Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 231–266 | Cite as

The Monstering of Tamarisk: How Scientists made a Plant into a Problem

  • Matthew K. ChewEmail author


Dispersal of biota by humans is a hallmark of civilization, but the results are often unforeseen and sometimes costly. Like kudzu vine in the American South, some examples become the stuff of regional folklore. In recent decades, “invasion biology,” conservation-motivated scientists and their allies have focused largely on the most negative outcomes and often promoted the perception that introduced species are monsters. However, cases of monstering by scientists preceded the rise of popular environmentalism. The story of tamarisk (Tamarix spp.), flowering trees and shrubs imported to New England sometime before 1818, provides an example of scientific “monstering” and shows how slaying the monster, rather than allaying its impacts, became a goal in itself. Tamarisks’ drought and salt tolerance suggested usefulness for both coastal and inland erosion control, and politicians as well as academic and agency scientists promoted planting them in the southern Great Plains and Southwest. But when erosion control efforts in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas became entangled with water shortages, economic development during the Depression and copper mining for national defense during World War Two, federal hydrologists moved quickly to recast tamarisks as water-wasting foreign monsters. Demonstrating significant water salvage was difficult and became subsidiary to focusing on ways to eradicate the plants, and a federal interagency effort devoted specifically to the latter purpose was organized and continued until it, in turn, conflicted with regional environmental concerns in the late 1960s.


introduced species tamarisk salt cedar monsters plant ecology new deal Reclamation Act scientific practice erosion control hydrology groundwater phreato-phyte control Southwestern United States 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



Material help and encouragement for this (continuing) study have been provided by Juliet C. Stromberg, Jane Maienschein, Manfred Laubichler, the Arizona State University (ASU) Center for Biology and Society and the ASU School of Life Sciences.


