By Contributing Editor Nancy Hulse
How many of the plants and flowers below can you identify? The answers are at the end of this article, but I’ll give you a hint…all of them are listed as Class A noxious weeds in at least one state.
If you’re like many of us who love to hike and explore, the almost infinite variety and color of the plants that surround you blends into one tapestry of forest or meadow. As a beginner, you may recognize few of the plants and flowers you see. As you spend more time outdoors, particular plants may begin to stand out, and you may be curious enough to learn their common names. It’s here that many of us stop.
But there’s a great reason to take your curiosity to the next level. Learn to identify the invasive plants in your area, and you may be able to help protect native species struggling against the non-natives we’ve introduced into their environment. And there are some great resources to help you.
The best place to start is the United States Department of Agriculture Plants Data Base. You’ll find information about endangered plants in the United States, lists of noxious and invasive plants by state, a searchable date base of plant images and rollover maps to show distribution of plants by area. This is an extremely deep site, I can’t imagine a plant question you couldn’t find answered here or by a link to another site.
You could start by looking at the pictures of noxious species in your state, and recognizing a particular plant or flower that you’ve seen, but never known how to identify. You can learn habitat, geographic distribution, how the invasive impacts native species. Most importantly, you can learn the best methods to eradicate it. There are many invasive species that are slowly gaining toeholds in isolated areas. Identifying and eradicating them early may help stop them from overtaking native plants.
As you grow more familiar with plant species and are able to identify them in the wild, you could begin to contribute information about the location and distribution of plants you’ve observed to the PLANTS Distribution Update Module. Its goal is to speed input and disseminate information about the distribution of weeds, especially those that are either spreading rapidly and/or are poorly known. The Distribution Update module encourages you to become direct participants in the PLANTS database.
If you carry a digital camera, you also could also contribute digital images (or line drawings) of U.S. plants to the PLANTS project. The images in PLANTS are free for scientific and educational uses provided that users properly credit the photographer, institution, and The PLANTS Database. If you contribute your images, you will be properly credited at the PLANTS Web site. At this time, the project can only accept batches of 100 images or more, accurately identified by scientific name. But if you’re like many of us, you’ll find that it’s pretty easy to accumulate some great digital plant images. Learning to identify them by their scientific names will broaden your knowledge, contribute to this important database and most importantly, share your knowledge with others.
However, you don’t have to trek into the wilderness to hunt down the illusive noxious weed. Almost all of the invasives have been introduced either in an attempt to control a problem (such as erosion), or as an ornamental, purchased by gardeners like you and me without realizing the plant’s potential for environmental damage.
A great case in point is Buddleja Davidii, or Butterfly Bush. This plant is a pioneering species that dominates open habitats. It poses an ecological threat to dry-land meadows, open slopes and dunes, dominating these sites as much as Scotch broom has historically. It also invades reforested sites, resulting in a loss of forest productivity.
It’s a pretty, fast growing shrub and it thrives in my area. Butterflies and birds love it. Unfortunately, birds also very effectively distribute its seeds. Last summer while taking a stroll through a wetlands preserve along the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, I found a thriving community of about a dozen Buddleja seedlings. Now I’ve added a pair of pruners to my hiking gear, and feel a small sense of satisfaction if I’m able to find seedlings young enough to eradicate by clipping them off just below the soil line. There are other varieties of Buddleja available, just as lovely, but non-invasive, and most nurseries have stopped carrying Buddleja Davidii. If you find a nursery still carrying it, do your part by suggesting that they carry an alternative.
And of course, there’s Hedera helix. English Ivy is distributed over most of the country. In my hometown, many areas of our forested parks are ivy “deserts”, with the ground so thickly carpeted that no other species can penetrate its dense mat. In fact English Ivy is such a scourge that there are many volunteer groups that work to eradicate it. If you’re interested, Ivy Out is a great way to become an invasive species activist, and meet some very nice people in the process!
Did you recognize any of the invasive plants at the beginning of the article? From left to right they are: Kudzu (Pueraia Montana var. lobata), English Ivy (Hedera helix), Clary Sage (Salvia sclaria), Shiny Geranium (Geranium lucidum), and Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).