Invaders

Since it last had a rather premature haircut early in the summer, our back-garden lawn has not grown much. The grass has been in a straw-coloured sulk, looking defeated by mower-blade, a month or so of near drought and then a week of unseasonably cool rain. Where the grass has remained tame, other plants have come in and capitalised. Small hogweed and ragwort plants provide a welcome wild nectar source and food plants for a variety of insects. A lovely wild mallow with rich pink flowers has spread across from one of the unkempt flower borders.

But there’s another invader, a mysterious leggy plant which has sprung up all over the lawn seemingly overnight. Strong, flexible, woody stems bearing five-lobed leaves of dark green with a silvery white woolly coating on the underside. My limited botanical knowledge was defeated: what were they?

I plucked a leaf and took it indoors, where after a bit of head-scratching and optimistic web searching I hit upon white poplar. It’s a non-native tree notorious for sprinkling saplings far and wide, and the ones in our lawn have clearly spawned from the large poplar that looms over the far end of the garden, the one where kites enjoy resting and bring scraps of food to eat at their leisure. They grow at a furious pace, and I now recall that the near 3 metre high examples just the other side of our garden fence were mere saplings themselves last summer.

If I had sole control of a garden I’d give less of it over to grass monoculture, but even so the burgeoning poplar population would probably give me cause for alarm. This is a stubborn invader, one that is particularly difficult to dislodge by reputation. Never mind. We’re just tenants here, and for now I watch the trees progress with a detached fascination, and wonder if any equally interesting insects might be riding into our garden on the back of the white poplar wave.

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