Rules for Invasive Exotic Species
The enemy is advancing: numerous invasive exotic species are attacking Battle Park, threatening to disrupt the natural function of native North Carolinian ecosystems. Three of the top suspects have been identified as: Bamboo grass, Chinese privet, and English ivy. These plants were last seen disguising themselves as aesthetically pleasing, innocent landscapes in urban interfaces neighboring Battle Park. However, they should be considered armed and dangerous as they are hardy and possess the ability to reproduce without human intervention. The plants can spread and naturalize themselves into the local landscape with incredible speed. To defend ourselves from this atrocity, we need to implement rules that will help restore Battle Park to its natural state.
Rule #1: Do not fall for good looks, personality is important too.
Walking through Battle Park, it is apparent that many of the plant species covering the forest do not belong there. It is obvious that they are out of place, but why are they such a concern? They are beautiful. This is the exact reason why invasive exotic species are introduced; they are seemingly harmless, beautiful plants. In the 1910’s, Bamboo grass was introduced to the United States as a packing material for porcelain (Wallace). Later, the plant took hold in landscapes on the east coast because its unique, slender stand could be used as a divider between properties. Soon, the grass was out of control, choking out the surrounding environment. Both introduced in the mid 1850’s for their ornamental appeal, Chinese privet and English ivy escaped from cultivation and naturalized themselves throughout the southeastern United States (Swearingen, USDA). While the plants offer great aesthetic appeal, there are numerous native plants that provide the same beauty without decreasing biodiversity.
Rule #2: Make sure a plant is sterile or use protection before you introduce it to other plants on your property.
Unfortunately, the Bamboo grass can reproduce very quickly, dispersing up to one thousand seeds in its lifetime. Soon, the plant’s monotypic stands collectively form a thick grass that prevents sunlight from reaching native plants on the forest floor. Chinese privet and English ivy also have quick maturation periods and overwhelming seed production. English ivy can be cut, but if the segments are not removed they will form a completely new vine (Randall). Invasive exotic species can also spread long distances by being dispersed by birds. These plants’ high fertility rates allow them to spread quickly and take over native ecosystems.
Rule #3: Some plants are too clingy, get away from these species as fast as possible.
Sometimes the native plants in Battle Park just need their room to grow. When an invasive exotic species such as English ivy is introduced for its ability to ‘climb,’ the vines begin to encompass entire trees. They grow upwards towards areas of sunlight, continually becoming larger. The vine is sticky and can grasp the tree. Soon, all of the native plant species in the area are suffocated and unable to absorb any light. The English ivy creates a monoculture, eliminating all biodiversity from the area. Any plant species capable of reducing the biodiversity of an area should be viewed as a threat. Even worse, English ivy can host bacteria that are potentially fatal to native trees (Swearingen). Before planting an exotic species as part of your landscape, get them checked for diseases.
Rule #4: Be dominant in the relationship.
Many times, invasive species will have defensive systems in place to ensure their expansion and survival. For example, the berries of the Chinese privet contain a poison that makes them unappealing to the local wildlife. English ivy leaves also contain a natural toxin that prevents the plant from becoming dinner. If the plants are unable to be preyed upon, they essentially have free range to dominate all other native species and offer no benefit to local wildlife. Invasive exotic plants also tend to have root systems designed to make them harder to kill. The Chinese privet practices vegetative growth by forming root suckers (USDA). Basically, this means that if the entire root system is not removed from underneath the ground, the plant is still capable of sprouting.
Rule #5: Pay attention to areas of disturbances. Invasive species will try to ‘rebound.’
Invasive species tend to increase their colonization in areas of soil disturbances. If the relationship with the native ecosystem is disrupted through the logging of forests or construction of urban developments, invasive species will attempt to move in on the land (Randall). In order to prevent the spread of invasive exotics, we need to practice extreme caution when soil disruption is necessary. A newly logged forest provides ample room for an invasive species to quickly become uncontrollable.
Rule #6: Help the cause, volunteer and inform others.
If we can identify invasive exotic species based on their characteristics of rapid growth and reproduction, how do we prevent them from taking over natural areas? The ultimate goal of conservation efforts is to revive the natural function of native ecosystems by removing these species and preventing them from being introduced.
While there is potential for biological advancements that could potentially reduce invasive exotic species in Battle Park, currently the best method is to remove them by hand. The North Carolina Biological Garden offers volunteering opportunities to help restore our native ecosystems to their original state. With just a couple hours of your time, you can help improve biodiversity in Battle Park. In some species, cutting the plants can exhaust the energy supply in the roots and eventually kill them. However, the plants are never mown, as this does not kill them but facilitates the dispersal of their seeds. In widespread cases, herbicides can be used with extreme caution. Most commercially available herbicides are devastating to the environment, but a solution of diluted glyphosate herbicide can be beneficial to removing invasive species by targeting specific plants.
Educating the public about the potentially harmful effects of landscaping decisions can greatly reduce the risks of invasive exotic species. These plants can be removed from a natural ecosystem, but if they still exist in neighboring developments they will reappear in no time. If people are aware of the dangers of these plants and are provided with alternate suggestions of controllable native plants, they will be encouraged to make an informed decision that promotes the native biodiversity of the area. I would suggest targeting the problem at the source by implanting a policy that requires all invasive exotic species and plants at risk for becoming invasive to be sold with a warning label. Many times people make landscaping decisions based solely on aesthetic appeal; however, knowing the lasting implications of the plants would alter their decisions. A small effort would go a long way for the future of our native southeastern ecosystem.
Class of 2015
Buchanan, Misty. "Invasive Exotic Species List." North Carolina Native Plant Society. N.p., May 2008. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.ncwildflower.org/invasives/list.htm>.
Cotterman, Laura. "Environmentally Responsible Gardening Practices." North Carolina Botanical Garden. N.p., 06 Mar. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013.
North Carolina Botanical Garden. Controlling Invasive Species. N.p.: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, n.d. Web. <http://ncbg.unc.edu/uploads/files/ControllingBooklet.pdf>.
Randall, Johnny. Plant This - Not That: Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. N.p.: North Carolina Botanical Garden, n.d. Web. <http://ncbg.unc.edu/uploads/files/PlantThisNotThat.pdf>.
Swearingen, Jil. "English Ivy." Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted. National Parks Service, n.d. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/hehe1.htm>.
USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center. "Chinese Privet." Plant Guide. US Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_lisi.pdf>.
Wallace, Rebekah. "Japanese Stiltgrass." NYIS Information. Cornell University, n.d. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.nyis.info/index.php?action=invasive_detail>.