  1. Albertson, FW, Weaver, JE. 1945. ‹Injury and Death or Recovery of Trees in Prairie Climate.’ Ecological Monographs 15: 393–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anonymous. 2000. “Biographical Sketch.” Register of the Louis E. and Carmen K. Freudenthal Family Papers, 1837–1990. Archives and Special Collections, NM State Univ. Library. Accessed 3 September 2008.
  3. Baskervill, Bill. 2002. “Army Posts Fight Botanical Beast Kudzu.” Arizona Republic [Associated Press], August 23, 2002, p. A10.Google Scholar
  4. Baum, Bernard R. 1967. ‹Introduced and Naturalized Tamarisks in the United States and Canada [Tamaricaceae].’ Baileya 15: 19–25.Google Scholar
  5. Baum, Bernard R. 1978. The Genus Tamarix. Jerusalem:Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities.Google Scholar
  6. Bredehoeft, John D. 2008. “An Interview with C.V. Theis.” Hydrogeology Journal 16:5–9.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, A.F., Koogler, J.G., Palmer, R.F. and Elmendorf, H.B. 1951. Report to the Salt Cedar Interagency Council by the Salt Cedar Interagency Task Force. Albuquerque (unpubl.).Google Scholar
  8. Bryan, Kirk and Hosea, R.G. 1934. “Tamarisk – An Introduced Plant and Its Geographic Effect” (1932 Conference Abstract). Annals of the Association of American Geographers 24: 44–45.Google Scholar
  9. Bryan, Kirk and Post, G.M. 1927. “Erosion and Control of Silt on the Rio Puerco, New Mexico.” Report to the Chief Engineer, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Albuquerque (unpubl.).Google Scholar
  10. Cannon, WA. 1912. ‹Some Features of the Root-Systems of Desert Plants.’ The Popular Science Monthly 81: 90–99.Google Scholar
  11. Carleton, Mark A. 1914. ‹Adaptation of the Tamarisk for Dry Lands.’ Science 39: 692–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chew, Matthew K. 2006. Ending with Elton: Preludes to Invasion Biology. Doctoral Dissertation, Arizona State University.Google Scholar
  13. Chew, Matthew K, Laubichler, Manfred D. 2003. ‹Natural Enemies – Metaphor or Misconception?’ Science 301: 52–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clover, Elzada U, Jotter, Lois. 1944. ‹Floristic Studies in the Canyon of the Colorado and Tributaries.’ American Midland Naturalist 32(3): 591–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Colby, Charles C, White, Gilbert F. 1961. ‹Harlan H. Barrows, 1877–1960.’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers 51: 395–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cook, WE. 1987. The WEN, the Botany, and the Mexican Hat: The Adventures of the First Women Through Grand Canyon on the Nevills Expedition. Callisto:Orangevale.Google Scholar
  17. Davis, Lucius D. 1899. Ornamental Shrubs for Garden, Lawn and Park Planting. New York:G.P. Putnam’s Sons.Google Scholar
  18. Deming, David. 2001. Introduction to Hydrogeology. Boston:McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  19. Everitt, Benjamin L. 1980. ‹Ecology of Saltcedar – A Plea for Research.’ Environmental Geology 3: 77–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Foucault, Michel. 1970. “The Order of Discourse.” Transl. Ian McLeod. Young, Robert (ed.), 1981. Untying the Text: A Post-structuralist Reader. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 48–78.Google Scholar
  21. Freudenthal, LE. 1933. ‹Flood and Erosion Control as Possible Unemployment Relief Measures.’ Science 78: 445–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gaskin, John F, Shafroth, Patrick B. 2005. ‹Hybridization of Tamarix ramosissima and T. chinensis (saltcedars) with T. Aphylla (Athel) (Tamaricaceae) in the Southwestern USA Determined from DNA Sequence Data.’ Madroño 52: 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gatewood, J.S., Robinson, T.W., Colby, B.R., Hem, J.D. and Halpenny, L.C. 1950. Use of Water by Bottom-Land Vegetation in Lower Safford Valley Arizona. USGS and Defense Plant Corporation. Washington: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  24. Gilmore, David D. 2003. Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors. Philadelphia:University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hartmann, Todd. 2001. “With Luck, Beetles may Spill Salt Cedars.” Rocky Mountain News 18 August 2001.Google Scholar
  26. Hefley, Harold M. 1937a. ‹The Relations of Some Native Insects to Introduced Food Plants.’ The Journal of Animal Ecology 6: 138–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hefley, Harold M. 1937b. “Ecological Studies on the Canadian River Floodplain in Cleveland County, Oklahoma.” Ecological Monographs 7: 345–402 [University of Oklahoma Doctoral Thesis, 1935].Google Scholar
  28. Hoover, JW. 1937. ‹Navajo Land Problems.’ Economic Geography 13: 281–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Horton, Jerome S. 1964. Notes on the Introduction of Deciduous Tamarisk. Fort Collins, CO:US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.Google Scholar
