Know Your Invasive Plants

By on 29 August, 2011 in Gardening, Kate and Stephen, Outdoors with 3 Comments

It’s the end of August. It’s too hot to garden. That’s an established fact for humans and plants alike. Anything you plant now is probably going to die anyway, and you’ll just get all hot out there in the sun, so why bother?

This fatalism doesn’t have to be permanent. In the evenings, you can almost convince yourself that soon you will be able to plant tiny lettuce seeds and broccoli starters. For now, even a few hours of yard work can leave you wilted – it may be best to stay in, read up and prepare for the more humane gardening season just around the corner.

We’re spending some of the current month getting to know the plants in our back yard. When we moved in, we discovered that the previous owners (and, likely, the owners before them) had decided to keep the yard and its beds in a state of studied neglect. The grass was trimmed, but the demarcated “flower beds,” were a jungle behind a brick perimeter. The back of our property had been allowed to devolve into a tangle of impossible vines and stringy volunteer trees. The soil in the beds, already a tough clay, was further compacted and gooey from surrender to armies of weeds and seemingly unstoppable thorny vines. After three years of toil, we can say that we’ve cleared a few beds, turning and enriching the soil enough to grow some things, but our battle marches on.

Except in August. In August, we try to get to know our enemies a little better, preparing for another round of slow-motion fighting. What are these vines that persist despite our slashing and burning? How about these shrubs that persist despite being hacked to the ground and dug out, while our tenderly planted nursery acquisitions faint and wither from the heat?

As usual, the Internet has some answers. We went to the Alabama Cooperative Extension Services website first – they helped us test our soil, so we figured they’d have some good information. The ACES site doesn’t have a weed index we could use to match pictures, but it does have a number of helpful links to guides for invasive species. We figured that was as good a place to start as any. Like most states, Alabama struggles with invasive non-native species. Kudzu is the most famous, but it turns out there are a number of other invasive species threatening our native species right here in town. Of course, ACES is all over this, with the help of the Alabama Invasive Plant Council (ALIPC). On the ALIPC site, you can download a brochure with information on Alabama’s 10 worst invasive weeds (get it here – it’s a PDF) or look through the longer list of invasive plants organized by region and type, updated in 2007 (get it here – also a PDF).

Online we found links to the surprisingly addictive website of the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. The site lists more than 1,700 species with images, so you can go through and try to match the pictures to the pesky stuff in your yard. We discovered that we have Chinese Privets – those little shrubs are tough to kill! Thank goodness we don’t have any kudzu, but we didn’t need a website to tell us we have English Ivy. Several times a year we think longingly about going back in time and killing the person who brought this plant to our yard before they could plant it, Terminator-style. We also have Japanese Honeysuckle (smells great, but then it slowly strangles you to death) and Bushkiller (Cayratia Japonica). ALIPC maintains a “Watch List” for plants that may, but have not yet, take over our beloved state. Of these, we are worried we have both Oriental Bittersweet and Japanese Knotweed. We also suffer from an excess of Vinca Major (not on the ALIPC list, but should be based on its level of annoyance to us).

We took appropriate pictures and registered to report sightings on the awesomely named Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System. This kind of made us feel like spies. Also total novices. If you want to report something, you will need two photos of the plant in question and a registered account on EDDMaps.

For the Montgomery gardener, invasive species don’t often rise to the level of annoyance they should. The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health says that non-native invasive species cost the US as much as $120 billion dollars a year in agricultural and maritime productivity. At the same time, they are responsible for more than 40% of endangered and threatened species’ classification as endangered or threatened. Which should make you feel, at least, a little better about not being able to kill that darn ivy infesting your yard.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Katie Rose says:

    “Several times a year we think longingly about going back in time and killing the person who brought this plant to our yard before they could plant it, Terminator-style.”

    Yes, I feel this way often as well.

  2. Gabbie says:

    Thanks for doing a story about this. Before we moved here I was an ecologist on a military installation. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars every year trying to control invasive species. What’s worse is that many species that are considered “invasive” are still readily available at most garden centers.

  3. Chris says:

    Thanks for this story! We moved to Alabama last year and I’m having a difficult time finding out about the native plants, both good and bad. If possible could you post more photos of the ones we need to eliminate? Or is it possible for others to post photos?

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