Florida is a diverse land, full of people from nations across the Earth. But my home state is grappling currently with what some are calling an illegal immigration problem, while others say those people are sorely misguided.
Yes, a war is being waged over the contentious issue of water lettuce.
I never thought I’d have to say that again.
Water lettuce is officially declared a destructive exotic plant, an unwelcome import that strangles waterways.
However, it’s also an abundant food supply for Florida’s gentle aquatic giants, the manatee.
But there is far more at stake here than just the what the plant does, for good or for ill.
No one argues that water lettuce thrives in Florida waters. It grows quickly, as many weeds do, and quickly overwhelms waters that are polluted by sewage and fertilizers.
There are disagreements about its benefits and drawbacks. Some say the plant does a great job of reducing the pollutants by using them as a nutrient source while opponents say that effect is overstated.
There are also questions about how much of a benefit it is to manatees. They clearly snack on it constantly, but opponents say that’s because it eliminates other potential food sources, so the manatees would be just fine without it.
But how good or bad the plant actually is makes little difference to a much more pressing question when it comes to deciding whether or not to continue spending millions of dollars trying to kill it.
Is it a native?
As I mentioned earlier, the plant is officially considered an exotic and invasive species. It’s native to South America and is believe to have hitched a ride through trade centuries ago.
But those beliefs are being challenged. Jason Evans, a native Floridian now turned to the dark side and working at the University of Georgia, has
wasted spent years of his life collecting data that he says shows the plant was growing in Florida thousands of years ago, well before the official story has Spanish adventurers bringing it over.
Now the Museum of Natural History is teaming with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the plant’s origin, using the fossil, seed, and pollen data Evans has cited, because they literally have nothing else to spend money on.
It’s simple: if the plant is from Florida originally, it gets to stay because it’s native. If it’s not, then it’s an illegal immigrant, and no expense is too great to get rid of it. It doesn’t matter how much it helps or hurts, compared to that simple question. After all, that’s how we treat people.
If it’s native, then it’s a thriving hard worker that toils to rid the state’s waters of pollution and feeds the manatees. If it’s an immigrant, then it’s taking away opportunities from native plants and poses a threat to anyone on the water.
The only other question that matters is why aren’t we putting ranch dressing on it and serving it to sorority girls? It seems such an obvious solution.