Aside from the physical destruction of habitat, invasive exotic plants are the biggest threat to endangered species. When invasive exotic flora invade natural areas the natural biodiversity is often reduced, resulting in the reduction of the invaded ecosystem’s ability to support life, including human life. Unfortunately, the ecological devastation resulting from invasive exotic flora is not always obvious to those unfamiliar with the natural world, nor is the direct harm to our quality of life.
No place is safe from invasive exotic flora. Think about the ranger who has the responsibility to protect the natural ecosystems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and International Biosphere Reserve. Somehow the invasive species team must try to protect hundreds of square miles from invading exotic flora, a task that has even involved rappelling down cliff faces to destroy invasive exotics threatening the sensitive cliff habitats. Land managers around our country spend billions of dollars each year in the continuing effort to protect natural areas from invasive exotics.
The penalty of an ecological education is the pain one feels in watching the natural order being torn apart by invasive exotics. I have been disappointed with the nursery and landscape industry’s reluctance to address the invasive plant problem, but there are some notable exceptions. One ray of hope has been Connecticut’s successful efforts to ban the use of some of the worst invasive plants. On the other hand, in the November issue, editor Sally Benson was critical of Connecticut’s efforts, listing a few points that need to be considered.
Sally Benson’s view is probably representative of the majority of the nursery and landscape industry, and this letter is not likely to change anyone’s mind, but still a different point of view seems appropriate, particularly since you are a pretty fair and open-minded group. While I do not know any of the people in Connecticut who are working on the invasive plant problems, I know that many must share my pain and are taking actions in an effort to save our natural floral heritage, which is truly an admirable goal.
Sally’s first point is concern about how it is determined that a plant is invasive. From my perspective, as an amateur naturalist, the worst invasive plants are really obvious, but of course it’s not that simple. Based on documented observations in the field by many qualified people, the group in Connecticut has developed a list of plants they are concerned about, and, most important, it includes different classifications indicating which plants pose the greatest threat to the environment. Careful review of the plants on the list is gradually resulting in the banning of some of the worst invasive exotics.
Sally’s second point is that panic drives the process moving forward. In my opinion it is taking a long time to ban plants that should have been banned decades ago. But I think Connecticut is acting appropriately. A lot of people are involved in making the decision on whether a plant should be banned, including nurserymen, and the economic ramifications to the nursery industry of banning a plant are being considered. It can take many years, but finally a panel decides if a plant should be banned.
Sally’s final concern is that the nursery industry has been left out of the process. This may have happened, but recently the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association agreed to stop producing and planting 25 of the most invasive Berberis thunbergii cultivars, with 17 cultivars that produce less seed still permitted. While I feel there are many far superior plants, they deserve a lot of credit for agreeing to drop the most invasive cultivars of this commonly used species. The Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association and the Connecticut Green Industry Council were co-sponsors of a recent invasive plant symposium in the state, and they deserve credit for that.
It would be good if our industry leaders consider the efforts in Connecticut and take actions now to encourage all nurseries to voluntarily stop growing invasive plants. Not taking action assures that regulations will be necessary to protect public and private property, and in the meantime it forces environmentalists to make the effort to educate our customers that some of the plants we grow and sell are harmful to the environment. That is not going to be good for business. Most of our customers care about the environment, and if they find out that you supplied them with a plant that is known to be harmful to the environment, what are you going to tell them? Worse, what are they going to tell their gardening friends?
Since many people are not aware of how harmful invasive exotic plants can be, I am sure it has not been easy, yet I think all the people involved with the invasive species working groups and the nurserymen in Connecticut are leading us in the right direction. While some of their efforts may be imperfect, I think they deserve credit for moving forward with the efforts and actions that will indeed protect the environment and our natural flora heritage.