.
Established Invasive: United Kingdom, United States
Weaving: Use runners for twining
Arundo donax (Giant Reed)
Description: Very tall bamboo-like perennial grass with large, spreading clumps of thick culms to 6 m tall. The leaves look like those of a corn plant. Their margins are sharp to the touch and can cut careless hands. The inflorescence plume stands above the foliage. Giant reed spreads from thick, knobby rhizomes. Once established, it tends to form large, continuous, clonal root masses, sometimes covering several acres.
Established Invasive: Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Haiti, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Samoa, South Africa, Spain, Tonga, United States
Weaving: Split colms for plaiting, ribs, or twining; leaves for cordage
Collecting note: Wear gloves – sharp leaf margins.
Will populate from small sections of root
Bambusa vulgarus (Bamboo)
Description: A tree-like perennial grass that forms dense stands of cylindrical, jointed woody stems up to 20 m in height with leafy branches at nodes and narrow lanceolate leaves
Established Invasive: Cook Islands, Fiji, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, United States, US Virgin Islands
Weaving: Culms can be split for plaiting, twining & ribbed baskets
Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)
Description: A deciduous, woody, perennial vine with glossy, rounded, finely toothed leaves arranged alternately along the stem. The fruit capsules are three-valved with each valve containing one or two brown seeds completely enclosed in a fleshy red fruit. Upon ripening, the yellow outer covering splits open to reveal the red fruits.
Established Invasive: Canada, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Sweden, United States
Weaving: Use runners for twining, random weave & ribbed baskets
Clematis terniflora (Japanese Clematis)
Description: A semi-evergreen climber or groundcover with compound, opposite leaves. Flowers are star shaped and highly fragrant.
Established Invasive: United States
Weaving: Use runners for twining & random weave
Clematis vitalba (Evergreen Clematis)
Description: A semi-evergreen climber or groundcover with compound, opposite leaves. Flowers are white and feathery.
Established Invasive: Canada, New Zealand, Poland, United States
Weaving: Use runners for twining & random weave
Cyperus rotundus (Purple Nutsedge)
Description: A smooth, erect, perennial weed with an extensive subterranean tuber system. Purple nutsedge appears grass like, but its stems are triangular in cross-section. It has fibrous roots that branch prolifically, rhizomes, tubers, bulbs, and inflorescences that consist of irregular compound umbels. Its leaves are mostly basal and linear in shape with a prominent mid-rib.
Established Invasive: Global distribution. Native range undetermined.
Weaving: Use stems and leaves for coiling, cordage, & twining
Collecting note: Do not dig roots or collect when seed heads are present
Hedera helix (English Ivy)
Description: Evergreen climbing vine with dark green, waxy leaves arranged alternately along the stem. The juvenile plant climbs by means of adventitious roots; the mature form does not climb.
Established Invasive: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, New Zealand, United States
Weaving: Use runners for twining
Imperata cylindrical (Cogongrass)
Description: A stemless erect perennial grass, growing in loose to compact tufts with slender flat linear-lanceolate leaves arising from dense rhizomes. The leaves have prominent white midribs that are slightly off center. The leaves have sharp serrated edges and contain silica.
Established Invasive: Australia, Benin, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, New Zealand, Northern Mariana Islands, United States
Weaving: Use leaves for cordage & coiling
Collecting note: Wear gloves – leaf edges are serrated. Do not cut when seed heads are present.
Iris pseudacorus (Yellow Flag Iris)
Description: Herbaceous perennial with flat, erect and linear sword-like with a raised midrib. The dark to blue-green blades are 25-90 cm long and have sharply pointed tips. Flowers are pale to bright yellow and 7-9 cm wide. The large seed pod is 3-sided and angular and turns from glossy green to brown as it ripens. Each pod contains dozens of seeds densely arranged in 3 rows. Roots are 10-30 cm in length, and the fleshy rhizomes are 1-4 cm in diameter.
Established Invasive: Canada, New Zealand, United States
Weaving: Use leaves for cordage & coiling
Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle)
Description: Woody perennial, evergreen to semi-evergreen vine that can be found either trailing or climbing to over24 m in length. Leaves are opposite, oval and 2.5-6 cm long. Margins are usually smoothed but young leaves may be lobed or toothed. Flowers are showy, fragrant, tubular, and whitish-pink, in the axils of the leaves.
