They may be lurking in your backyard…a recent gift from the birds, seeds blown in by the wind, or perhaps they were there when you moved in. We have many different kinds of invasive species here in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Most people know plants like kudzu, but scientists have been discovering that many of the kinds of plants that have commonly been used in landscaping in the past few decades are also invasive. Invasive plants compete with native plants for sunlight, water, and nutrients but provide little food for our local birds, insects, and wildlife. Some invasive plants even produce chemicals in the soil that prevent other plants from growing nearby. Invasive plants, if left unchecked, can outcompete our local native plants, lowering the diversity of plants and animals in our environment.
Click on the tab above called “Locally invasive plants” for a list of plants that are invasive here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC.
Why should anyone care?
One kind of organism that many people do care about is birds. In fact, bird-watching is one of America’s fastest growing hobbies! Have you ever thought about what birds need? Many people attract birds to their yard with bird feeders, bird houses, and bird baths. Certainly, they do use these resources we provide. But in addition to these resources, more than 95% of birds need bugs to feed to their babies. As food items, bugs contain high amounts of protein; the baby birds need that protein in order to grow. Many of the bugs out there eat plants, and many bugs are very picky eaters– they frequently prefer to munch on native plants, avoiding ones from other countries. So, if your yard is landscaped with Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese holly, and privet, there are not many bugs in your yard who can eat those plants. If there are not a lot of bugs available, the birds will have a hard time feeding their babies. When the birds eat the fruits of these plants, they carry them into new areas where the newly sprouted plants quickly spread, soon outcompeting native plants in these new locations, reducing the food for the bugs, and reducing the abundances of bugs for the babies to eat. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Are all plants that are not from the Carolina piedmont area bad to have in our yards?
No, we’re not saying you shouldn’t have any non-native plants at all. There are many non-native plants that are not invasive; for example everyone likes to grow things like tomatoes and corn and basil– these are not native to our area, but they are not invasive. Invasive plants are non-native species that have special characteristics that enable them to grow quickly and produce LOTS of seeds; these traits enable them to take over areas quickly.
You can learn much more about invasive plants in the Carolina piedmont by exploring this website. There are also lots of links to other websites from which you can learn even more!
But I really like this plant which is known to be invasive! Is it ever okay to have one in my yard?
Well, if you really feel that you HAVE to have one of these plants that is invasive, the only responsible thing to do is to ensure that the plant NEVER produces fruits and seeds. That means that the flowers must be cut off the plant before they begin developing into fruit– no red berries on that Chinese holly or on the Nandina, no turquoise berries on the porcelainberry vine, no blue fruits on the Japanese privet tree. Any fruits that are produced will enable the plant to spread, contributing to a problem that costs billions of tax-payers’ dollars to control each year.