Un­wanted guests may be lurk­ing around your prop­erty

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LIFESTYLES - By Jen­nifer Ma­son Mas­ter Gar­dener

It’s the “spooky” time of year. Hal­loween is right around the cor­ner and haunted hay rides, hor­ror movies and ter­ror­iz­ing theme park at­trac­tions are pop­u­lar … all guar­an­teed to give you a good “scare”. I would like to add that there may be some­thing that is equally scary right in your back­yard or neigh­bor­hood. Some­thing that may carry dis­eases to na­tive plants, cause harm to wildlife species and up­set the nat­u­ral bal­ance of our ecosys­tem. This scary sit­u­a­tion af­fects our econ­omy and can even change the chem­istry of the soil. Th­ese alien crea­tures are not dreamed up by Stephen King … they are invasive plants.

The of­fi­cial U.S. gov­ern­ment def­i­ni­tion of an invasive species is “An alien species whose in­tro­duc­tion does or is likely to cause eco­nomic or en­vi­ron­men­tal harm to hu­mans or hu­man health” (www.in­va­sivespeciesinfo.gov/laws/ex­ecorder. shtml). Invasive plants have char­ac­ter­is­tics that make them harm­ful to the en­vi­ron­ment. They have an ex­cel­lent growth rate, pro­duce a large num­ber of seeds and ger­mi­nate ex­tremely well. Invasive plants spread rapidly and tend to out-com­pete na­tive plants. Fur­ther­more, re­moval is of­ten costly and dif­fi­cult. Invasive plants can be in­tro­duced to our lo­cal ar­eas ei­ther in­ten­tion­ally or ac­ci­dently. Some ar­rive by ac­ci­dent as their seeds “hitch­hike” from an­i­mals or from hu­mans. Some­times seeds are found in soil and are un­know­ingly trans­ported via ve­hi­cles though in­ter­state travel. There are in­stances that plants were in­tro­duced to fight ero­sion many years ago, and they sim­ply got out of con­trol. Kudzu, for in­stance, is a well-known invasive vine species that can be seen along the high­ways in many parts of the state. It is a na­tive of China and Ja­pan and was in­tro­duced in the U.S. for ero­sion con­trol and live­stock feed. With a po­ten­tial growth rate of 100 feet per grow­ing sea­son it easy over­comes na­tive plants and trees and is now a costly prob­lem. Some of today’s invasive plants were first in­tro­duced as or­na­men­tals.

Ori­en­tal Bit­ter­sweet (Ce­las­trus or­bic­u­la­tus) is a vine species na­tive to Asia that was in­tro­duced orig­i­nally as an or­na­men­tal in the 1860’s. It is now listed as one of the top 10 worst invasive plants in the James River Park Sys­tem and its dam­age is caused by pro­vid­ing too much shade and weight to small trees and na­tive shrubs, thus weak­en­ing their root sys­tem. An­other in­ter­est­ing fact is that Ori­en­tal Bit­ter­sweet is sus­pected to hy­bridize with Amer­i­can Bit­ter­sweet, thus throw­ing a wrench in our na­tive plant ecosys­tem. Hon­ey­suckle is an­other com­mon

invasive, though we do have species na­tive to Vir­ginia. Coral Hon­ey­suckle (Lon­icera sem­per­virens) and Trum­pet Creeper (Camp­sis rad­i­cans) are Vir­ginia na­tives and are a pop­u­lar nec­tar source for hum­ming­birds. Ja­panese Hon­ey­suckle (Lon­icera japon­ica) and Amur Hon­ey­suckle (Lon­icera maackii) are both ex­tremely invasive and at one time were planted as land­scape or­na­men­tals and wildlife cover. The New York Botan­i­cal Gar­den was the first to im­port Amur Hon­ey­suckle in 1898. What was once thought of as a help­ful plant is now one that I would call a “scary species”.

Now, we all know good thriller nov­els that in­clude an “evil twin” char­ac­ter that is the cause of much dam­age and de­spair. I would like to con­tend that the evil twin to our benev­o­lent and beloved roses in our home gar­dens is the invasive Mul­ti­flora Rose (Rosa mul­ti­flora). Oh sure, it may have lovely white, fra­grant flow­ers, and bears fruit of red to red­dish brown “hips” last­ing through the win­ter, but this Asian na­tive plant is a look­ing to take over your land­scape. It was im­ported to the U.S. in the 1860s as a root­stock for or­na­men­tal roses. As the Mul­ti­flora Rose has the qual­i­ties of pro­vid­ing a hedge, it was de­clared an ero­sion tool in the 1930’s by the U.S. Soil and Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice. Years ago, it was even used in pas­tures as live­stock fenc­ing. How­ever, de­spite the beauty of this rose, it is now an­other highly invasive species in our area. It is highly adap­tive. It forms dense thick­ets and can over­take var­i­ous habi­tats, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from open fields to wet­lands.

The invasive Mi­croste­gium vimineum or Ja­panese Stilt­grass has an in­ter­est­ing his­tory be­hind it. It is also a top 10 invasive plant species of the James River Park Sys­tem. This grass is one of the most adapt­able invasive plants and spreads vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where. It is ex­tremely hardy and thrives in harsh con­di­tions such as fre­quent mow­ing, heavy equip­ment use and even the nat­u­ral flood­ing of wet­lands. It has no real value to wildlife as a food source and eas­ily over­takes na­tive grasses. What is in­ter­est­ing about Ja­panese Stilt­grass is that it first came to our coun­try in 1919 dried, and was a pack­ag­ing ma­te­rial for porce­lain. Just one Ja­panese Stilt­grass can pro­duce as many as 1000 seeds and those seeds can stay in the soil for at least 3 years. I per­son­ally find that ter­ri­fy­ing.

If you would like to learn more about Vir­ginia’s invasive plant species, visit the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Re­cre­ation web­site at www.dcr. vir­ginia.gov and search invasive plants. You will find a com­plete list­ing as well as a clas­si­fi­ca­tion of each species in ac­cor­dance to their threat level. Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about invasive plant main­te­nance can be found at the Vir­ginia Cooperative Ex­ten­sion web­site: https://ext.vt.edu . — Jen­nifer Ma­son is a Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­dener with the Vir­ginia Cooperative Ex­ten­sion Prince Ge­orge County Of­fice. Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­den­ers are vol­un­teer ed­u­ca­tors who work within their com­mu­ni­ties to en­cour­age and pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tally sound hor­ti­cul­ture prac­tices through sus­tain­able land­scape man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­den­ers bring the re­sources of Vir­ginia’s land-uni­ver­si­ties, Vir­ginia Tech and Vir­ginia State Univer­sity to the peo­ple of the com­mon­wealth.

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