Invasive Plants – Information and Solutions from the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group
Plants have long traveled the world with humans, purposefully transported and planted in regions they had never grown before. The early colonists brought plants, fruit trees, grasses and grains to the new world, just as corn (maize), squash and beans grown by the Indigenous peoples of North America were introduced to the newcomers. Early white explorers and botanists documented, collected and shipped many wildflowers, shrubs and trees to England and Europe to be enjoyed in gardens and managed landscapes.
The list of plants introduced to our region from other parts of the world is extensive. Many adapted to coexist with our native florae, fitting into the ecosystem so well that many of us assume they are also native. Unfortunately, there are far too many non-native species innocently introduced to our region that are having a devastating and negative impact on our ecosystem, dramatically altering the landscape and forever changing our forests, fields, meadows, wetlands and waterways. These plants are considered invasive species.
Why is one species of non-native plant defined as invasive vs. another non-native species that is not? My go-to regional resource for information about invasive plants is the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group at UConn (CIPWG). Here is their definition of invasive plants:
“Invasive plants are non-native plants that are disruptive in a way that causes environmental or economic harm, or harm to human health. In Connecticut, the Connecticut Invasive Plants Council has developed a list of non-native plants that cause (or have the potential to cause) environmental harm in minimally managed areas.”
“In minimally managed areas, invasive plants crowd out native plants. The presence of invasive plants alters the way plants, animals, soil, and water interact within native ecosystems, often causing harm to other species in addition to the plants that have been crowded out.”
It is important to note that minimally managed areas include roadsides, forests, woodlands, and wetlands. These are areas not managed on a regular basis in the way we tend to gardens, lawns, yards, farms fields, etc.
CIPWG lists key features of invasive plants as:
- the ability to establish new plants and grow rapidly under a wide variety of site conditions
- a high reproductive rate
- the ability to disperse wide distances, often by the spreading of vegetative fragments as well as seeds and
- the lack of the natural controls on growth and reproduction that would be found where the invader is native.
In my travels, walks and explorations of our region’s forests and fields, I have witnessed all too frequently the damage Japanese barberry, Asian bittersweet, buckthorn, autumn olive, multiflora rose, Japanese knotweed and winged euonymus (burning bush), to name just a few, have wrought on our landscape. All of these plants were introduced to our region.
I have walked beautiful forests with tall spreading trees where the only plant to be seen in the understory below the trees is Japanese barberry, which has, literally, smothered seedlings and small native plants. I have walked through a former open pastureland, now completely covered in both autumn olive and multiflora rose. I have seen tall white pine trees toppled by the strangling vines of Asian bittersweet.
Driving our region’s backroads and state highways I find areas of roadside covered with long thick patches of Japanese knotweed. The road I live on is lined with stands of winged euonymus and this month the shrubs’ leaves are turning the brilliant red color that made it popular with homeowners and landscapers, as if our native maple trees aren’t beautiful enough.
Thankfully the CIPWG provides extensive information to help us understand and, hopefully, find effective solutions to mitigate their impact. It is an ad-hoc group started in the late 1990s. They meet once or twice a year and hold a biennial invasive plant symposium to share information about invasive plant issues effecting Connecticut and the region. The group is comprised of federal, state and municipal staff, researchers, nursery growers, educators, master gardeners, community members and interested citizens.
To learn more, I suggest a quick look at their weblink “meet the plants.” You’ll find the list organized with both scientific and common names of the plants, and additional information about the plant’s growth form or habit, photos, if the plant is prohibited by statute and links for fact sheets and effective control methods. The list includes aquatic and wetland plants, grasses, herbaceous plants, shrubs, trees and woody vines.
For more information about the work of CIPWG go to their home page for links to several topics including how to sign up for their helpful list serve: https://cipwg.uconn.edu/
CIPWG is holding their biennial symposium “Strategies for Managing Invasive Plants: Assess, Remove, Replace, and Restore” Nov. 3. Information on the symposium and link for signing up can be found at: https://cipwg.uconn.edu/2022-symposium/
There are times I feel a bit overwhelmed with the number of invasive plants taking up residence in our region. The task of control is daunting, especially for the homeowner with a few acres of woods, now unrecognizable from the land they once knew so well. Control of these pernicious invasives starts with knowledge about the plant and its habits, information for effective mitigation, persistence and understanding that eradicating invasive species takes time and patience, lots of patience.
If you have invasive species on your land, please consider using the resources in the column to begin mitigating their detrimental impacts on our ecosystem. These plants not only affect native plants, they also disrupt the food chain. If you love watching birds, enjoy the wildlife scampering though your backyard or marvel at the butterflies, removing invasive plants and replacing them with native plants may be the most important thing you can do to care for The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor so we can all enjoy it and pass it on for generations to come.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 970-774-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, October 16, 2022
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.
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