As many school teachers and obsessive calendar-keepers can tell you, there truly is a designated day/week/month for just about everything. Last week we observed National Pancake Day, which just happens to happen during National Cheerleading Week, a week that marks the beginning of National Adopt a Guinea Pig Month. And, of course, tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, a day dedicated to excessive parading, eating, drinking, and, umm, flashing.

Last week also happened to be National Invasive Species Awareness Week, a “week of activities, briefings, and events to highlight what is being done across the nation and around the world to stop and slow the spread of invasive species” that’s sponsored by Weed Science Society of America, the Department of the Interior, and others. In an MNN Daily Briefing, Russell McLendon described NISAW as “a time when all Americans can reflect on how much we wish alien invaders like Asian carp, Burmese pythons and kudzu weren't killing our ecosystems.” Or, if you live in the Washington, D.C., area, it’s a time when you can catch a screening of a film like “Bugged: The Race to Eradicate Asian Long-Horned Beetle.” Okay, so it's no Mardi Gras, but I'm sure that after a long day, NISAW attendees know how to get down.

To mark National Invasive Species Week, NPR published a fascinating profile on Patterson Clark, a D.C.-based visual artist waging a different kind of war on several invasive species of the plant variety including, but not limited to, hedera helix (English ivy), alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard), and morus alba (White Mulberry). Not only is Clark eradicating  “alien weeds” from D.C.’s Whitehaven Park and nearby community gardens — he obtained a permit and received training from the National Park Service — but he’s upcycling them, stems, roots, leaves, and all, into handcrafted art supplies including paper, paint brushespens, inks and printing woodblocks

When dealing with weeds, many gardeners completely banish the offending plant — Get out of my sight! — via a killing agent since adding it to a compost pile, if it has gone to seed, may spell trouble down the line and undo all those excruciating hours of hand-hoeing. Patterson, however, sees boundless artistic potential, taking the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered," to heart. He tells NPR:

One day I was pulling a weed, and I realized there was a little grain of hostility there toward this invasive plant. And I stopped and thought: I don't want to be this way in nature. I don't want to be in an adversarial mode when I'm in nature. So how can I change my attitude to make this more of a positive experience? And the word 'harvest' came to mind.
From there, Clark, an artist for the Washington Post, began to experiment with weed-based papermaking. Paintbrushes, pens, inks, and the like followed. After Clark uproots or cuts species identified as evasive, he returns to his home studio and begins a truly unique, eco-friendly process. Woody leftovers from weeds are dried and used to fuel an outdoor woodstove where Clark cooks his plants. After the plants are “done," Clark collects the ashes from the stove and uses them to produce lye. Any water used in the process is collected via rain barrel.

Explains Clark:

These are species that have overwhelmed the parklands, pushing out native plants and the animals that feed on them. They're hurting the biodiversity of the area that I live in. So if I get out there and harvest these weeds, I am making space for these native animals and plants to repopulate.
With all these DIY weed-based art supplies on hand, Clark goes about performing his given trade: making art. I’m particularly fond of 13-Gram Note, a 8.5” by 11” block print incorporating inks made from asiatic bittersweet, leatherleaf mahonia, and 13 grams of English ivy vine.

Read more about Patterson Clark and his work over at NPR. Also be sure to check out his website, Alien Weeds, where he further explains his artistic process. Clark also offers workshops to those interested in the craft of garlic mustard papermaking, for example. And if you’re in the Bay Area, Clark’s work is currently part of Manufactured Organic, a group show at San Francisco’s Root Division Gallery. 

Gardeners/weed haters: Have you found a unique way to reuse an invasive plant specifies after you've uprooted it? 

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