In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2007
Regional Report

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The foliage of this garlic mustard plant may be attractive but it's a very invasive plant and needs to go!

Help Get Rid of Invasive Plants

Invasive plants have the potential to devastate the landscape, and everyone who gardens, enjoys the outdoors, or does any kind of outdoor recreation should be concerned about them. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, "a species is regarded as invasive if it has been introduced by human action to a location, area, or region where it did not previously occur naturally, becomes capable of establishing a breeding population in the new location without further intervention by humans, and spreads widely throughout the new location."

Some plants are quite attractive and were offered for landscape use for years before it was fully understood that they could invade and choke out native plants. Two good examples of this are honeysuckle and purple loosestrife. These plants are not inherently "bad," but they upset the natural balance in woodlands, meadows, and wetlands, leaving the landscape open to the negative effects of unbalanced populations.

Common Invasives
Loosestrife was an old-fashioned favorite in the perennial garden, but birds spread the seeds into the wild, and it has since begun to fill up wetland areas. It has actually changed the ecology of wetlands by reducing the abundance of native plants. There are several species of ducks and a species of turtle that depend on these natives and are now at risk.

Invasive shrubs like buckthorn and honeysuckle fill the woods, preventing the regeneration of young trees. Invasive species often lack natural predators or can out-compete with natives, so they become aggressive enough to completely take over. About 42 percent of the species on the federal threatened or endangered species list are reported to be at risk because of invasive species.

Garlic mustard is a pernicious weed in our woodlands, where a visit to the woods will usually reveal some of these fairly attractive little plants. However, garlic mustard can completely cover the ground in a few years. This is a European garden herb brought over for cultivation, and it competes with native wildflowers for light and nutrients. It also may secrete a chemical into the soil that inhibits growth of other plants.

If you want to get involved in helping to seek out and destroy these invaders, there are several ways to do it. The first step that we can all take is to choose carefully any plants we add to the landscape. In most cases, it's okay to rely on nurseries and garden centers to do the research and not offer invasive plants for sale. But it's also up to us consumers to be informed before we purchase.

If you want to take it further, all of the local nature preserves have some sort of program to control these weeds. Inform yourself about what the weeds look like, take action in your own garden, and then perhaps get involved at a higher level. We can all make a pledge to keep Earth Day alive all year, to make ourselves aware and to do what we can to protect our environment.


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