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Oh Exotic One – Can You Be Good?

By Environmental Management System

February, 2015

Wheat
Wheat is an example of an exotic species that have become an integral part of the American economy.

Our environment is continually changing due to a wide variety of factors, including the introduction of exotics species, climate changes, and human involvement. Non-native species can become such a common part of an environment, culture, and even diet that little thought is given to their geographic origin. Sometimes, introduced plants and/or animals can have a neutral or positive economic impact.

Many of the cash crops that are farmed in the United States were first introduced as exotic species (including hays, corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, and cotton). All livestock in the United States except the American Bison and the turkey are non-native species to North America. Collectively, non-native crops and livestock comprise 98% of United States food. According to the Congressional Research Service, the economic impact of non-natives exceeds any potential costs associated with the negative impact of non-native species, such as disruption of natural habitat.

Many introduced species require continued human intervention to survive in the new environment. Sugar cane came from South Asia via South America by Columbus. Peaches originated in China and have since been carried across much of the populated world. Squash, corn, and tobacco are native to the American continent and were introduced to Europe.

Tomatoes
Tomatoes came from the Andes and are now very popular across North America, including at NC Farmer’s Markets.
Photo courtesy of Rhett Maxwell

In the 1660s, non-native honeybees were introduced by early English settlers to provide honey related products. Bees have since come from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Although they may not pollinate native plants as well as the native bees, they also help crop growth in the United States.

New plant species can make wonderful additions to landscapes and gardens, but if they are not managed carefully, many exotics have the capacity to become destructive threats to biodiversity and our ecosystems. Ultimately, although if an exotic plant can be managed successfully, it may become naturalized and an integral part of the American economy.

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