My name is Japanese Knotweed, an invasive plant in the Netherlands. To be deemed unwanted and castrated for my existence outside Japan, I must return to my migration's fundamental story.
Japanese knotweed is how most people know me, and in biological terminologies, Fallopia Japonica. Before being discovered in 1825, I had no name, existing plainly as a forest tree to serve the local folks' herbal needs in Japan and China. Once, I was the most desirable exotic plant, "a capital plant for a small town garden", or in a friendlier tone, "a handsome bush". As part of my downfall from admiration, I am a host of more sinister names, including fleece flower, elephant ears, monkey weed, monkey fungus, donkey rhubarb, and Hancock's curse.
My diasporic path in Europe was realized in the 1830s via an elaborated fascination for exotic plants from a biologist. The one who brought me over was the German botanist Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold. My original homeland was located on the volcano’s slope of the Nagasaki Prefecture, this is where Siebold discovered me. There I am, a wild forest tree which has caught Siebold's attention for my bamboo-like stalk, lengthy waves of leaves and dotted white flowers.
Our story is within the timeline of Dutch-Japanese maritime commerce on the Dejima island. Dejima was an artificial island off of Nagasaki, Japan, a unique trading post for the Portuguese and, subsequently, the Dutch (1641-1854). In 1823, the residency of the Dutch traders brought over Siebold for his assignment as the island's physician and scientist. While on the island, he developed a severe fascination for the exotic treats of the Japanese flora and fauna. I am further cultivated inside a glasshouse from a small cutting to practice my resiliency in the Dutch climate. During his stay in Dejima from 1823 - 1830, he vigorously experimented with native plants, indulging in his mad fixation to bring me and other native plants to the Netherlands. Finally, he sent three shipments with an unknown number of dried herb specimens to Leiden, Ghent, Brussels, and Antwerp. With that said, my Dutch invasion was all derived from a single female plant.
I want to mention another story highlighting how absurd our forced migration was. Amongst the unknown shipments from Japan to the Netherlands, Siebold captured a fellow Japanese, Ōsanshōuo (giant salamander or Adria's japonicas), and exported him to Leiden. The first giant Japanese salamander was brought to Europe in 1829 and given to the Zoo in 1839, where it lived until 1881; the second arrived in 1903 and died at Artis in 1955. Since then, the Artis Zoo has had ownership over them, who both reached 52 years - the oldest documented age for an amphibian.
I, a creation from the Japanese volcanic ashland, became someone's property in the West. I was among the 1,000 native species who were displaced. Since my discovery, I am Phillipe von Siebold's sole property.
During the Victorian Age (1880s), the people of Holland were fascinated by my exotic and intricate forms; they even gave me a more or less adoring label "the most interesting ornamental plant of the year" (1847, by the Society of Agriculture and Horticulture of Utrecht. Even at a ridiculous price of 500 francs (510 EUR) for one cutting, the spectators' "obsession" to pursue my cutting went viral; every bourgeois estate, garden, or nursery found themselves seeking me. At Siebold's greenhouse, he gave a 25% discount to botanical garden owners to drive up my exposure, and it was a massive success. In 1850, the well-known Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London received an "unsolicited" shipment of a large batch of plants from Siebold's garden in Leiden as a hope for some novelties or compensations in returns of such export.
This single act ultimately brought the "curse" of my species to British land. Displaced from my original soil compound and environment, I was a particular case of thriving even more robustly on foreign Dutch, German, and British soil. And through various horticultural eras, my growth turned insidious and out of control. Under their ground, without any volcanic ash or fungi restricting my roots, claiming various sub-territories as I spread underground. To make it easier to understand my stamina, I am a partial cousin of bamboo, so I liberally grow many baby shoots… regardless of the season. We now found that this is a curse inherited by the rest of the generation of Dutch, German, and British horticulturists, biologists, and homeowners. Without any counterbalance to the vigorous growth of my root, I no longer felt content within the soft soil compound of this manicured garden.
In 1838, Siebold brought a female cutting of my roots to cultivate in his Garden of Acclimatization in Leiden. And in 1883, his garden became an abandoned territory, forgotten and overrun by my own offspring.
My "invasion" came due to the lack of public interest in the Victorian garden. People started to abandon their expensive hobbies, and along with that, I was also abandoned. Left unsupervised, I felt free again and continued to dig further into the ground, towards the uncharted landscape, such as the sidewalks, paved roads, innocent grasslands, and rivers. I find my true identity in grounded, undisturbed land, where I thrive alongside fellow native plants. As one of the worst invasive species in the world, there is a consistent campaign to eradicate me. However, from using fire to herbicide treatment, all euthanizing techniques are inferior to my survival ability.
In my native tongue, I am called itadori, which roughly translates to take away the pain. As I exist among other vegetative folks who foraged me from their local forest, they call me dearly by this name as a reference for my function. Every anatomic part of me can be used in traditional medicine for skin illness, fungal infection and heart disease. Zooming closer, I inherit compounds of anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant. Why am I not labelled as an invasive species in Japan? It is all part of natural process of checks and balances to neturalize my growth. In an environment native to my roots, my growth is controlled thanks to fleas, fungi, and the soil's volcanic sediments.
The critical question here is: Does labelling me as an invasive species puts all the blame for my existence solely on myself? The forced migration of any living beings can cause damage to oneself as well as their perception of life from then on. As a speculation, my wild spread is a proclamation of my history of blind abduction, and I am holding onto the non-native earth for ransom. From going viral in the late 19th century to catastrophic disruption for the native land of the Netherlands, this shift in the mass public mindset comes from the previous generation indulging in exotic plants while not having an adequate agency to understand the consequences of uprooting plants from their homeland soil. Over the past century, the evolution of show gardens and parks has ridiculed our views on the value of plants as cultural artefacts. However, they now contained these artefacts in planters and exquisite pots, like the bonsai and orchids. As for me, the infamous Japanese Knotweed now became more of a burden to regular homeowners and road workers rather than an exotic plant cultivated for spectators. As an invasive plant, I am responsible for hindering the Dutch indigenous landscape. This notion may reflect how Dutch colonization (a deliberate decision to conquer) has applied the same method and brought cultural assimilation to their past colonized territories. A (slight) difference is I did not choose to come here in the first place; I am merely a forced refugee settler of the Dutch land.
While adoration for me has run dry a century ago, can there still be some sympathy for my overwhelming growth on your land? Siebold deliberately hunted for me in Japan and brought me to Holland; while he is now long gone, his legacy remains relatively pristine as the "forefather of Eastern horticulture in the Netherlands". I remain alive (and thrive) as one of the most challenging invasive species to eradicate.