Do your part in stopping the spread of invasives

Story by Michelle Reynolds

Take a hike in any nearby woods, and chances are good that you will see the effects of someone’s poorly thought out landscape plan. In my neck of the woods (Birmingham and central Alabama), I see escaped English ivy (Hedera helix) climbing high into the treetops, red bunches of heavenly bamboo berries (Nandina domestica), prickly leatherleaf mahonia bushes (Mahonia bealei), carpets of periwinkle (Vinca minor), dark green patches of monkey grass (Liriope muscari), mangled messes of Japanese honeysuckle vines (Lonicera japonica), and dense thickets of privet (Ligustrum spp.). Especially where neighborhoods abut the edges of forests, I notice wild Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) jungles, bamboo (Phyllostachys spp.) screens gone amuck, and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) buggy whips reaching up towards the sky. 

When non-native plants are introduced to wild spaces, the results can be detrimental to native plant communities and to the wildlife that depend on them.

Come March, all along Alabama’s roadsides and in fields and meadows, it is easy to spot the white-flowering, lollypop-shaped Callery pear trees (Pyrus calleryana). The sight is alarming. These trees seem to be popping up more and more, year after year. Originally, the ‘Bradford’ pear tree, a cultivar of the Callery pear, was bred to be sterile. It stayed in check for many years, but as the weak branches began to split, new Callery pear cultivars were bred to reduce that tendency. Now the escaped trees are a nuisance. 

There are other invasive plant species I see: mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), princess trees (Paulownia tomentosa), Chinese parasol (Firmiana simplex), bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), and sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora). These are all plants that were once, and some still are, popular in the landscape trade.

Invasive species wreak havoc in the environment if/when they escape. Gardeners often add these plants to their landscapes with no understanding of the plant’s true nature, and they neglect to think about the potential consequences or impacts on neighboring plant communities. For new and inexperienced gardeners, it might be a matter of not knowing any better, but for the landscape professional, there is just no excuse. They should know better. Selling invasive exotic plants shows blatant disregard for the environment. Invasive species displace native plant communities, disrupt entire ecosystems, and cost municipalities money to control them. When these plants escape to nearby woods, nature preserves and conservationists have to spend their resources fighting these invasive species in addition to the work they already do to conserve and restore the natural environment. If folks knew the problems these plants cause to the environment, would they still plant them? Would they work to eradicate them from their own landscape? Since invasive species cause harm to the environment, I think landscape professionals should shoulder some of the burden to right the wrongs and at least do their part toward halting the proliferation of invasive plant species. 

I know there are many well-behaved non-native plants in the landscape trade. I have no problem with those, and I have bought a few to plant in my own garden. There are many non-native plants that are beautiful, provide ecological benefits, and some offer valuable food source to wildlife in places where nectar, pollen, and seeds are scarce. But when non-native plants are introduced to wild spaces, the results can be detrimental to native plant communities and to the wildlife that depend on them. I believe there are more than a few unruly and aggressive non-native plants that nurseries should stop selling and people should stop planting altogether. The consequences are too great, and the cost too high. And as gardeners, we should do our part and choose wisely.



Dos & Don’ts

Take a pledge this spring to do your part in stopping the spread of invasive species. Choices matter. Here are a few dos and don’ts:
Don’t buy invasive species for your landscape. Don’t plant invasive species. Don’t compost or dump invasive plant waste in other areas – bag them up and throw them away.
Do suggest to every nursery you visit that they stop offering invasive species. 
Do work to eradicate invasive species from your yard. 
Do volunteer at a nature center, botanical garden, school or church garden to help eradicate invasive plants and to learn more. 
Do work to add more native plants to your yard and to the landscapes at your business, church, and your child’s school. 
Do help spread awareness to your friends and neighbors. 
Do research to find out which native plants will work best in your yard. 
Do find a local nursery that specializes in native plants or shop at the seasonal native plant sales at nature centers and botanical gardens. 
Do join the social media fun by observing the biodiversity your new native plants will attract, and post pictures to social media using the hashtags #PlantThisNotThat, #BackyardBiodiversity, and #HabitatGarden.

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