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The Plight of the Staghorn Sumac

An essay about plant intolerance on the North Shore.


The state of Massachusetts has a startling variety of vegetation, with many native species that range from Staghorn Sumac and Evening Primrose to Black-eyed Susan and New England Aster. Yet on this uppity outcropping of the state, according to the latest census, over 97% of the town consists of neatly manicured lawns.

Terrarium Life

It’s a matter of personal preference, based on a suburban upbringing and inbred sensibilities. Children from a young age who grow up in a virtual terrarium have limited exposure to plant diversity. This matures into a rabid insistence upon uniformity, predictability, and control over the natural elements. It’s an environmental neurosis, having its basis in fear. Fear of an agrarian apocalypse, with Staghorn Sumac and Queen Anne’s Lace running rampant, infiltrating all those orderly military-cut lawns, demanding their rightful place in society, on landscapers’ acceptable species lists.

To someone who has rarely, if ever, ventured outside the strict confines of their limited world view to see how the wild forests live, a naturally growing habitat left to its own devices is a serious affront to their sensibilities. That a middle-aged unmarried woman acts as its guardian is downright scandalous.

This Lawn Is My Lawn1

The original inhabitants of North America had no concept of land ownership, but now that we do, I choose to not have my lawn be an extension of my living room.

With regard to public spaces (and most private ones), in those few instances where nature is left to do what comes naturally, it is strictly controlled. Why, there’s even a town committee that determines what is allowed to grow where! (though recent offenders remain in defiance – damn those unruly aliens).


Celebrate Diversity

With the possible exception of dangerous criminals, we must recognize that we are part of the global village and in fact, citizens of a universe so vast we are unable to fully comprehend it. Because of our inter-connectivity, it is no longer possible to live a cloistered life completely free of invasive elements. Therefore, the only sensible alternative is to embrace our differences and let go of the fear. Indeed, it is the only way we will survive.

I would like to dedicate this to my anonymous neighbor who left the following typed note on my car windshield on the morning of July 2: “We, the abutting neighbors… have concerns regarding the upkeep of your lawn and property, which in fact affects the overall appearance of all properties surrounding our neighborhood. Many of us spend significant time and money keeping our property, lawn and landscaping up. If nothing else, please keep your lawn cut and trimmed weekly.” Thanks, neighbor – you were a tremendous inspiration.

1 Thank you, Mr. Woody Guthrie. No copyright infringement intended.

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1 Comment

  1. Lizi Reese

    Congratualtions to the writer of this little piece. Being a New Zealander who has visited Nahant, and walked around a large portion of it, I must say I did feel a sense of sadness and disappointment when viewing the meticulous manicured lawns and gardens. It all seemed so out of place with the beautiful natural rugged land and seascape. Very rarely did I see a garden that had any flow or freedom. It appeared to me to be all about perfection. While here in NZ, we do come across the “perfect” gardens in all of our cities… is the natural freedom gardens with beautiful native plantings that win the awards and make up the garden tours. Besides….do we make our gardens for our own enjoyment?, or should it be for our neighbour’s shallow perception of what their streets should look like? You stick to your guns whoever you are. You make a lot more sense than your neighbour.

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