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"Get Wise on Weeds" Event April 28th
By: friendv3 (friendv3) 2009.04.23

Attention landscaping professionals, landowners, road crews, gardeners, environmental enthusiasts and more; Friends of the Mad River welcomes you to a presentation and community discussion on the thorny subject of invasive plants.  The event will feature an informative presentation by Sharon Plumb, invasive species coordinator for The Nature Conservancy of Vermont; and will take place at the 1824 House on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30 pm.   This event is free and refreshments will be provided!  Additionally, an invasive plant bake-off competition will be held, to be judged by localvore leader Robin McDermott.  Have a go at cooking a dish with Japanese knotweed; it will be fun and you may win a prize!

Exotic plants are widely used in flower gardens, landscaping and as food crops.  Most of these non-native plants do not pose a problem because they more or less stay where they are planted.  Furthermore, if you decide that you no longer want them, you can take them out.  When you put them in the compost, they die.  Invasive plants, however, are those that can get out of control.  They don’t stay put, they are difficult to get rid of, and sometimes they can use your compost pile as a convenient mode of transport!
 Invasive plants spread prolifically and aggressively out-compete native plants.  Traits that invasives commonly possess which give them this competitive advantage include: an ability to reproduce and disperse efficiently, tolerance of a variety of growing conditions, rapid growth and the ability to dominate resources of sunlight, nutrients and water. These attributes make invasive species very difficult to eradicate.  In their native habitats the plants are kept in check by pests, pathogens, tough competitors, harsh growing conditions or some other balancing factor.  When moved to a new ecosystem and released from the checks and balances that they evolved with, some plants become problematic invasives.

Invasive plants are a threat to natural communities of plants and animals.  By crowding out the natural vegetation invasives can alter the species composition of the landscape; generally reducing biodiversity.  The integrity of the ecosystem is diminished when the ability to regenerate the natural species that make up that ecosystem is hampered by invasive species.  For instance, if the forest understory is inundated with barberry, burning bush, or garlic mustard, then the seedlings of sugar maples and other forest trees cannot gain a foothold.  The spring wildflowers disappear giving way to the unrelenting invader.  The long-term effect is the conversion of vegetation from a diverse suite of native species to one dominated by an invasive. This can be detrimental to the wildlife that is specially adapted to utilize native plants for food and shelter.  Invasive plants can also alter ecosystem processes such as streambank erosion.  The rhizomes of Japanese knotweed do not hold soil well, thus, in areas with heavy knotweed cover the river banks tend to be destabilized.  Finally, invasives can be detrimental to the aesthetic beauty of the landscape and the productivity of farms and forests for human needs.

 Some invasives arrive unwittingly, often the result of long distance transport of goods.  Many arrive intentionally for horticultural purposes.  Japanese knotweed, which now grows prolifically along the Mad River and in some upland areas, was brought to the U.S. as an ornamental plant.  It escaped cultivation and spread profusely.  Case studies of knotweed eradication programs show that efforts to remove it are very costly, require a long-term commitment, and most often involve the use of herbicides.  Even so, success has been limited.  On the brighter side, there is still time to prevent the invasions of some of the other invasive ornamentals that are currently wreaking havoc on other areas of the Northeast.  Burning bush, barberry, and Norway maple are examples of potentially invasive species which are planted around homes and around town. These species are not yet heavily established as invasives in the Mad River Valley, however they are spreading and pose a very real threat to our forest ecosystems.  The most efficient way to prevent the spread of invasive species is to stop intentionally planting them.  Additionally, early detection and removal of small patches that have escaped cultivation is preferable to waiting for the problem to take root and grow.    

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been working for decades to protect natural ecosystems. They are at the forefront of the effort to stop the spread of invasive species.  The Wise on Weeds! (WOW!) initiative, a program of the Vermont Chapter of TNC, promotes awareness and provides information about using non-invasive alternatives for ornamental plants around homes, businesses and public places.  Their motto is “Recognize, Remove, and Replant.”  Many have joined this movement by removing invasive plants from their landscaping and replacing them with non-invasive alternatives.  Several schools, businesses and public places have become “demonstration sites” of invasive-free landscaping.  Wise on Weeds! presentations are held across the state to share information about invasive plants and to provide guidance on removal methods and more.  We hope that you will attend the presentation on April 28, at the 1824 House.   

Difficult problems such as these need community wide solutions.  Come learn about invasives and share your concerns and ideas.  We hope that the discussion following the presentation will help to identify actions, however large or small, that we can take to stop the spread of invasives in the Mad River Valley and guide community efforts to protect the native vegetation and the ecosystems that we love.

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