The aliens are here!

Remember the concern over FMD (foot and mouth disease)?

This highly infectious disease decimated British livestock so severely that travellers from the United Kingdom (including Prince Charles) were forced to disinfect themselves when setting foot in Europe and North America.

In the Pontiac, controversy raged because kids travelling from Shawville’s PPHS to Europe and the UK this spring not only had to disinfect themselves, but also had to stay at their homes in quarantine for a couple of weeks.

Most of us greatly appreciate these kids’ understanding and cooperation during this difficult time.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, the FMD crisis appears to be in remission. North American, European and other global livestock producers wonder how to best protect themselves from a similar crisis.

Which brings me to reflect upon our responsibility as travellers, and the problem of invasive species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms that are otherwise known as… aliens.

Wherever we go, whether it be travelling to Quyon, to Fort Coulonge or to London, England, we transport micro-organisms, whether it be on our clothes or shoes.

This fact is why many Pontiac livestock producers demand that farm visitors wear protective plastic “booties” that cover people’s footwear. These prevent dirt, manure and “whatever” from being tracked into feed lots or through crops.

Such protection makes sense. Crops are precious investments, not to mention being the source of our personal Canadian food baskets not to mention trade commodities.

But it’s not simply farmers who need to take responsibility for the safety of their crops, be they cattle or corn, animal or plant.

As citizens, particularly rural residents, we have a responsibility too. This is especially true when we consider going on holiday, buying a pet, or even purchasing or swapping plants.


When we travel the globe or Canada, we need to be aware of what we bring back home with us in the way of plants and seeds.

Let us take a minute and reflect upon the wildflowers we see in abundance, in our Pontiac fields and ditches. Did you know that Queen Anne’s lace and chicory are not native to North America? They were introduced to North America deliberately by settlers in the early 1800s.

Other invasive species such as purple loosestrife were not deliberately introduced. This alien arrived in the holds of ships, perhaps in fodder for cattle. However it arrived, loosestrife is aggressively choking natural plants from our wetlands. Their extensive root system forms a dense mat that eventually dries up the wetland, resulting in diminished habitat and biodiversity.

So, when you travel the globe, give some thought to what you are bringing back with you. Is that seed you snitch from someone’s garden going to be compatible with your eco-niche? Is it controllable? Is it an indoor or outdoor species? Is it legal to bring into Canada?


We’ve all heard stories of the alligators in New York’s sewers. It’s a humorous thought in many ways, isn’t it? Urban legend suggests that someone purchased an alligator as a pet, got tired of it, and flushed it down the toilet. The rest is up to your imagination: the baby alligator survives the flushing, is swept somehow through the plumbing systems into the sewers, where it finds a mate… Who knows what lurks in the cavernous sewer systems? Perhaps we all somehow like to chuckle over the idea of boa constrictors and alligators swarming the Big Apple’s nether regions!

Are these urban legends based on fact… or are they purely fiction? Who knows for sure, but certainly such tales are not restricted to New York.

While Eric and I were in Wales last October, several of our Welsh guides told us of wild cat sightings. Now, these weren’t sightings of your neighbour’s tabby gone wild… No, they were speaking about a cougar or wild panther that had been spotted. Tall tale or fact we cannot say, but the media buzz was in the papers, television and radio.

Whether founded in fact or fiction, such tales speak of a minority of individual’s irresponsible approach to purchasing pets. Just talk to the SPCA or Humane Societies: not only are their cages full of kittens, cats, puppies and dogs that folks cannot look after. Occasionally they get tarantulas, lizards, snakes, and other critters that pet owners simply get tired of.

Other people cannot face the embarrassment of giving their pet to the humane society. These people figure that it’s far less cruel simply to abandon the pet in the country.

Oops. Think again. The “country” is our home: yours and mine. Stray dogs and cats aren’t welcome: wild animals kill these foreigners, else they live for a while only to be shot, become diseased, or die of starvation. Still others can multiply and dramatically affect natural species, over time.

And it’s prudent to recollect that European settlers also introduced the house sparrow and starling to North America. And just look how they multiplied!

Swapping plants

I love gardening and am a keen participant in perennial exchanges. One friend gave me Pampas grass. And Eric’s mother gave me a datura, (Angel’s Trumpet).

The latter plant is poisonous and, as we watched it grow, we became alarmed at its size. A herbalist who led a medicinal plant workshop here at my home advised me to be cautious about it, which prompted me to rip it out. But alas! It took me years to get rid of this alien that grows wild in the American southwest through to Mexico.

I took the responsibility of ripping it out because of its success. And, because I learned about its toxicity to humans and animals, I thought it prudent. Despite its beauty, the datura’s potential harm to cattle and horses if it “escaped” from my garden into the Pontiac countryside represented a risk I was unwilling to accept.

Regarding the Pampas grass, we keep it in check by mowing it back, but it too may go the way of the datura. We’ll see.


When you think about it, we are all responsible for the health of our planet. This isn’t “just” a motherhood statement. It’s a fact.


Katharine Fletcher is a keen traveller who lives near Quyon, Québec. Contact her at