Forgive Me Mother Nature, For I Have Sinned


I’m pretty good at Being Green.

I rollerblade to/from work; I recycle and compost; I buy organic; I try to reuse, instead of buying new. (Although that last bit may reflect my income more than natural proclivity.)

But I think I may have undone all my good karma with a single, terrible transgression…

My lovely wife and I live in north-central California: a land of dry hot summers. In keeping with Being Green, we decided that our water-guzzling lawn, the surrounding thirsty-shrub landscaping, and the attendant sprinkler system had to go!

We first needed to obtain city approval to do this (killing your lawn is a sacrilege in suburban America). We wrote letters, made phone calls, and ultimately got permission to proceed. How could the city planners resist? After all, we were Doing The Right Thing.

With the lawn gone, we selected replacement trees and shrubs that were both drought-tolerant and sources of fruit and nectar for bird and bee life. It sounds like we made our yard a sanctuary, and our Green ethos was exalted and sanctified, no?

Ah, but all was not peaceful in our garden of earthly delights, for I had committed a vile eco-sin….

I…I, an invasive species specialist…knowingly planted an invasive species!

Oh sure, I know that a few of our potted plants have invasive proclivities. For example, we have Tibouchina urvilleana, but that plant is naughty only in moister climates like Hawai’i.

What I’m in a lather about is something different — I had planted the dread Ficus carica (edible fig), which is a real pain to eradicate from wildlands right here in California.

Oh, the shame!

Why did I do it? It’s the fruit. Even though I’m not a huge fan of fig fruit, this specific cultivar has a flavor that is so fine it almost smacks of durian! Yum-yum!

In my own defense, I note that in California this plant does not propagate by seed, so as long as I compost any branches I’ll be OK.

But in my heart I know that I’m still encouraging others to grow this plant. There’s no real way around it — this time I’m contributing to the problem instead of fixing it.

I’m weak.

(Image: Ficus carica. Credit: Céréales Killer under Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. So, you are asking for forgiveness?
    I think we can excuse your transgression as long as you promise to keep the invasive species at bay.
    Now, I want to ask something of you. I wish to propage your article to emebers of my parish… not to shame you for planting the offending fig, but to emphasize the right things you are doing.
    Here in the Chicago suburbs, we luxuriate in the abundance of fresh water from the Great Lakes. Most residents give no thought to conserving water. In my area, my lot is one of the few that don’t have a sprinkler system. Because I am conserned about this waste of fresh water, I am annayed to see sprinkers doing their job in the middle of a rain storm. On other days, I notice the sprinklers drenching the sidewarks and pavement,m with a steady stream of water washing down the storm sewers.
    I want to bring the folly of this to light.

    1. Jim W., please feel free to spread my shame!

  2. I loved your article. It was refreshing. It sounds like a tree I might like. We are birders. Since I have moved to this house 3 yrs ago, we have planted 2 peach trees, 2 maples, 2 dogwoods& 2 crab apples. We already had a lovely pear and 2 giant oaks. We also planted 3 butterfly bushes and 3 photenias and a male and female bittersweet. Sometimes we don’t make good choices but we try. Judy

  3. Beautiful fruit! How do you keep the scrub jays, squirrels and deer from stripping it?

  4. What is the specific of your cultivar?
    Am I correct that the fig tree is not an invasive species in Georgia?? I have not seen many fig trees here in yards and not at all in the wilderness I love figs and after returning from Turkey, I really would like to get a good fig tree in my yard.I already have an invasive plant there: bambus-however I keep under control by harvesting any new sprouts outside the place in the spring and use the young sprouts for salad and for vegetable in turkey soup of similar soups (cutting it in rings, blanch it and freeze.
    I would appreciate your comments on the fig.

    1. Juergen,
      Take a look at, and search the TREES section for Ficus carica. That will tell you about reports of invasiveness. And….as for the cultivar, it is super common, and it’s all just a matter of preference anyway.

  5. Generally most things that are invasive are so do to the fact that they are left un-checked. As far as your lawn is concerned the world might be a better place without so much lawn. A little goes a long way. Legislation may force developers to become more eco and less bottom line and make the use of water vs. beauty a good forum for debate. Besides water is an endless resource isn’t it? So Barry even though you have planted one bad one you have saved water for a lot of good ones. Bravo!!!

  6. I purcharse a farm in the early 80’s that had a huge fig tree. The tree has grown taller and wider over the years and I keep it trimed every year. It has not been invasive and I have enjoyed wonderful fruit every year.

