I have never been fond of poison ivy. I try to constantly find ways to minimize it when I find it in my yard. I have poured boiling water on it, saturating it with a mix using Epsom salt, and multiple other ways to try to kill it.

However, in Indiana poison ivy is not considered an invasive plant. Sure, it seems that any amount of poison ivy is too much, but out in the environment it really doesn’t cause much harm — except for humans.

During the winter when food is more difficult for wildlife to find, poison ivy is beneficial in providing deer with twigs to munch and birds with berries to eat. Just because people don’t like poison ivy, it doesn’t automatically become an invasive plant.

For something to be labeled as an invasive plant, insect, or animal it must be interrupting the native established ecosystem. Studies must be done and research gathered in order to make this determination.

Thus, meaning I cannot go down to any of the lakes in town and step in goose poop and decide that because I don’t like geese that they are therefore an invasive species. It just doesn’t work that way.

Non-native is when a plant, insect or animal is not naturally from our area, but has since moved here. Not all non-natives are invasive, with only a small percent being designated as non-native invasive species.

You may not realize, but in your own landscape you may be harboring invasive species. If your yard is like most in the area, somewhere on your property you most likely have a burning bush. These bushes are nice for providing a sound buffer and have beautiful fire engine fall color. But they are super invasive. You can plant one and years later you will find new sprouts acres away in someone else’s yard from your bush.

When we moved into the farmhouse, we had quite a few along the highway side of the house. I realized what they were and that they were invasive but thought I would make the extra effort to keep them under control. I was wrong. I have removed all our burning bushes and still have seedlings popping up on the entire opposite side of the house.

Barberry’s are the same way. Most people grow them to keep ill-intentioned people away by planting these thorny bushes under windows. But they too manage to send their seed far and wide. Even after removal (which is painful on its own due to all those thorns) you will still be ripping out seedlings for most likely the rest of your life.

Other invasive items that may be lurking are Crown Vetch, St. John’s Wort, Porcelain Berry, Asian Bittersweet, Japanese Honeysuckle, Sweet Autumn Clematis and even Wisteria. Many of these plants have beautiful flowers, berries, or foliage. However, they will in a matter of time (usually quicker than you could ever imagine) establish themselves in the area and begin their takeover.

For many this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but truly it is. We all need to be responsible for what happens in our yards and what we can do to be proactive so that our entire area doesn’t end up losing all our great native plants because they were outcompeted by a bunch of newcomers. If this happens, we risk never regaining those plants back again.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture almost half of the native species in the United States are endangered because of invasive species. Often humans (intentionally and inadvertently) are the primary pathway in the transportation and spread of non-native invasive items. Non-native invasive species doesn’t apply to only plants.

Other non-native invasives are zebra mussels, rusty crayfish, sea lampreys, purple loosestrife, emerald ash borer and gypsy moth. Animals can also be labeled as non-native invasive such as feral hogs, mute swans and even nutrias. The feral hog population continues to grow as does the mute swans. Nutrias are small rodent like creatures that live in the waterways and are growing in numbers as well. In many cases there are suggested ways to reduce populations of all invasive. Which are different depending on type.

The main concern is that invasive be removed through the specified guidelines provided by the Department of Natural Resources or United States Department of Agriculture. Which, in most cases, it is protocol to cull any adult animals, insects or plants.

In the case of feral hogs, they are outcompeting native deer, native gamebirds, as well as many other creatures that depend on the acorns, fruits and nuts that fall to the ground for the creatures to sustain their selves.

In the case of mute swans, which is a hot topic currently in the area, the swans are affecting the livelihoods of native waterfowl in the area. They consume a great deal of the sea grass that is available in the waterways, often uprooting what it does not eat, thus making it harder for the native waterfowl to find enough to food to survive. This also destroys and eliminates many native plants from continuing to grow. Mute swans and feral hogs are both very territorial and prone to harm humans if encountered.

We can help by choosing native plants to plant in our gardens, create habitats that help our native insects, and by making a point not to ever purchase or bring a non-native creature into our area if there is ever a chance of it getting loose or being dumped in our great outdoors. Above all, we can listen to the professionals that are tasked with making the decisions that many of us don’t want to hear.

Fortunately, we are at a time where we have plenty of research as well as continued studies to help us weight the impact of having these plants, pests and animals as part of our ecosystems. People are becoming more cautious when having non-native items, many now require special permits and licenses.

And while it seems awful to kill a living thing whether it be a plant, pest or animal, they are still upsetting the natural balance. If left to continue thriving in an area where they have a lack of predators, a lack of competition for food and nutrients, they will in turn survive while pushing our native species closer and closer to extinction.

When that day happens, we can all say we are sorry that we didn’t do enough while we gaze on in silence at the native plants, insects and animals that once graced our area. By then they will be replicated by a taxidermist and it will be too late to recover their genetics and try again.

However, if we start heeding the warnings, we can still make changes and prolong our already wonderful native flora and fauna. Or we can continue letting all invasive species take over only to realize someday that we came to care a little too late.

 

Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at sachabrittburns@yahoo.com.

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