  30. Isern, Thomas D. 1997. “Science or Myth” Plains Folk. North Dakota State University. Accessed 25 August 2008.
  31. Isern, Thomas D. 2000. ‹Wheat Explorer the World Over: Mark Carleton of Kansas.’ Kansas History 23: 12–25.Google Scholar
  32. Jackson, Donald C. 1991. Horseshoe Dam: Technical Report, HAER-AZ-24. Loveland, CO:US Bureau of Reclamation.Google Scholar
  33. Jaeger, Edmund C. 1933. The California Deserts: A Visitor’s Handbook. Palo Alto:Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson, AI. 1972. ‹Groundwater Hydrology – An Introduction.’ Water Resources Bulletin 8: 99–100.Google Scholar
  35. Joor, Joseph F. 1877. ‹The Tamarisk Naturalized.’ Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 6(32): 166.Google Scholar
  36. Kearney, Richard. 2003. Strangers, Gods and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness. London:Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Larson, Brendon MH. 2007. ‹Thirteen Ways of Looking at Invasive Species, Invasive Plants: Inventories, Strategies, Action.’ DR Clements, S Darbyshire (eds.), Invasive Plants: Inventories, Strategies, and Action. Sainte-Anne-de Bellevue, Québec:Canadian Weed Science Society – Société Canadienne de Malherbiologie.Google Scholar
  38. Lund, JWG. 1979. ‹The Mystery of Elodea Michx in Great Britain.’ Watsonia 12: 338.Google Scholar
  39. Mansfield, S.M. 1886. “Appendix S: Improvement of Rivers and Harbors in the State of Texas.” Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, United States Army, to the Secretary of War, for the Year 1886, Part 2. Washington: US Government Printing Office, pp. 1291–1336.Google Scholar
  40. Marks, John Brady. 1950. ‹Vegetation and Soil Relations in the Lower Colorado Desert.’ Ecology 31: 176–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McAtee, WL. 1914. ‹“Further Notes on Tamarisk” [letter].’ Science 39: 906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Measures, Joseph A. 1933. ‹Habits and Bloom of the Tamarisk.’ Flower Grower 19: 331.Google Scholar
  43. Meigs, Peveril. 1952. ‹Water Problems in the United States.’ Geographical Review 42: 346–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Meine, Curt. 1988. Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work. Madison, WI:University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  45. Meinzer, Oscar Edward. 1920. ‹Quantitative Methods of Estimating Ground-water Supplies.’ Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 31: 329–338.Google Scholar
  46. Meinzer, Oscar Edward. 1923. Outline of Ground-Water Hydrology with Definitions. USGS Water-Supply Paper 494. Washington: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  47. Meinzer, Oscar Edward. 1926. ‹Plants as Indicators of Ground Water.’ Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 16: 553–564.Google Scholar
  48. Meinzer, Oscar Edward. 1927. Plants as Indicators of Ground Water. USGS Water Supply Paper 577. Washington: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  49. Mermel, TW. 1958. Register of Dams in the United States. New York:McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  50. Miller, C.C. 1928. “Tamarix as a Windbreak.” California Cultivator, January 7, p. 16.Google Scholar
  51. National Resources Committee. 1936. Drainage Basin Problems and Programs. Washington:US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  52. National Resources Committee. 1938. The Rio Grande Joint Investigation in the Upper Rio Grande Basin in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, 1936–1937. Washington:US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  53. National Resources Planning Board. 1942. The Pecos River Joint Investigation: Reports of the Participating Agencies. Washington:US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  54. Oberholser, Harry C. 1925. ‹The Relations of Vegetation to Bird Life in Texas.’ American Midland Naturalist 9: 564–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pauly, Philip J. 1996. ‹The Beauty and Menace of the Japanese Cherry Trees: Conflicting Visions of American Ecological Independence.’ Isis 87: 51–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pauly, Philip J. 2002. ‹Fighting the Hessian Fly: American and British Responses to Insect Invasion 1776–1789.’ Environmental History 7: 378–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pauly, Philip J. 2007. Fruits and Plains: The Horticultural Transformation of America. Cambridge:Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Peck, William D. 1818. A Catalogue of American and Foreign Plants, Cultivated in the Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Harvard] University Press:Cambridge.Google Scholar
