Are there Alien Invaders in Your Landscaping?

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Yesterday, I took a walk behind the building at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and gazed at the stream during a break. Everything was peaceful …until I spotted the alien. On the banks I could see a patch of poison ivy–but much worse, disguised within the patch, slowly climbing up a tree was a small strand of Kudzu. I jumped back in horror as images of the future flashed across my mind. The vine, looking so sweet and innocent now, would continue growing up the mulberry tree, strangle it, and move on to its next victim. I tried to quash the feeling of rising panic, and, gingerly, pulled the strand off the tree– a modest effort to extricate it from a sure slow and painful death from being over-shaded and weighed down.

In my prior career, I was a naturalist. Signs of the latest plant nightmares sprang up continuously in our park in Arlington County, VA. Alien invasive plants imported from faraway worlds such as Chinese wisteria, periwinkle, Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy, and even kudzu were constantly attacking our forest ecosystem. Kinda like Audrey II in the film Little Shop of Horrors, they are voracious. They gobble up precious space, sunlight, and other resources from native plants. This reduced biodiversity, and degrades the habitat of many native animals, and compromises the forest’s ability to filter rain water, create oxygen, and other vital natural processes. As I told children I taught at the park, these plants don’t know how to share. The problem is that there are few natural predators for them, since they evolved in a different place.

How did the aliens arrive? Many of them are common garden plants that escape into the wild, trying to go unnoticed, before enacting their plans for habitat domination. Let your landscaping company know that you are on to the aliens’ schemes, and that you prefer native plants, or ornamentals that will not spread, especially if your property is next to natural areas. Monitor for ‘pioneer’ sprouts and shoots like the kudzu I found. Stopping new infestations is key — before they zap innocent oak trees and wildflowers with their alien laser blasters!

This weekend at the Eno River State Park, NC, a twenty- and thirty-somethings group is conducting a secret spy alien invasive plant spotter program using GPS to map new invasions- link here and click on “plant stalkers” to find out how to join them.

Consider setting up an event for your business–removing invasive weeds can be a great environmental volunteering experience for your staff! For information on removing invasive plants, contact your local department of natural resources, extension service, park or nature center.

Click here for a guide to removing invasive plants in North Carolina.

Click here for our Landscaping section of the ‘How To’ guide for more links to creating a natural habitat.

Click here to see an Arlington invasive plant blog that also has more links to invasive plant information.

Click here to learn more about Plant Stalkers, a Duke University related invasive plant group.

Click here for state by state resources.

Click here for fact sheets on the nation’s Least Wanted invasive plants. 

Amanda is currently pursuing a Master's degree in City and Regional Planning with a specialization in land/use and environmental planning at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before coming to UNC, she was a Park Naturalist at Gulf Branch Nature Center, for Arlington County, Virginia...
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