  7. I was relieved it wasn’t Pampas Grass! I too live in northern Cal, and we have many baddies. I’m wondering why you didn’t focus on appropriate natives? We have so many good ones that are drought tolerant and good providers for wildlife. A good place to research them is the California Native Plant Society site – and Las Pilitas Nursery –
    And everyone needs to educate their municipalities about eliminating lawn requirements. All it takes is a good homeowner speaking up in the media for the right to plant edible gardens and native, drought-tolerant landscapes. It’s hot these days, so take advantage.

    1. Hey JT,
      Actually, much of the garden is native. However, I don’t see anything wrong with non-native species that are not invasive, especially if they offer forage. One thing I always worry about, with “native plants”, is whether or not the plants might be native at the species level, but non-native at the genotypic level. Geek talk, I know, but you sound like the sort who swims in geek talk. 🙂

  8. I was considering planting a fig tree in my back yard in Portland Oregon. Is it invasive here as well?

  9. I have been thinking of planting a fig tree. I live in SC. Is there any kind of fig tree that I can plant that is not invasive?

  10. As long as you don’t let the tree get out of hand, there shouldn’t be a big problem. And, no, you are not weak. You have done the right thing by sharing your situation.

  11. While edible figs can be found at nearly every old homesite in Georgia, they aren’t invasive here. In fact, the ‘fig bush’ is almost an institution in rural areas. In the southeast, Callery (Bradford )Pears, Privet, Brazilian Verbena are just some of the invasives, but the cat is already out of the bag. Cogongrass is a huge problem and several counties are developing eradication programs.

  12. My purple loosestrife mea culpa: When we purchased our first house in the 90’s we didn’t know the difference between an annual and a perennial, so we relied on a local garden store for help selecting native and drought tolerant plants for our area. Then we discovered we had planted a so-called “sterile” cultivar of invasive purple loosestrife. We immediately researched it, then dug it up and disposed of it. We’ve used this knowledge to help others, working on invasive removal teams, calling local businesses and schools who’ve planted similar cultivars and offering information and help with removal. We’ve participated NWF garden tours and we always tell our story (like Barry Rice) and what we’re doing about it. Nobody’s perfect. My dirty secret? I am guilty of placating my neighbors with a small front lawn. You just do the best you can. However… if you really think that invasive is that cute? Spend a few days on a hot, sweaty, invasive removal team digging it up, and (like that ditzy but sooo cute coed you dated), you’ll wonder what you ever saw in that plant, and will, frankly be a little embarassed to tell your friends what you ever saw in it. Good luck in your own garden choices! Thank you to Barry opening this dialogue.

  13. My backyard here in northeastern Connecticut has been overrun with invasive species, namely, wild grapvines, wild roses, and sumac. Help! I want my backyard back but I can’t afford to hire professionals.

  14. I think the USPP (United States Plant Patrol) will have to act. As soon as we can find an attorney who is also a botanist who is also an invasive species specialist who also gives a rodents hiney, you’re in trouble!

  15. The edible figs have not become overly invasive in Hawaii as we lack the very tiny host specific wasps that pollinate the fruit. Although, these wasps were released on purpose in our recorded history. Very luckily they never got established. However, many other Ficus species have gotten established here and brought with them their own pollinators. In the lowlands of Hawaii many Ficus species are the most horrible weeds (Ficus microcarpa as an example). Barry’s example of Tibouchina urvilleana is an intresting one and is sort of an odd conflict. So far it has not been observed producing viable seeds in Hawaii and vegetative reproduction is the only way it spreads, yet on the east side of the Big Island it produces huge almost monotypic stands that out competes many of the other native and non native plants. However, taken to a drier climate it is a 3 foot tall shrub and it behaves nicely. Irregardless that it is a Noxious Weed (and regulated) in our state, people still plant it with the idea in their heads, that it doesn’t spread in the area that I live in so why can’t I grow it? People tend to forget that in Hawaii we have a culture that values plants and sharing with friends and family is the norm. It doest take long before it makes it way to a preferred environment and becomes a horrible weed. Having said that and looking at the climate around the Davis area I would think that most of the time the environment will be suboptimal.

  16. i had to smile at your mention of durian! i’m no fan of figs but i sometimes commit myself to having durians during my holidays back in malaysia.(just by eating a piece, the smell stays in your tummy for days, so you might as well eat loads of it the moment you commit!) nice to meet a durian-fan in the US!

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