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Environmentalism, with a splash of destruction please

Students removing multi-flora rose at MPEA.

Improv­ing our eco-footprint always seems to mean being gen­tler on nat­ural resources and often trans­lates to, “don’t do that,” so it’s a wel­come change when we can be green while using our poten­tial for destruc­tion. We can’t all remove dams to save rivers, but with very lit­tle train­ing any­one can har­ness their destruc­tive force to remove inva­sive plants. Man­ag­ing inva­sive plants is impor­tant for ecosys­tem health and is an excel­lent way to blow off steam, get fresh air and exer­cise, and meet other folks who are giv­ing back to their communities.

A Howard County Weed War­rior pro­gram removes inva­sive species in the Mid­dle Patux­ent Envi­ron­men­tal Area (MPEA) between Colum­bia and Clarksville. This for­est pre­serve suf­fers from an influx of inva­sive plants which can cause ecosys­tem imbal­ances affect­ing species and habitats.

Students removing multi-flora rose at MPEA.

Stu­dents remov­ing mul­ti­flora rose in the MPEA.

Ani­mals and plants that evolved together in this region rely on one another to hold together a com­plex web of species that pro­vide ser­vices, such as habi­tat or food, for each other. When plants or ani­mals from far­away are brought to a new area and find con­di­tions suit­able for their exis­tence, there may soon be a problem.

One local invader is known as mile-a-minute or tearthumb (Per­si­caria per­fo­li­ata). This vine spreads quickly and is cov­ered by small thorns as its com­mon names sug­gest. This plant monop­o­lizes areas by grow­ing over other plants, weigh­ing them down and block­ing out the light they need to survive.

Last month I joined the MPEA Weed War­rior pro­gram as they put on leather gloves and began tear­ing these thorny vines out of trees and off of bushes in hopes of get­ting the plant into trash bags before its seeds could drop to the ground or be eaten by birds. In two hours we had filled 8 fifty-gallon trash bags and learned quite a lot while doing so.

Mile-a-minute with seed, growing on top of native and invasive plants at the MPEA.

Mile-a-minute with seed, grow­ing on top of native and inva­sive plants at the MPEA.

Crew Leader Davey Rogner is very knowl­edge­able about plants and passed on some inter­est­ing infor­ma­tion includ­ing this shocker: Inva­sive species cost our soci­ety over $142 billion/year accord­ing to the Fed­eral High­way Administration.

The Weed War­rior pro­gram is clos­ing down for the win­ter, but will be up and run­ning again in the spring. They hope to triple their vol­un­teer par­tic­i­pa­tion. Inter­ested? Con­tact Davey Rogner @ DRogner@howardcountymd.gov, or 410−313−0476.

Bill Mahoney
Novem­ber 2014

Fight the Good Fight: Down with Invasives

If you’re any­thing like me your inbox is fre­quently filled with newslet­ters, some impor­tant, many not so much. (I often won­der what the world would be like if we were only allowed to send 3 emails a day. Bet­ter make them good!) So while I was clean­ing out my inbox the other day, I came across Craig Highfield’s Forestry for the Bay newslet­ter. After hav­ing attended a work­shop by Craig, who is the Forestry for the Bay Pro­gram Man­ager, I’ve learned his newslet­ters are typ­i­cally not what you want to delete before read­ing. I put Craig’s email to the test, to make sure it wasn’t just inter­est­ing to me, and tweeted a link to one of the doc­u­ments he rec­om­mended. Lo and behold a Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tion arose and new fol­low­ers joined in.

What was so great about this newslet­ter, you ask? Well the topic is inva­sive plants and since that’s some­thing I think we all strug­gle with it hit home for a lot of peo­ple, no mat­ter if we have a yard or if we see them along a path. Now, it’s not a life and death sit­u­a­tion, I admit (well it is for the plants), but don’t we all ask our­selves at least once a year: Is it worth pulling/spraying/cutting when I have a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion I’ll see it again as soon as I turn back around? Should we just sur­ren­der? Not to men­tion how do I know which is inva­sive and which is native?

How do we stop this mad­ness? Well first of all we must under­stand that inva­sives are very smart and sneaky species. They pop up in the ear­li­est of spring to estab­lish them­selves and start spread­ing as wide and as far as they can reach before the natives have a chance to say “hello sun­shine.” You may have noticed that the first green you see in spring is often from inva­sive plants. They are, after all, invaders and appar­ently they have to get up pretty early in the sea­son to fool the natives.

Why are inva­sives so bad? Well it’s not so much that they are so bad, but the ques­tion is more why are natives so good? Native plants pro­vide food and shel­ter to native ani­mal species, thus ensur­ing ecosys­tems func­tion prop­erly. Natives also are more com­fort­able in their own shoes, mean­ing they don’t need main­te­nance, fer­til­izer, or even extra water to sur­vive if they are planted in their native habi­tat. There­fore, they help sta­bi­lize the ground more, absorb more rain­wa­ter, and reduce our alter­ation of ecosys­tems. Sure, inva­sives can sta­bi­lize if their roots are big and they too absorb water, etc., but they just aren’t going to cut it quite like a native would and by allow­ing them to spread, we pro­hibit natives from growing.

Once you decide to take on the bat­tle and you sad­dle up and start dig­ging away at those inva­sives, what do you do with them? Much to my dis­may I fre­quently see my neigh­bors dump­ing yard waste in our shared open space that is a For­est Con­ser­va­tion Ease­ment area. Given the smart and sneaky ways of inva­sives, noted above, they are just going to root in the for­est and take over there. Not the answer, nor is it legal. One option is com­post­ing, but be sure to dry out any inva­sives and weeds before toss­ing them into your com­post bin or they will thrive off the rich soil in progress before the heat of the com­post has a chance to break them down. Another option is to bag up in PAPER bags (get FREE bags here: http://www.howardcountymd.gov/yardtrim.htm) for curb side yard trim pick up (or bring to the Alpha Ridge Land­fill). If the inva­sives have flow­ers or seeds, putting them in a black plas­tic bag until they turn to mush is a good way of mak­ing sure they don’t spread. Then com­post or dump them in the trash to be sure.

So in the spirit of infor­ma­tion shar­ing (that is the point of social media after all, right?), and in the spirit of fight­ing the good fight against inva­sives, here is a list of help­ful doc­u­ments (includ­ing a great pic­ture guide and a list of native plant nurs­eries) and resources. Many thanks to Craig for half of this list.

Mis­taken Iden­tity – inva­sive vs native plant guide with great pic­tures
Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Nat­ural Areas
Native Plant Nurs­eries of the Chesa­peake http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/BayScapes/bsresources/bs-nurseries.html#PA
Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Home and Gar­den Info Cen­ter
Howard County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers
More on natives, soil test­ing and Bay Scap­ing
Forestry for the Bay

~Lind­say DeMarzo

May 2012

Green Tip

Buy local.It’s fresher: Produce shipped from outside the country travels up to two weeks before it arrives in grocery stores.