Tobacco fueled an addiction for more and more land. The Indians had long grown the crop, but only in small amounts, and in fields that mixed different plants. Driven by the English demand, the colonists covered big stretches of land with N. tabacum. Neither natives nor newcomers understood the environmental impact of growing it on a massive scale. "Tobacco has an almost unique ability to suck the life out of soil," says Leanne DuBois, the agricultural extension agent in James City County. "In this area, where the soils can be pretty fragile, it can ruin the land in a couple of years." Constantly wearing out their fields, the colonists cleared ever more forest, leaving behind sparse pastureland.
Even in their own villages and farm fields, the Indians couldn't escape the invasive species brought by the English—pigs, goats, cattle, and horses. Indians woke up to find free-range cows and horses romping through their fields, trampling the harvest. If they killed the beasts, gun-waving colonists demanded payment. To the English, the whole concept of a "civilized" landscape was one in which ownership of the land was signaled by fencing fields and raising livestock. After all, England had more domestic animals per capita than most other European nations. "They looked down on the Indians because they had no domestic animals," says Virginia DeJohn Anderson, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At first the imported animals didn't do well, not least because they were eaten by starving colonists. But during the peace after Pocahontas's marriage, they multiplied. Colonists quickly lost control of them.
The worst may have been the pigs. Smart, strong, constantly hungry, vicious when crossed, they ate nuts, fruits, shellfish, and corn, turning up the soil with their shovel-like noses in search of edible roots. Among these was tuckahoe, a starchy tuber the Indians relied on when times were hard and their corn crops failed. The pigs liked it, too. The natives found themselves competing for food with packs of feral pigs.
But the largest ecological impact may have been wreaked by a much smaller, seemingly benign domestic animal: the European honeybee. In early 1622, a ship arrived in Jamestown that was a living exhibit of the Columbian exchange. It was loaded with exotic entities for the colonists to experiment with: grapevine cuttings, silkworm eggs, and beehives. Most bees pollinate only a few species; they tend to be fussy about where they live. European honeybees, promiscuous beasts, reside almost anywhere and pollinate almost anything in sight. Quickly, they swarmed from their hives and set up shop throughout the Americas.
The English imported the bees for honey, not to pollinate crops—pollination wasn't widely understood until the late 19th century—but feral honeybees pollinated farms and orchards up and down the East Coast anyway. Without them, many of the plants the Europeans brought with them wouldn't have proliferated. Georgia probably wouldn't have become the Peach State; Johnny Appleseed's trees might never have borne fruit; Huckleberry Finn might not have had any watermelons to steal. So critical to European success was the honeybee that Indians came to view it as a harbinger of invasion; the first sight of one in a new territory, noted French-American writer Jean de Crèvecoeur in 1782, "spreads sadness and consternation in all [Indian] minds."