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Media ecologies of plant invasion

Despard, E and Gallagher, MD (2018) Media ecologies of plant invasion. Environmental Humanities, 10 (2). pp. 370-396. ISSN 2201-1919

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Abstract

In popular conservation discourse, Rhododendron ponticum is portrayed as an alien invader let loose on the British countryside by misguided gardeners. In Scotland, eradication campaigns tend to be favoured over more pragmatic approaches to management, even though the methods employed can be destructive and long-term success is often limited. In line with recent work critiquing categorical approaches to invasive species management, we argue that such campaigns obscure the underlying conditions of plant invasiveness. We focus in particular on the way perceptual processes shape and are shaped by plant “invasions” over time. Noting that the majority of plant invasions worldwide are initiated by the horticultural trade, and that visual appearance is a major factor in the selection of plants for trade, we present a framework for critically analysing the visual conditions of horticulturally-led invasion ecologies. Working from the perspective of a more-than-human, materialist media ecology, we cast rhododendrons as entities that modulate light, or photomedia. Our analysis shows how their invasiveness is materially produced as opposed to merely enabled—as a result of the cultural and socioeconomic as well as vegetal relations in which they are entangled. The site of our analysis is an abandoned country estate in Western Scotland that has recently undergone R. ponticum removal. By examining the production of visual effects by rhododendrons, cameras and other media employed there, we identify relations to land that, far from being limited to the period of R. ponticum’s “escape” into the Scottish countryside, continue in present-day projects of eradication. This analysis yields critical visual strategies for a gentler, more experimental re-mediation of R. ponticum and invaded landscapes in general.

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