Plan Author

Kendall O’Connell, 2015

Project Description

Literature review on invasive plants and Japanese knotweed eradication field study

Outside Evaluator

Laird Christensen, Green Mountain College

Sample Courses


This Plan of Concentration includes ecological research on invasive species, in combination with essays on landscape in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and additional personal narrative. A literature review titled “The effect of invasive plants and possible restoration methods” explores aspects of plant evolution, invisibility, and environmental impacts that make invasive plants so difficult to control. A field study on Japanese knotweed investigates the effectiveness of activated carbon, cutting, and native grasses in controlling the invasive species. Two essays titled “Cactus Ed’s Stomping Ground: Landscape and Desert Solitaire” and “On The Road To Love: Relationships in a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape” explore landscape through literature. The final part of the Plan is a collection of three personal essays, “Touching Trees,” “Connector Flight,” and Aquatic Anxiety, exploring interactions with life and landscape.


There are studies that specifically demonstrate the rapid evolution of invasive species. Over the course of an eleven-year study, Sultan et al. (2013) saw changes in Polygonum cespitosum, a knotweed native to Asia that typically grows in moist regions. In this study, the researchers had found that the invasive plant was able to reproduce more rapidly. This allows for a quicker turnover in demonstration of generational changes in genes and traits.

Abbey’s enthusiasm for exploring is infectious. However, just as with trash, Abbey here is a purist. He is very adamant about his constraints on what makes an explorer and what makes a tourist. An explorer is one that travels in an area and gets to know the area intimately by interacting with the environment. A tourist to Abbey is one that travels through a landscape, but never truly starts a conversation with the place because they spend most of it in a vehicle at highway speeds. Without this conversation started, Abbey believes the landscape is truly lost to the autotourist.

At the top of this swaying tree, I think of when a tree had fallen in the woods at Woodcock. No one had heard it fall in the night; not even the folks who live on the property heard it. I came down the lane that morning and discovered this wonderful new playground. It was an oak tree that then spanned the width of the creek below and then some. The midsection of the trunk was some ten feet above the water. I spent my morning walking across the tree and its branches. I crawled under and over the branches where I could, the leaves still intact at this point. It revived my sense of awe at this place that has been my life for so many years. I felt very excited about rediscovering this new space that I had already spent hours at.


Plan is ever looming and that’s a hard thing to shake. I think what I remember most is being scared of disappointing my Plan sponsors. Also stress from working all the time, and guilt from the few moments I decided to go rock climbing or sleep a full night through and not work on Plan. I think that’s a strong testament to how seriously students take their Plan as seniors. This isn’t just a capstone project, it is a passion, it is our dream, it is our love. So few people get to experience that kind of fuel: an insane love.


My writing and science will help to inform me, as a teacher, as to how to run a nontraditional learning environment. I work in outdoor education, and having a background in biology greatly helps my teaching ability for people who come to the areas I work in. I can describe who’s living in the area, what certain processes are like, etc. The writing side of my plan allows me to be better at articulating these ideas and concepts to people who may be grappling with these for the first time.