Alvaro Azcárraga

The Invasive Species Paradigm (2020)


Mustard Plant and the Santa Monica Mountains, CA USA.
Collection of media in conversation
with Maru García.

Missions were established in California in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to convert Native Americans to Christianity and enculturate them into a class of laborers for Californios (Spanish/Mexican settler). The concentration of large numbers of Native Americans at the Missions, along with the introduction of European diseases, led to serious disease problems. Medicinal supplies brought to California by the missionaries were limited in quantity. This situation resulted in an opportunity for the sharing of knowledge of medicinal plants between the Native Americans and the Mission priests. (…) A comparison of the lists of medicinal plants use by various groups indicated that only a small percentage of medicinal plants were shared by two or more groups.

McBride, Joe Rayl, Rita Yolanda Cavero, Anna Liisa Cheshire, María Isabel Calvo, and Deborah Lea McBride. 2020. “Exchange of Medicinal Plant Information in California Missions.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 16 (June).


Research Database
Sample of written sources ranging from academic
journals, thought pieces, books, etc.

The use of simple terms to articulate ecological concepts can confuse ideological debates and undermine management efforts. This problem is particularly acute in studies of nonindigenous species, which alternatively have been called ‘exotic’,‘introduced’, ‘invasive’ and ‘naturalised’, among others. Attempts to redefine commonly used terminology have proven difficult because authors are often partial to particular definitions. (…) A focus on invasion stage has the added benefit of stressing the view that invasions represent biogeographical rather than taxonomic phenomena. As such, invasion stages should refer to individual populations, and not entire species. A similar shift in focus in conservation biology from species to populations has profoundly influenced ecological theory and management practices therein (Hughes et al., 1997; Luck et al., 2003).

Colautti, Robert I., and Hugh J. MacIsaac. 2004. “A Neutral Terminology to Define ‘Invasive’ Species.” Diversity and Distributions 10 (2): 135–41.


Recorded Conversations
Featuring Terrance Huang and Jules Cooch
of the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

The worship of wilderness has coexisted in this country with the worship of lawn for more than a century – ever since the decade following the Civil War, when America managed simultaneously to invent both the front lawn and the wilderness park. How could one culture have produced two such seemingly opposite institutions? (…) As a nation, we’ve never been sure whether to dominate nature, in the name of civilization, or worship it untouched, as an escape from civilization. It’s always been all or nothing with us: parking lot or wilderness preserve; crew-cut lawn or untended meadow; culture or nature. Neither extreme suggests a particularly useful model for our relations with nature. And neither should ever be confused with a “garden,” a word that used to be reserved for places that mediate between nature and culture, rather than force us to make an impossible choice.

Pollan, Michael. 1994. “Against Nativism (Published 1994).” The New York Times, May 15, 1994, sec. Magazine.


The Sidewalk Herbarium

Lecture Presented at SCIART Summer 2020

Yes, nature is carefully managed national parks and vast boreal forest and uninhabited arctic. Nature is also the birds in your backyard; the bees whizzing
down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan; the pines in rows in forest plantations; the blackberries and butterfly bushes that grow alongside the urban river; the Chinese tree of-heaven or “ghetto palm” growing behind the corner store; the quail struting through the farmer’s field; the old field overgrown with weeds and shrubs and snakes and burrowing mammals; the jungle thick with plants labeled “invasive” pests; the carefully designed landscape garden; the green roof; the highway median; the five-hundred-year-old orchard folded into the heart of the Amazon; the avocado tree that sprouts in your compost pile.

Marris, Emma. 2013. Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. Paperback ed. New York: Bloomsbury.


Sidewalk Herbarium
Collection of dried, pressed and scanned specimens.

Plant specimens stored in herbaria are being used as never before to document the impacts of global change on humans and nature. However,
published statistics on the use of biological
collections are rare, and ecologists lack quantitative data demonstrating the relevance to science of
herbarium specimens. (…) The use of molecular analyses to investigate herbarium specimens is still relatively unexplored, at least from biogeographical and environmental points of view. Combined with recently developed procedures to correct biases, herbarium specimens might provide in the near future exciting additional spatio-temporal insights that are currently unimaginable.

