Hyunsuh Kim

The Great Japanese Knotweed

Rising from the ashes

Resilience is among many reasons to why the Japanese knotweed should be recognized as the Dutch national flower.

Being particularly tolerant of different soil types, temperature, pH and salinity, Japanese knotweed is often a pioneer species in hostile environments such as the volcanic desert on Mount Fuji (3776 m), where it forms patches of less dense soil that make it possible for other species to settle (“Fallopia Japonica”). Resistant to both extremes of hot and cold, the perennial plant rises from the ash and soil that just started thawing. Some beekeepers value the plant as it becomes a crucial source of nectar for the honeybees at a cold time of the year when there are little flowers blooming (“Fallopia Japonica”). Pull the plant out from the depths of concrete pavements, and see it flourish again the coming year. Shred the plant into pieces and dump them into garbage mound, and the plant grows from each of the broken rhizomes, some as small as 0.7 grams (Brock & Wade). 

Resilient as they may be, during my research of the Japanese knotweed, not one had be seen for months despite spring apparently being the season for them to appear everywhere. I had cycled throughout Amsterdam, tracking the locations where the plant was reported, according to the municipality of Amsterdam:

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Map of Japanese Knotweed in Amsterdam - Source: Gemeente Amsterdam

And yet, regardless of how I had sharpened my senses towards their characteristic violet spots across a vibrant green stem and their triangular leaves that gracefully unfurl from the center, I could not spot a single plant! Mourning over the Japanese knotweeds that perished under biochemical weaponries, scathing heat and brute force, I had thought to myself, 'O, Japanese knotweed, you were not as close to being invasive as what others told about you', poignantly staring down at the map of graves.

Then just last week on my way back from work, I finally met them— gathering under a bridge amidst plastics and other abandoned beings, reaching out to the little sun that shone through between the metal fences. I quickly checked the map again— there, the knotweed was not (Mediamatic will not reveal its exact location for its protection; those who simply wish to see, admire, and/or consume the plant can contact us privately).

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A Japanese knotweed plant reaching out from the metal bars - Hyunsuh Kim

Resilience: one of the most prized virtue in the Dutch culture— the Dutch take huge pride in their founding of the nation, as the old saying goes: “The God made the world but the Dutch made the Netherlands”. Should Japanese knotweed be selected as the national flower of the Netherlands, its ability to convert barren lands into livable area as a pioneer species can be seen as reflecting this part of Dutch history. On the other hand, the convenient dichotomy between man versus nature present in the aforementioned idiom is a discursive framework that can be misleading, to the extent that water has enabled, and continues to shape much of Dutch socioeconomic and cultural landscapes. Moreover in the current context of the Anthropocene where the realization that men do not stand outside of nature is more urgent than ever before, such militaristic phrasing of the foundation of the Netherlands as a ‘battle’ against water can be problematic— “When we evoke a militaristic framework, we implicitly endorse the militaristic world- view of those who promote the circulation of this frame- work rather than questioning that worldview” (Larson). Instead, one can reconceptualize the same history as a co-construction of a landscape, where the line between the artificial and the natural is blurred. The Japanese knotweed shows itself — thriving in the shady liminal spaces of streets, it presents an ongoing challenge to both epistemic and physical authorities.

 

References

Brock, J. H., & Wade, M. (1992). Regeneration ofFallopia japonica, weed, from rhizome and stems: observations from greenhouse trials.Association Nationale des Pôle territoriaux et des Pays (ANPP): 85–94.

"Fallopia japonica". CABI, Invasive Species Compendium. https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/23875

Larson, Brendan M. H.. “The War of the Roses: Demilitarizing Invasion Biology.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 3(9). 2005. doi: 10.1890/1540-9295(2005)003[0495:TWOTRD]2.0.CO;2