On the wild side: Invasives

For those of us who are landowners and gardeners, there are innumerable threatening creatures and plants lurking in the forests and fields. In the Animal Kingdom, there are those darn woodchucks and rabbits and deer! Tricks of the trade are shared over the fence between seasoned farmers and backyard gardeners. A farmer up at Scenic View told me how to use a solar electric fence with a single wire to keep deer out of my gardens. He said to put peanut butter on folded pieces of silver foil along the wire and the tongue of deer, who cannot resist trying the taste, will get shocked. It worked! I guess the word got around pretty quickly through the deer community that my gardens were dangerous and off limits!

I wish I could say that invasive plants are as easy to get rid of. Sad to say, they are not. Woodchucks can be caught and sent 10 miles away, and rabbits can be deterred with a variety of clever techniques, but plants have seeds and they multiply faster than bunnies! For simplicity’s sake, I will write only about three invasives in the Plant Kingdom in particular, the first being my very least favorite, stiltgrass.

Stiltgrass encroaches upon wild areas, crowding out woodland flowers and fern. You certainly have seen it along roads where it was purposely sown, mostly back roads, through state parks, and along driveways of unsuspecting landowners. It looks green and pretty, but beauty isn’t everything as it steadily creeps further and further into the woods. It came from Japan where there is less open land and where it can be more easily controlled. Bringing its seeds to our large, wide open country of America was a huge mistake.

All summer long I have been working at purging stiltgrass from many areas of my acreage, with some help from a friend. It is very shallow rooted and very easy to pull, even with injured hands, so that is a blessing. My neighbor Mary says she bags hers and takes it to the dump so it does not re-root or spread seeds; even after it is pulled, the seeds keep maturing for a while, so one must be cautious. Personally, I have mostly gotten it before seeding and so it is useful for layering my compost pile. At least it is good for something!!

Number two, though it used to be number 1, on my list of difficult invasives, is multiflora. It, too, was brought from a small island where it is more easily managed, that being the British Isles. There it makes wonderful fencing, or hedgerows, between fields. Within this protected hedgerow many other wild plants can grow as habitat for wildlife, and so it serves many purposes. It was brought here by some British fellow, no doubt, who worked at Fort Detrick, who thought it would be a good substitute for wood fencing, but he was wrong. Birds love the small rose hips, which multiflora puts out in the fall, and the birds spread them far and wide with their droppings. Even now, I am removing them from my woods and field, and they just keep coming.

Multiflora rose is used for hedgerow fencing but it has become an aggressive invasive and is hard to pull out. Going for a pleasant walk in the woods, perhaps exploring areas off the trail, is next to impossible where multiflora tend to thrive quite well with no human interference. Coming out of the woods after tangling with their thorns, one swears never to do it again as blood drips from scratches and hair is impossibly messed. Yikes!! They do have one virtue, however — the heavenly smell of their flowers in the spring. I can live with that, as I have no other choice but to live with them.

I have many number threes on my list of undesirable (pain in the butt) plants but will write only of another invasive that is all through the valley I live in, and spreading — Japanese barberry. It, too, is deceptively attractive with its pretty red seeds. However, as food for birds, it totally lacks nutrition and simply fills their bodies with false food, “junk food for birds” as I have heard it called. It has terrible dagger-like thorns and very hard, dense stems, so when I go to cull it from my fields or woods, I go armed with sharp clips and gloves. I throw what I cut onto my burn pile, having done my part, at least, on my property.

I worry about all the other properties which are not being managed by “weed warriors,” as we call ourselves. I worry about the native plants struggling to make it, and the birds fooled by junk food, and so I do my best in my “free time” to control invasives. I worry, but I also know I cannot control everything. Of course, I still lose sleep sometimes over those invasives, over plastics in the ocean and in the stomachs of seabirds and fish, over our dependency on polluting technologies, etc.

However, I can control a little, and so I say to other worriers and lovers of the planet, “every little bit helps.” We may not be able to do away with every environmental problem on Earth, but we can work to keep the balance. So keep working, do your part, and keep watching out for those “lions and tigers and bears” in the woods. It isn’t all unfriendly. Remember the Lion, Dorothy?

Article by Christine Maccabee, Master Naturalist

Nature Note for 11/27/2016