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American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species

American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land

Peter Coates
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species
    Book Description:

    Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general public. But is American anxiety over this crisis of ecological identity a recent phenomenon? Charting shifting attitudes to alien species since the 1850s, Peter Coates brings to light the rich cultural and historical aspects of this story by situating the history of immigrant flora and fauna within the wider context of human immigration. Through an illuminating series of particular invasions, including the English sparrow and the eucalyptus tree, what he finds is that we have always perceived plants and animals in relation to ourselves and the polities to which we belong. Setting the saga of human relations with the environment in the broad context of scientific, social, and cultural history, this thought-provoking book demonstrates how profoundly notions of nationality and debates over race and immigration have shaped American understandings of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93325-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Peter Coates
  4. Chapter 1 Strangers and Natives
    (pp. 1-27)

    “The United States is having a problem with aliens,” announced the National Safety Council’s Environmental Health Center as the twentieth century drew to a close. “Not illegal immigrants or space invaders,” elaborated the Center—a division of a parent organization more commonly associated with efforts to enforce seat belt laws, combat drunk driving, and promote the careful use of fire extinguishers—”but plants and animals that reach the shores and stay.” A California journalist had adopted the same approach the previous year, opening his article about immigrants with the remark that “the strangers come from far and wide.” “Then they...

  5. Chapter 2 The Avian Conquest of a Continent
    (pp. 28-70)

    Visiting New York City’s Central Park in May 1903, Clinton G. Abbott conducted a quick survey of foreign birds. He spotted five species in twenty minutes: the European goldfinch, European chaffinch, European greenfinch, European starling, and European house (English) sparrow. He hailed goldfinches as “cheery little songsters” and admired the chaffinch’s plumage, tunefulness, “pleasant disposition,” and tidy nests. But he did not like anything about the other three. The positive attributes of goldfinch and chaffinch were also insufficient to atone for the undesirable features of all five feathered foreigners.

    The worst offenders, in Abbott’s view, were the starling and sparrow....

  6. Chapter 3 Plants, Insects, and Other Strangers to the Soil
    (pp. 71-111)

    The fractious relations between the United States and Britain that flavored American attitudes to the English sparrow also spiced responses to floral pests from Britain. The Civil War did not interrupt Charles Darwin and Asa Gray’s regular correspondence on botanical matters. In the early 1860s, though, they often spent more time discussing politics than plants. British partiality for the Confederacy (see “The Stranger Finch” in chapter 2)—aggravated tension between the scientists’ countries, and this colored their exchanges. Though Darwin appreciated the American newspapers Gray sent him, he also expressed annoyance at their “digs at England.” “When you receive this...

  7. Chapter 4 Arboreal Immigrants
    (pp. 112-150)

    On National Arbor Day in 2001 (April 27), the National Arbor Day Foundation announced the results of a four-month online poll to select America’s National Tree. More than 444,000 votes were cast. The oak won by a clear margin, not least because it comes in sixty varieties that are more widely distributed around the nation than the representatives of any other nominee. Despite its exclusively Californian identity, the redwood that had wowed Fairchild in his twilight years was a respectable runner-up. Another tree with a distinct, if broader regional stamp—the cabbage palmetto that had made so little impression on...

  8. Chapter 5 The Nature of Alien Nation
    (pp. 151-190)

    He did not refer to the storm raging over the eucalyptus in northern California. The Universal Australian’s champions there were precisely the sort of people Michael Pollan had in mind, though, when he criticized the growing emphasis on native plants in 1994. In hisNew York Timesarticle, the prominent gardening writer coined the term “multihorticulturalist” to describe someone with a cosmopolitan, pluralistic vision of the plant world.¹ Likewise, the gum tree’s critics in northern California were a prime example of those Pollan refers to as ecologically correct native plant purists. Emerging from beneath the broad canopy of California’s eucalyptus...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 191-248)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 249-256)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)