Dodge & Burn: Invasive Species Along the Silver Comet Trail

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Japanese wisteria exudes an exotic choking beauty as it cohabits an area with more native vegetation. All photos by Karley Sullivan.

Dodge & Burn is a series of photo essays documenting local culture with a focus on artful imagery, movement, and light.
Ecologists describe invasive species as non-native plants introduced into a new habitat that grow so vociferously the original inhabitants can’t compete and are choked out. This process can lead to bizarre mono-cultural environments, where the biodiversity of the area has been eliminated and the invading species reigns supreme. A prime example of this type of landscape is along interstates where the kudzu has covered everything in sight. Another is the scrappy forests that you will encounter when exploring urban or suburban wildernesses. I am fascinated by these strange repetitive environments.
There’s an excellent paved path to the west of Atlanta called the Silver Comet Trail. It runs from central Georgia to Alabama and ducks between highways and sprawling subdivisions. It’s a great location for photographing these affected wild spaces, and all of the photographs in this article are from that path.
When I make these images, I treat each scene as if it were actually a character instead of a place. Considering that a single plant can entirely fill the frame, this isn’t too far of a stretch. I search for a dense grouping of vines or branches and often use a single on-camera flash to make “portraits” of these invasive plants. The use of a glaring flash also brings to mind surprise wildlife photography and emphasizes the sinister ecological effects of these invaders.

This image shows a mature privet and its countless seedlings. Privet reproduces by bearing innumerable tiny fruits and has basal shoots that rise from its extensive and shallow root system to create entire new shrubs. Every single plant in this photograph is of the same species. In other words, this bush gets busy making babies.
Honeysuckle is my favorite of these aliens. When it blooms in late spring and early summer, the scent is incredible and clings for hours. Its blooms have tiny strings inside that are covered in nectar. In fact, the entire plant is edible. Honeysuckle isn’t as space-hungry as kudzu or privet, but it still seriously disrupts any ecosystem where it is introduced. These images show the honeysuckle vines in winter, and you can see how they suffocate anything they grow on.

A truly gorgeous example of a flowering exotic vine is Japanese wisteria. Just one can produce billowing lilac blooms that can cover an entire city block. The easiest way to kill wisteria and most other invasives is with a controlled burn, and after clearing an area, it takes years to re-establish the native species.

For a photographer, spending time outside capturing plants is an excellent opportunity to work with available light, compositional arrangements, and camera adjustments without worrying about your subject moving. I would recommend it to anyone. Happy hunting!
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