Knotweed


by  John Roland Stahl
July, 2009


      Re: BBC World News: 23/VII/09  “Knotweed.”

     So many times I am baffled by some idea – some prevailing attitude – that just seems to me to be wrong, wrong, wrong.  For example, cutting down trees just to chip them up into paper is the single most damaging act of terrorism against planet Earth in its entire history (which may be coming to a close soon if that virulent pestilence, the human race, is not brought under control quickly).  From the loss of oxygen and the accumulation of carbon dioxide, to soil erosion, loss of species habitat, and the loss of many valuable forest resources, the liquidation of our ancient forest is an act of astounding stupidity.

     Speaking of getting a virulent pestilence under control, on tonight’s broadcast of the BBC World News there was an article about the problem of knotweed, and the way in which it was proposed to combat it.  The whole approach seemed to me to be so incredibly wrong and stupid as to merit criminal investigation!  Knotweed is apparently a very tough weed that spreads persistently, and invades and takes over wherever it goes.  Apparently millions of dollars (and pounds) are spent annually to combat this pestilence, and now Science has come up with a natural, biological control for the problem.  They are breeding a population of super vampire insects that will attach themselves to the knotweed and gradually suck out the plant’s juices.  This is proposed as a solution to the problem!

     Before I tell you my solution to the problem, let us take a look at the deliberate production of these biological weapons of mass destruction in the form of the very hungry, and equally virulent, sucking insects that will go head-to-head with the knotweed.  I am a gardener, and I love to spend a morning out in my garden, watching my roses grow.  I always grow a great many plants wherever I go, and more seem to spring up around me, as I plant seeds and take cuttings all the time. 

     I know all about those sucking insects!  They are the scourge of the earth, the blood-sucking parasite that just lives by draining the vital fluids of other forms of life.  Mosquitoes are part of that gruesome company, and the presence of mosquitoes on the planet is the strongest argument I have ever heard against the existence of God.  I must say that I have studied philosophy, metaphysics, and theology all of my life, and I have finally understood a concept of God that explains that problem, as well as the whole “problem of evil” (how can you believe in a merciful God who is all-powerful and all-good, in the face of the manifest evil that is in the world?).  The solution is simply that God is not all-powerful, and He actually needs all of the help He can get!  In fact, that is what He is, and from where He gets His power – from Us. 

     Anyway, back to these disgusting, blood-sucking insects (of course I use the term “blood-sucking” as a figure of speech, because the insects they are breeding for the knotweed will be consuming plant fluids, unlike the mosquitoes I was vilifying earlier).  Anyone who would deliberately propagate and cultivate a strong, hybrid, super-vampire insect that is powerful enough to go head-to-head against knotweed should be immediately apprehended and apprised of their error.  These insects may not confine themselves to knotweed, but may go after anything juicy.  I would want to see a huge population of sterile males introduced into the colonies of sucking insects instead of seeing them deliberately cultivated so that they can be thrown against the knotweed problem. 

     The worst thing about the idea is that even if it is “a complete success,” the whole project is still incredibly stupid!  What would happen, of course, is that a huge infestation of bugs on the knotweed would gradually reduce the vitality of the knotweed, but the knotweed would fight back with all of its considerable resources, so the result would be huge populations of diseased and unhealthy knotweed, covered with bugs, looking disgusting, dirty, evil, and contagious; and it would be prevailing in that state for the foreseeable future, in an endless death struggle. 

     The knotweed may be a persistent and dominating pest, pushing out other growth, but at least it is admitted to be something of an ornamental, when it is not infested with bugs.  In fact, just about any healthy stand of greenery of any description, would already be a huge improvement to the environment in many places.  In cities, for example, if there are healthy stands of knotweed where there would otherwise be just waste land with a few struggling weeds, it doesn’t look like a problem to me.  So, until a patch of knotweed can be eradicated, you might as well leave it alone.  Turning the stand of knotweed into an ecological disaster of diseased bushes covered with bugs – an ongoing situation that would probably go on forever – neither the knotweed nor the bugs would ever give up the field – would be so much worse than the status quo.  It would hardly be much better than dosing the plants with toxic pesticides – the traditional control.  The ebb and flow of their battle would determine the landscape of that knotweed patch for the next hundred years, but it would gradually stabilize at some diminished proportion of its healthy state, as the knotweed would probably manage to survive with a certain population of virulent, sucking bugs all over it. 

