June 16 – 22, 2017 Vol. 19, No. 2


Summertime in the Belgrades

June 16 – 22

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Bad Plants

by Dale Finseth

Recently Public TV had a series on the secret life of plants and "What Plants Talk About". Well, I'm focusing this week on "bad plants," especially terrestrial plants and particularly on "terrestrial invasive plants".

Over the past few years there has been an increase in terrestrial invasives. Local land owners, foresters, land trust managers and State of Maine officials are taking notice. An invasive plant is defined as a plant that

  1. Is not native to a particular ecosystem,
  2. Whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic damage or environmental harm, or
  3. May cause harm to human health.

Approximately one third of Maine's plant species are not native. Only a small fraction of those are considered "invasive." These have the potential to cause great harm to our landscape. Check the Maine Natural Areas Program list of fact sheets to determine if a particular species is considered invasive in Maine. The MNAP is the "go to" State agency in Maine for answering questions and getting information about invasive plants.

There is also a generic State website for all types of invasives i.e. animals, forest pests, aquatic plants, and terrestrial plants. These websites have "gallery views," which provide good photos to use in identification.

We need to come to grips with the invasive plants that are doing damage to our natural areas and native plants. In the Belgrades most people are fully aware of the problem caused by waterbased invasives like Milfoil and Hydrilla. Hours of time and thousands of dollars are spent trying to control their spread. But 70-80,000 acres of the Belgrade area is land. There is a great deal more land that is being invaded than the shoreline waters.

The culprits? In recent years the spread of multi flora rose, barberry and autumn olive seem particularly robust. Asiatic bittersweet vine and common buckthorn are beginning to appear. Japanese knotweed frequently gets established when fill is added at a construction site or as we do landscaping. Your back yards are feeling the pressure of these invasive plants. You can also get printed handouts at the Maine Lakes Resource Center, your local Cooperative Extension, or our office.

The first line of defense is to accurately identify the plant. Usually trying to control their spread is the only choice. They will eventually appear. Recognize that there is a problem. That occasional plant out back with interesting foliage and a pretty flower might become a thick bank of vegetation if you leave it be. Look along the edge of the woods on your property and note the occasional spring clusters of white flowers which indicate multi flora rose. Next year that small patch of white flowers will be joined by additional mounds of nasty thorn covered plants. At that point removal is much more difficult. That area can become a breeding ground of fruit and seeds which get spread to neighboring properties.

Our natural landscape is part of what Maine is all about. Its future depends on the choices we make:

When buying plants or moving them from place to place, consider whether the plants are likely to escape. Plants advertised as fast growing, prolific, and soil tolerant are often the ones that become invasive. Maine just won't be Maine if the plants dominating our landscape are all from away. As Harry Potter's professor, Mad Eye Moody, would say, "constant vigilance."

  • Replace invasive plants in your garden with noninvasive alternatives.
  • DO NOT attack the problem with indiscriminant herbicides. They may have a place in your management plan but they are NOT a magic bullet. Be careful with their use.
  • Check out the Maine Natural Areas IMapInvasive program and become a citizen scientist.

Remember, there is a lot to do in order to protect water quality. Managing invasive plants is part of that effort.

Conservation Too columns are written by staff at by the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call Dale Finseth at 622-7847, X 3 or visit www.kcswd.org.

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