Established Invasive: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, France, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Portugal, Puerto Rico, United Kingdom, US
Weaving: Use runners for twining, random weave, ribbed baskets
Melia azedarach (Chinaberry)
Description: Fast-growing deciduous tree that reaches 15 m tall with a 6 m diameter canopy. The tree is often made of several smaller trunks because it is able to readily sprout from the roots. Leaf scars from dropped leaves are triangular and noticeable. The leaves are alternate, bi-pinnately compound, and emit a musky odor when crushed.
Established Invasive: Argentina, Bolivia, Cook Islands, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Mexico, Micronesia, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pitcairn, South Africa, Swaziland, Tonga, United States, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands
Weaving: Use sucker branches for rims & handles (trim with drawknife instead of splitting)
Pueraria montana var lobata (Kudzu)
Description: Climbing, deciduous vine capable of reaching lengths of over 30 m in a single season. Leaves are alternate and compound with three lobed leaflets. Flowers are purple clusters in the axels of the leaves. Seeds contained in a 7 cm long seed pod.
Established Invasive: American Samoa, Europe, Fiji, French Polynesia, Italy, Mediterranean area, Mexico, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Samoa, Tonga, United States
Weaving: Use runners for twining, random weave & ribbed baskets; use bark for cordage
Collecting note: New plants can emerge from stem cuttings
Rubus discolor (Himalayan blackberry)
Description: Perennial bramble with stems that can sometimes reach 3 m in height. Leaves are mostly 5-foliolate and bright green with hooked prickles on the leaf stems. Flowers are white to rose-colored with broad petals. The fruits mature from red to shiny black and succulent.
Established Invasive: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, United States
Weaving: Use canes for twining
Collecting note: Wear leather gloves; remove thorns with knife or glove
Salix cinerea (Pussy willow)
Description: Small shrub. Branches spread to form a broad, rounded or flattened crown. The leaves are shiny on the upper surface and covered with soft grey hairs underneath. Distinctive catkins appear in advance of the leaves and are cylindrical.
Established Invasive: Australia, New Zealand
Weaving: Use bark for cordage. Rods can be used as straight ribs; this species is not as flexible as English willow.
Trachycarpus fortunei (Hemp palm, Windmill palm)
Description: Evergreen palm with large fan-shaped leaves. The trunk is straight, solitary and fibrous, and dead leaves hang from the top forming a skirt. Male flowers (yellow) and female flowers (greenish) grow on separate plants on large, branched and drooping spikes, followed by fruit that ripens to from green to blue-black.
Established Invasive: Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand,
Weaving: Use leaf and leaf sheath fiber for cordage
Typha latifolia (Broadleaf cattail, Common cattail)
Description: Leaves are strap-like and stiff; rounded on back; flat and D shaped. Leaves are straight in the bottom half but twisted and spiral in the top. Leaves are thick and pale grayish-green in color. Female fruiting spikes are pale green when in flower, drying to brownish, later blackish brown or reddish brown in fruit.
Established Invasive: New Zealand
Weaving: Use leaves for plaiting, twining, cordage, braiding, coiling, and chair seating
Vinca Major (Bigleaf periwinkle, Large periwinkle)
Description: Perennial evergreen herb with erect flowering stems and trailing non-flowering stems that roots at the node. The stems contain a milky latex and shiny, dark green leaves that are opposite, round ovate, and pinnately veined. The flowers are blue to violet, 2-5 cm diameter and made up of five equally sized petals.
Established Invasive: Australia, Canada, Cyprus, New Zealand, US
Weaving: Use for random weave & twining in small baskets, best used as accents
Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria)
Description: Perennial vine that can live for 50 years or more and can grow up to 38 cm in diameter. Leaves are alternate and pinnately compound, up to 30 cm long and consist of 13-19 leaflets. Blue-violet flowers hang in clusters that sometimes exceed 40 cm in length. Seedpods are 10-15cm in length, hairy, brown, narrow at the base, and constricted between seeds. W. floribunda twines clockwise around host plants.
Established Invasive: United States
Weaving use: Runners for twining, splint, hoops, & ribs; twisted older runners for handles; bark for cordage, coiling & stitching
Agave sisalana – Lokal_Profil
Lonicera japonica – Chuck Bargeron
Melia azedarach – Marcia Morse Mullins
Pueraria montana var lobata – Plants of Hawaii, Image 021012-0007 from www.starrenvironmental.com
Rubus discolor – Stan Shebs
Trachycarpus fortunei – Emőke Dénes
All other photos & illustrations in the public domain
Marcia Morse Mullins