     That solution is so stupid that it frightens me as well as baffles me.  I would much rather see flowering, fragrant rose bushes, than a stand of knotweed under attack by a host of sucking insects.  All of the leaves get covered with insects as the insect population continues to grow fat and healthy off the laboring of the knotweed.  It is scary to think of what might happen if the insects were actually to win, and kill off the knotweed – where would it go next?  Would it just quietly allow itself to go extinct, since its need is finished, or would it obey the biological imperative and try to survive and multiply, looking for new hosts?  And finally, even if the bugs manage to kill off the knotweed, the whole remaining mess, bugs and all, would still have to be dug up and carted away, before the land could be restored to available utility.  I suppose that project is government funded. 

     But, as I promised in the beginning, there is a better way to deal with the problem of knotweed; my solution is better than dosing them with toxic pesticides, and it is better than launching a cultivated strain of vampire, sucking insects into their environment to attach themselves to the plants, in perpetual embrace forevermore. 

     I simply offer to purchase that knotweed at $35 per ton, as much as you’ve got.  Spread the word, and when a serious knotweed harvest gets underway, we will be there to purchase it. 

     I have made hand made paper for many years, and I have been very impressed at the quality of many, many common plants and agricultural waste material in the matter of their potential utility as a source of fiber for paper-making.  It seems to me to be really stupid to make paper out of trees.  If wood were used to make something valuable and durable – a home or well-made furniture – that doesn’t seem to me to be so much of a problem.  It is the wholesale slaughter of clear-cuts for the chipping mills that gets me sickened. 

     There is a much better way!  Instead of harvesting the last of the ancient forest so that our mailboxes can be filled with junk mail, there already exist many sources of available cellulose for paper, mainly from alternative annual fiber plants, such as flax, hemp, and kenaf, and agricultural waste from the production of food, so that plenty of paper can be made without cutting down any more trees. 

     Re-plant the rain forest in chocolate trees, carob trees, oil-bearing trees, and many others, and just use all the available alternative cellulose materials for paper-making.  Case in point: knotweed.  In general, the tougher a weed is, the more promising it is as a candidate for paper-making.  When you have a really tough, obnoxious weed, it will probably make most excellent paper.  Kenaf is a good example.  It is a tropical plant that will grow very large and fast, ready to harvest after a single growing season, and it is loaded with cellulose, the stuff of paper.  I am not sure how good knotweed will be as a paper source, but it doesn’t matter.  Whatever cellulose there is will break down into paper, and whether it turns out to be a real winner like hemp and kenaf, or of lesser quality like sugar cane bagasse or wheat straw, it will almost certainly repay the value of $35 per ton that I have offered to pay for it. 

     Bring it on!  Allow some time for waiting in line, as the trucks are weighed and paid for their load of knotweed (calculated on a “bone dry” basis, and the relative humidity of the plant material will be factored into the price we pay).  Since I could easily pay for 100 tons per day at that rate, and even more if it were available, I expect that people will be harvesting stands of knotweed wherever they are found, staking their claim before other bounty hunters get there first.  We are talking of total clear-cut harvesting of the knotweed, a process that will be infinitely superior to waiting for a hundred years while the bugs gradually bring down the mighty knotweed – or fail in the attempt!  No; it will not only be much better, but it will be a whole lot faster simply to cut all of it down.  One day you have a big patch of knotweed that doesn’t look too bad except that it’s everywhere and won’t give anything else a chance; and a few days later you have a patch of bare ground, seeded with wild-flower seeds, or planted in grapes, and another truck waits on line for the weighing scales, loaded with all of that knotweed. 

     Please forward this article to those scientists from the Super Vampire Insect Project, and tell them to go take a walk in the garden. 



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