  59. Penfound, William T. 1953. ‹Plant Communities of Oklahoma Lakes.’ Ecology 34: 561–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Phreatophyte Subcommittee. 1951–1959. Minutes of Phreatophyte Subcommittee Meetings, Vol. 1. Pacific Southwest Inter-Agency Committee. Various Locations (Private Collection.).Google Scholar
  61. Pisani, Donald J. 1992. To Reclaim a Divided West: Water, Law and Public Policy 1848–1902. Albuquerque:University of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
  62. Pisani, Donald J. 2002. Water and American Government: The Reclamation Bureau, National Water Policy, and the West. Berkeley:University of California Press.Google Scholar
  63. Ridley, Henry N. 1930. The Dispersal of Plants Throughout the World. London:L. Reeve.Google Scholar
  64. Robinson, TW. 1952a. ‹Water Thieves.’ Chemurgic Digest 11: 12–15.Google Scholar
  65. Robinson, TW. 1952b. ‹Phreatophytes and their Relationship to Water in Western United States.’ Transactions American Geophysical Union 33: 57–61.Google Scholar
  66. Robinson, T.W. 1965. Introduction, Spread, and Areal Extent of Saltcedar (Tamarix) in the Western States. USGS. Washington: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  67. Shafroth, Patrick B, Cleverly, James R, Dudley, Tom L, Taylor, John P, Van Riper, Charles, Stuart, James N. 2005. ‹Control of Tamarix in the Western United States: Implications for Water Salvage, Wildlife Use, and Riparian Restoration.’ Environmental Management 35: 231–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Shinners, Lloyd H. 1948. ‹Geographic Limits of Some Alien Weeds in Texas.’ Texas Geographic Magazine 12: 16–25.Google Scholar
  69. Simpson, DE. 1984. ‹A Short History of the Introduction and Spread of Elodea Michx in the British Isles.’ Watsonia 15: 1–9.Google Scholar
  70. Stromberg, Juliet C, Chew, MK. 2002. ‹Foreign Visitors in Riparian Corridors of the Southwest is Xenophytophobia Justified.’ B Tellman (ed.), Invasive Exotic Species in the Sonoran Region. Tucson, AZ:University of Arizona Press and The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.Google Scholar
  71. Stromberg, Juliet C, Chew, MK. 2003. ‹Flood Pulses and Restoration of Riparian Vegetation in the American Southwest.’ BA Middleton (ed.), Flood Pulsing in Wetlands: Restoring the Natural Hydrological Balance. New York, NY:Wiley.Google Scholar
  72. Stromberg, Juliet C., Chew, M.K., Nagler, P.L. and Glenn, E. 2009. “Changing Perceptions of Change: The Role of Scientists in Tamarix and River Management.” Restoration Ecology 17(2): in press.Google Scholar
  73. Swingle, Walter T. 1924. The Athel, Tamarix aphylla (also called T. articulata), a Promising Windbreak for the Hot Irrigated Valleys of the Southwest. Indio, CA. Mimeograph. Walter Tennyson Swingle Collection, University of Miami, FL.Google Scholar
  74. Taylor, T.U. 1930. “Silting of Reservoirs.” University of Texas Bulletin 3025.Google Scholar
  75. Thomas, H.E. and Gatewood, J.S. 1963. Drought in the Southwest, 1942–56. USGS Professional Paper 372-D. Washington: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  76. Thornber, J.J. 1916. “Tamarisks for Southwestern Planting.” Timely Hints for Farmers. Tucson: University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station.Google Scholar
  77. Turner, RM. 1974. Quantitative and Historical Evidence of Vegetation Changes Along the Upper Gila River, Arizona, US USGS Professional Paper 655H. Washington:US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  78. Turner, SF, Halpenny, LC. 1941. ‹Ground-Water Inventory in the Upper Gila River Valley in New Mexico and Arizona, Scope of Investigation and Methods Used.’ Transactions American Geophysical Union 22(Part 3): 738–744.Google Scholar
  79. Turner, S.F. and others [sic]. 1941. Water Resources of Safford and Duncan-Virden Valleys, Arizona and New Mexico: USGS (unpubl.) Albuquerque.Google Scholar
  80. Van Deventer, C William. 1934. ‹“Some Influences of Man on Biotic Communities”. (Presentation Abstract).’ Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Sciences 26: 137.Google Scholar
  81. Ware, George H, Penfound, WT. 1949. ‹The Vegetation of the Lower Levels of the Floodplain of the South Canadian River in Central Oklahoma.’ Ecology 30: 478–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Warken, Philip W. 1979. A History of the National Resources Planning Board. Garland:New York.Google Scholar
  83. Wells, H.G. 2005 [1898]. The War of the Worlds. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  84. White, Robert R. and Alfred, Clebsch. 1994. “C.V. Theis: The Man and His Contributions to Hydrogeology.” Selected Contributions to Ground-Water Hydrology by C.V. Theis, and a Review of His Life and Work. USGS Water-Supply Paper 2415. Washington: US Government Printing Office, pp. 45–56.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Biology and SocietyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

Personalised recommendations