Living with Nature
Managing Invasive Plants & Adding Native Plants to your landscape
Recently, Kelly Moore, Marketing Director interviewed Ben Wollman, Environmental Scientist about invasive plants and how to add native plants to your landscape. Since many of us are spending time in the local nursery lately, we thought this would be a timely and informative conversation to share!
moore: Thank you Ben for taking time to talk about invasive and native plants. please Tell us about your background.
WOLLMAN: In 2009, I graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Science of Natural and Environmental Systems. I quickly found an intriguing entry-level position as a Restoration Technician (RT) with a consulting/contracting firm whose primary focus was ecological restoration. Although my college classes had touched on the topic of ecological restoration, I knew very little about the field, but was excited for the opportunity to take a deeper dive. As an RT working with experienced restoration scientists, I gained invaluable experience with invasive plant identification and management, which is very important to successful restoration projects. In the 11 years since my initiation to this field, I have continued to gain experience and education, and currently hold a Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (CERP) designation from the Society of Ecological Restoration.
MOORE: What is the problem with Invasive Plants?
WOLLMAN: They are non-native to New England, and they spread rapidly and aggressively, displacing native flora. They persist in natural landscapes and can take over the landscape. If they spread, they can cause habitat and biodiversity losses, water quality degradation, agricultural losses, decreased property values, lost, or diminished recreational opportunities, and damage to infrastructure, facilities, and equipment.
MOORE: What are some common invasive plants?
WOLLMAN: There are more than 3,300 invasive plants within the United States, but some of the common species found in the New England area include Common reed (Phragmites australis), Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), Purple Loosestrife (Lytthrum salicaria), Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), and Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
MOORE: I recognize these plants as they are in the woods near my house. How do these plants spread?
WOLLMAN: Many plant invasions have occurred as direct or indirect result of humans traveling further and faster around the globe, as transportation technology has improved, and global interaction/interconnectivity has increased exponentially over the last couple of centuries. In many cases, non-native plant spread by humans is accidental (e.g., invasive grass hay/straw gets used as packing material for packages on a ship or plane), but there are also cases of intentional introductions for purposes such as landscaping, erosion control, and livestock feed. Typically, these intentional introductions occurred long ago, before there was as much knowledge of the repercussions; however, new invasions and spread continue to threaten native ecosystems today, more than ever.
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
Purple Loosestrife (Lytthrum salicaria)
Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)
Common reed (Phragmites australis)
Moore: Some of these plants look “ok” to the new gardener, even add beauty to some landscapes as they look like wildflowers. How do we encourage people to take a closer look?
WOLLMAN: It’s important to understand that invasive plants are not “evil” beings intending to wreak havoc on native plant communities. They are taking advantage of circumstances that allow them to out compete other plants for resources. I believe all plants have intrinsic value and beauty and should be appreciated as such; however, I feel strongly that we should not be sacrificing the ecological health of our natural (native) ecosystems so that we can enjoy the aesthetic value of a non-native species.
This is not to say that we should all ONLY landscape and garden with native plants. We should always consider alternative native options and be very mindful of the choices we make. There is room for compromise, allowing the best of both worlds. There are many amazing, beautiful, resilient native plants of all types (trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses) available to fill all the same functions that non-native plants have filled, with added benefits such as lower maintenance costs – less mowing, watering, fertilizing, increased habitat and food for native wildlife, improved water filtration and groundwater recharge, interesting landscape aesthetics, and more! See our helpful links below for resources to learn more about native .
Moore: Sounds good, once you realize you have some invasive plants what can you do to control them?
WOLLMAN: Once you have identified one or more invasive species on your property, use the resources at the links below to educate yourself further about the species. In many cases new invasions or smaller plants can be removed manually or mechanically (i.e., hand-pulling or mowing/cutting). For larger invasions or older/larger plants, it may be best to consult with a professional before doing anything. The most important factor in successful management of invasive plants is a dedication to continued control efforts over a multi-year period (typically 3-5 years), along with native replacement plantings soon after the initial invasive removal efforts have begun. Established native plants/plant communities will help keep the invasions in check by taking up space and resources that the invasives may have otherwise used themselves.
Enjoy these five photos of pollinator-friendly native plants from MA Audubon.
Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health
The Nature Conservancy – Weed Control Methods Handbook
Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope