________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 19. . . .January 19, 2016


Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia.

Alex Van Tol. Illustrated by Mike Deas.
Victoria, BC: Royal BC Museum, 2015.
128 pp., trade pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-7726-6853-0.

Subject Headings:
Introduced animals-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.
Invasive plants-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

**** /4


Poison Hemlock

Remember your mother telling you not to eat berries and plants unless you knew what they were? She was right. In 2001, a woman called the experts at the Royal BC Museum. She was concerned about her father, who was in the hospital after having boiled, mashed and eaten a parsley like plant for supper. A confirmed wild plant tester, this fellow felt his mouth going numb after just a few bites. Within two hours, he was having trouble breathing, so was rushed to hospital. From the purple splotches on its stem, Royal BC Museum Curator of Botany Ken Marr immediately recognized the plant: an invasive species known as Poison Hemlock……Mr Weed Eater was lucky, because….the cooking probably reduced the plant’s toxicity. If our taste tester had made a weed salad, instead, he’d likely have died.


This compact but informative book is a terrific guide to recognizing and understanding animal and plant species that have moved beyond their natural territories to become “aliens” within British Columbia’s environment. Some are more harmful than others, becoming invasive by upsetting natural balances and threatening biodiversity.

     The introductory chapter clarifies the definitions of “alien” and “invasive” and highlights reasons we should worry about aliens. The term “biodiversity” merits a couple of pages with an easy to understand account of the need for variety to keep ecosystems balanced. A device called a “Threat Meter”, shown as comical icons, appears with each species example, its stages ranging from merely “Risky” all the way to “Deadly”. This is a really helpful tool as you read through the book and recognize species you may often see.

     Chapters include examples within every class of animal and a selection of herbaceous and woody plants found in BC. One chapter discusses three animals (e.g. zebra mussel) not yet in the province, but likely to appear soon. Another chapter looks at native species (e.g. northern raccoon) that can dominate enough to upset ecology. Finally, the author offers a few examples of aliens that have become so familiar (e.g. cattle) that we forget they are not native here. An important feature is the section “You Can Help” which outlines ways to stop the spread of aliens and urges the reporting of sightings. There’s a Glossary of terms, several pages of scientific names and a useful list of sources, both print and web. The book is packed with concise, intriguing details gathered by the BC author, a former teacher who loves to research. It is published by the Royal BC Museum which attests to its relevancy and accuracy.

     The organization of the book invites a reader to sample it in small bites. Each chapter offers a description of the alien species, including appearance and origin, with anecdotes about how it came to be introduced into the local environment. The writing style is highly readable, entertaining and often amusing. One example that will appeal to young readers is Didymo, a native algae species that could become invasive. Its nickname is Rock Snot, presenting an image sure to linger in your memory (and appropriately rated ‘Nasty’). Sidebars throughout the book extend the information by focusing on interesting aspects, e.g. how slug (rating only ‘Risky’ so far) slime is being studied for use as surgical glue.

     The book is expertly illustrated with close up photos, as well as cartoon style drawings that enhance specific details in the text. For instance, you’re not likely to ever use a Giant Hogweed stem as a pea shooter after seeing the effect it will have on your lips!

     Whether you live in BC, or you are curious about the origins and spread of these species, keep this book around as a handy reference. It will help you pay closer attention to some of the animals and plants you may have thought always belonged in your neighbourhood. This publication will help to spread the word, in an engaging way, about environmental invaders.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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