Wood Nettles - Invasive or super useful?

Walking through our landscape, I am really starting to question the use of the term, "invasive." For years, I have obediently pulled out the invasive buckthorn and other species from our forest only to be left with a bare understory and severe erosion.

Now, I'm not blaming the buckthorn removal on the erosion. I know it's because of mismanaged water, compaction, and a lack of understory growth on a severely sloping forest floor. 

But what about that understory? Why is it so bare to begin with? Compaction? Human interference? Unknown?

An invasive species like buckthorn would stand no chance if the forest floor wasn't already hurting?

Which leads me to the point of this article - wood nettles.

Walking through very similar but healthy forests (in fact - forest connected to my own lot!) tells me a different story of erosion and understory planting. The sloped forests that are not eroding have a very thick matting of hog peanuts, ferns, and wood nettles. Mostly hog peanuts and wood nettles.

So my thought is I should actively introduce these species (all of whom are absent in my forest) to control the soil erosion.

But wait - all of those species are listed as invasive! Why? Because they can capitalize on situations where nothing else will grow - full shade, sloping terrain, competition with trees.

This fall, I will be gathering seeds from the wild wood nettles and hog peanuts. I'll be gathering spores from the ostrich ferns. And I'll be spreading them around like a johnny nettle seed throughout my forest floor - but especially in the most eroded areas.

I have also started building berms and no-dig swales to redirect and slow all the water that comes rushing down the slope of the forest.

I have also transplanted a number of baby maple and oak trees that grow in our yard (seedlings from the forest itself)  into the eroded areas. I have short, medium, and long term plans to help stop the erosion that has been removing huge sections of soil from our forest each year.

I would imagine that even though ferns and hog peanuts spread and are considered "invasive" nobody would think twice about me planting them on purpose. Both are edible and beautiful in their own way.

But Nettles are a bird of a different feather. They sting.

Why would you plant a stinging plant throughout the forest, making it less friendly to people? For one, people shouldn't really be traipsing through a forest with erosion issues. And second, nettles aren't that bad.

Wood nettles sting less than stinging nettles. And both are edible. Both are super edible! I wouldn't mind having more edible species hanging around.

Besides being edible, they make a great garden amendment. Soaking nettles in a bucket of water until the water looks and smells horrible - then adding water to that mess and using it to water your plants is a great fertilizer.

Oh and they spread well - they are mints - so they hold the soil while they live, then feed that same soil when they die.

Maybe I'll come to regret it, but I think it's a good choice to try and save our quickly eroding "native" forest.

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