The Invaders are Coming – and They’re Green!

June 13, 2011

I have green aliens living in my backyard. They looked so nice when they arrived, but now…I really don’t know what to do. I blame the Government for this – specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. I was a happy man until I started reading the book they’ve published – A Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests – and now I’m a guilt-ridden shell.

When I started reading this book, which was named as one of Library Journal’s Notable Government Documents, I nodded knowledgeably as I looked through the beautiful color photographs of invasive trees that increasingly are infesting 13 southern states. Who wouldn’t recognize the ubiquitous Tree-of-Heaven, or ailanthus, which seems to line every roadway where I live in Northern Virginia? Then there’s the tungoil tree, whose name rang a bell because its oil is used as a wood drying and finishing agent. It’s now considered invasive and  is running wild in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

All very interesting, I thought to myself, as I started paging through the invasive shrubs section. Then it happened. “Sacred Bamboo, Nandina.” What? No! It’s in our back and  front yards! We got it from a friend, and it looks so nice! “Widely planted as an ornamental, now escaped and spreading from around old homes and recent landscape plantings.” Well, maybe there’s an answer; according to the Guide, “Sterile-seeded, reddish cultivars available.”

Shaken, I got into the invasive vines section. English ivy? Uh-oh, we have lots of that, but it was here when we moved in. Vinca (periwinkle)? Oh, great, we planted that ourselves! It was all I could do to finish going through this veritable rogue’s gallery. I may have rushed a little, lest even more aliens catch my eye – I feel bad enough as it is.

Seriously, this is an eye-opening look at how many invasive plants are running rampant though the woodlands of the South and crowding out native species. Since many of them were imported for use as ornamentals, they look great in the photographs, but they literally are a blight on the landscape when they escape into the wild. I’ve had an interest in using native plants in my yard, and this book is really motivating me to do more. Anyone living in the South should be aware of the problem, and this book is an excellent place to start. You can read it here, get a copy here or here, or find it in a library.

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