By Mitsi Chorak
I recently attended a Lake Lure Flowering Bridge sponsored class on invasive plants led by Clint Calhoun, the Town of Lake Lure Environmental Management Officer. Clint is extremely knowledgeable on this subject and was well prepared; he even brought examples of several of these plant species. In addition, I learned that they are more common than we imagine! In fact, I became so interested in this subject that I began reading about and researching the plants that we have here in the Western Carolina mountains.
An invasive plant is a plant introduced to our environment from outside of its original range, not endemic to our area. Mainly they came from Asia and Europe and were accidentally or intentionally brought here. For example, Kudzu was introduced at the 1876 Centennial Expo in Philadelphia as a landscape plant. Another example is the Multiflora rose that was recommended for erosion control.
These plants are dangerous to our habitats and once established they spread rampantly and are extremely difficult to control. They adapt to our climate and interfere with the natural process. They have a negative impact on our environment and can effect water, reduce light, soil and space. Some hybridize with our native plants resulting in changes to genetic makeup. Our fauna (birds, insects, mammals and more) are dependant on our natives for food and shelter, but hybridized plants can become harmful, crowding out native plants. For instance, caterpillars may not be able to digest leaves of the invasive plants, which mean fewer butterflies. Birds that eat their berries and fruit are getting lower percentages of caloric and fat intake to produce energy. I think that most people will agree that these invasive plant species are unwanted.
There is a surprising amount of invasive plants in our area: the Calleandy ‘Bradford’ Pear that most of us are aware of, as well as the Tree of Heaven, Mimosa, and Princess Tree. I often see Privets, Multiflora rose, and Japanese Spiraea in gardens, and vines growing in trees, in our yards and along our highways, that include English Ivy, Japanese Honeysuckle, Kudzu, Chinese and Japanese wisteria. Finally are the many grasses such as Japanese Knotweed, Silvergrass, Lespedeza, Nutgrass, and Hogweed.
Now what we can do to help? We can stop planting them! Invasives continue to enter the market, so before making a purchase, verify that it is not an invasive plant (local nurseries can help you). Try to manage any existing infestations and learn to recognize them. There are many websites available with information to help you get started. They contain pictures along with in information that is always helpful.
You can control invasive plants by pulling, cutting, mowing or using herbicides. Be very sure the chemical is safe and appropriate. Remember, it is not easy; you have to be as tenacious as the plant!
Mitsi Chorak is chairperson of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge committee.