Lavoie, Claude. 2013. “Biological Collections in an Ever Changing World: Herbaria as Tools for Biogeographical and Environmental Studies.” Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 15 (1): 68–76.


Collection of plants presenting “wild” qualities (photography)
Summer 2020 at multiple locations in
Los Angeles, CA

The word appears in English literature at least by the time of Alfred in the 9th Century. The early usage appears to be comipatible with the first definition given by the Oxford English Dictionary: “Weed 1. A herbaceous plant not valued for use or beauty, growing wild and rank, and regarded as cumbering the ground or hindering the growth of superior vegetation.” It should be pointed out that another word, “weed,” meaning clothing, garb, armour, or covering (e.g., “widow’s weeds”) has a different etymology and comes from Teutonic and Scandinavian roots.

Harlan, Jack R., and J. M. J. deWet. 1965. “Some Thoughts about Weeds.” Economic Botany 19 (1): 16–24.

The Sidewalk Herbarium Workshop
Presented at Telluric Vibrations

The United States has never gone through
decolonization. Therefore, the legacy of colonization lives on as well in the landscapes of our repose and agricultural plenitude. David Fross, founder of Native Sons nursery in California, summarized this view: “If we continue to remove all trace of nativity in our communities, we will perpetuate a legacy of conquest and oppression set in place by the first Europeans on this continent” (1997,
page 2). Responses to these threats have included
restoration and conservation, legislative initiatives, research and public education work, and
gardening. Home gardening with native plants is of particular interest because it explicitly
challenges the primacy of ‘the lawn’ as the iconic site of engagement with plants at the interface of private property and the public sphere, thereby domesticating conservation itself (Head and Muir, 2004).

Mastnak, Tomaz, Julia Elyachar, and Tom Boellstorff. 2014. “Botanical Decolonization: Rethinking Native Plants:” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, January.

Captioning for videos coming very soon!

Selected Sources

Either directly referenced or done work in relation with.

Alvarado, Sandra, Magdiel Guédez, Marcó P. Lué-Merú, Graterol Nelson, Anzalone Alvaro, Arroyo C. Jesús, and Záray Gyula. 2008. “Arsenic Removal from Waters by Bioremediation with the Aquatic Plants Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes) and Lesser Duckweed (Lemna Minor).” Bioresource Technology 99 (17): 8436–40.

Baker, Herbert G. 1974. “The Evolution of Weeds.” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 5 (1): 1–24.

“Castor Bean, Ricinus Communis L., Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae).” n.d. The Ethnobotanical Assembly. Accessed October 19, 2020.

Elton, Charles S. 2020. “Chapter One The Invaders.” In The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants, edited by Charles S. Elton, 7–30. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Ermakova, Inna T., Nina I. Kiseleva, Tatyana Shushkova, Mikhail Zharikov, Gennady A. Zharikov, and Alexey A. Leontievsky. 2010. “Bioremediation of Glyphosate-Contaminated Soils.” Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 88 (2): 585–94.

Facebook, Twitter, Show more sharing options, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, Copy Link URLCopied!, and Print. 2019. “This Super Bloom Is Pretty Dangerous: Invasive Mustard Is Fuel for the next Fire.” Los Angeles Times. April 25, 2019.

Harlan, Jack R., and J. M. J. deWet. 1965. “Some Thoughts about Weeds.” Economic Botany 19 (1): 16–24.

Klimova, Anastasia, Joseph I. Hoffman, Jesus N. Gutierrez‐Rivera, Jose Leon de la Luz, and Alfredo Ortega‐Rubio. 2017. “Molecular Genetic Analysis of Two Native Desert Palm Genera, Washingtonia and Brahea, from the Baja California Peninsula and Guadalupe Island.” Ecology and Evolution 7 (13): 4919–35.

