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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Invasive Plants By Kevan Tucker

Invasive Plants Kevan Tucker Clarke County Extension Coordinator251/275/3121 Sometimes we get more than we bargained for. Take kudzu, for example. Way back in 1876, kudzu was brought to the United States with the best of intentions: to serve as a forage crop and to provide shade for sun-scorched Southern front porches. Even as recently as the 1950s, southern farmers were still being encouraged to plant kudzu to prevent soil erosion. Scarcely did we know of the environmental consequences that would follow. In time, kudzu extended its reach beyond home landscapes into the canopies of Southern forests, choking out sunlight and consigning many trees to slow death. Today, kudzu, the so-called “plant that ate the South” is often cited as the prime example of the unintended consequences of introducing a species from one part of the world to another. Unfortunately, it is only one among a long list of exotic species that pose a serious threat to southern forest ecosystems. Add to that list privet hedge, popcorn trees, Japanese climbing ferns and a host of others plants brought to the United States from far flung corners of the world largely with the intention of beautifying home landscapes. While they may
have spruced up many a barren landscape, they also have extended their reach into the South’s vulnerable forestland. Many of them act far more subtly than kudzu, confining their dirty work to the soft underbelly of the forest --- the understory. Problems begin when these species begin out competing dogwoods and native North American herbaceous plants for precious water, nutrients and sunlight. What follows over time is a radically altered ecosystem, often in the form of a dense, almost impenetrable barrier of privet or a thick stand of tallowtrees, commonly known as popcorn trees. Privet is a particularly aggressive, troublesome invasive plant. If you cut them down, they resprout, you burn them, and they resprout. There are seeds in place in the soil, and they are very difficult to get rid of. The same holds true for tallowtrees. Tallowtrees, like many other invasive plants, is known for its beauty --- in its case, the vibrant colors it displays in the fall. Another is cogongrass, often described as a weed from hell that was accidentally introduced to the Gulf Coast in the early 20th century. Cogangrass has only recently come to the forefront of invasive species in our area. The grass can form a thick mat in young forests that not only out competes tree seedlings for precious nutrients but also is highly combustible --- a trait that is especially destructive to young trees. Cogongrass has become a major problem in our part of the state. The public needs to be more aware of the threat these species pose to the state’s biodiversity and the willingness of more people to learn about prevention methods. Vigilance can go a long way toward halting the spread of these species. In some cases, if you see a cogongrass patch or some other invasive species, you can talk to someone and control it before it’s too late. Granted, in some cases, it will be well established and difficult to eradicate, but it pays to remain vigilant toward control and that it also pays not to plant these species in the first place. For more information on these and other invasive species that affect our forests and landscapes as well as control measures feel free to contact the Clarke County Extension System at 251-275-3121.

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