Linné, Carl von. 1735. Caroli Linnaei, Sveci, Doctoris Medicinae Systema Naturae, Sive, Regna Tria Naturae Systematice Proposita per Classes, Ordines, Genera, & Species. Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden, the Netherlands] : Apud Theodorum Haak :Ex Typographia Joannis Wilhelmi de Groot,.

Mastnak, Tomaz, Julia Elyachar, and Tom Boellstorff. 2014. “Botanical Decolonization: Rethinking Native Plants:” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, January.

McBride, Joe Rayl, Rita Yolanda Cavero, Anna Liisa Cheshire, María Isabel Calvo, and Deborah Lea McBride. 2020. “Exchange of Medicinal Plant Information in California Missions.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 16 (June).

“Native, Invasive, and Other Plant-Related Definitions | NRCS Connecticut.” n.d. Accessed July 13, 2020.

Perumal, Sampath, Chu Shin Koh, Lingling Jin, Miles Buchwaldt, Erin E. Higgins, Chunfang Zheng, David Sankoff, et al. 2020. “A High-Contiguity Brassica Nigra Genome Localizes Active Centromeres and Defines the Ancestral Brassica Genome.” Nature Plants 6 (8): 929–41.

“Peter Del Tredici.” n.d. Peter Del Tredici. Accessed September 1, 2020.

Pollan, Michael. 1994. “Against Nativism (Published 1994).” The New York Times, May 15, 1994, sec. Magazine.

Reichard, Sarah Hayden, and Peter White. 2001. “Horticulture as a Pathway of Invasive Plant Introductions in the United StatesMost Invasive Plants Have Been Introduced for Horticultural Use by Nurseries, Botanical Gardens, and Individuals.” BioScience 51 (2): 103–13.[0103:HAAPOI]2.0.CO;2.

Salt, David E., Michael Blaylock, Nanda P. B. A. Kumar, Viatcheslav Dushenkov, Burt D. Ensley, Ilan Chet, and Ilya Raskin. 1995. “Phytoremediation: A Novel Strategy for the Removal of Toxic Metals from the Environment Using Plants.” Bio/Technology 13 (5): 468–74.

Sánchez-Hernández, Rufo, Lucero Mendez, David Palma, and Francisco Bautista. 2018. “Ch’ol Nomenclature for Soil Classification in the Ejido Oxolotán, Tacotalpa, Tabasco, Mexico.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 14 (October).

Snir, Ainit, Dani Nadel, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Yoel Melamed, Marcelo Sternberg, Ofer Bar-Yosef, and Ehud Weiss. 2015. “The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long Before Neolithic Farming.” PLOS ONE 10 (7): e0131422.

Stepp, John R. 2004. “The Role of Weeds as Sources of Pharmaceuticals.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 92 (2): 163–66.

Stepp, John R., and Daniel E. Moerman. 2001. “The Importance of Weeds in Ethnopharmacology.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 75 (1): 19–23.

“Street Plants – The Wild Flora of Los Angeles.” n.d. The Ethnobotanical Assembly. Accessed October 19, 2020.

The New York Botanical Garden: The Steere Herbarium. 2013.

“To Be A Weed.” n.d. The Ethnobotanical Assembly. Accessed August 31, 2020.

Williams, David E. 1990. “A Review of Sources for the Study of Náhuatl Plant Classification.” Advances in Economic Botany 8: 249–70.

Special Thanks to:

Victoria Vesna, Rebeca Mendez, Wiley Wiggins, Maru Garcia, Eugenia Esponda, Terrance Huang, Jules Cooch, Evan Mayer, and the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens.

The Artist

Alvaro Azcárraga

Alvaro Azcárraga (he/him) is a Mexican artist and researcher focused on biological networks and their change through time and space. With a background in Molecular and Cell Biology, he focuses on how the microscopic relates to the human and beyond. His work questions the notion of the Natural, with projects spanning disparate landscapes including corn, bodies of water, and currently the concept of “weeds”.

He has a B.A. in both Molecular and Cell Biology and Art from the University of California, Berkeley.

He is currently pursuing an MFA in Design|Media Arts at the University of California Los Angeles.