Out With Invasives, In With Natives
By Rachel R., Naturalist
One very realistic conservation goal we can attain will have us look no further than our own backyards. Invasive plant species are categorized by their region of origin and ability to spread and reproduce against growth rates of native plants. You may think your yard is fairly contained and the plants stay in situ, but think of how closely the nearest park or greenspace is to your home. Many seeds can disperse through wind or animals and travel to nearby areas. But lots of native replacements abound. Our backyard serves as a valuable resource for our pleasure and education as well as an extension of the decreasing habitats required to sustain the ecosystem. Here are five non-native plants that are commonly found in yards:
Miscanthus (or Maiden Hair) Grass:
A favorite of large-scale landscapers, this tall, large clumping grass stands well even in winter and requires such minimal maintenance (one cut in late winter), it’s easy to see why it’s so utilized. The blades are so tight-clumping, weeds can’t even grow – perfect, right? Unfortunately not. The seed heads spread easily and it’s been found growing in wild areas, so a great alternative is the Big or Little Bluestem grass. It’s a tall and short [respectively] clumping prairie grass that does well in sun.
Sold in nearly every big box garden store, this maroon plant spreads easily. Do you like the barbs? Instead choose the native black raspberry bush - the birds will love it and it makes a protected place for them to nest amongst the thorns.
Bright magenta and red leaves in autumn are the trademark of this shrub, but this plant (otherwise known as winged euyonomous) is not a friend of our region’s wildlife. Trade fall color for spring color and change it out for a witch hazel bush; or a spice bush if there is shade.
The ladies who live on the fictitious Wisteria Lane might disagree, but botanists concur – this plant is not beneficial. It’s been found emerging around the edges of nature preserves, escaping nearby residences. It’s long, flowing purple flowers are pretty, but don’t let it fool you. Try a native flowering vine instead, like Clematis virginiana, aka Virgin’s Bower Clematis.
This plant evokes images of stately English manors with this vine covering the walls. But the roots grow below the surface and pop up everywhere, even choking out fully mature trees. A neighbor’s fence offers no reprieve from this insidious vine – it creeps in anyway. Opt for a better creeper - Virginia Creeper. It’s 5-star-shaped palmate leaf looks attractive and is native. Take note, like most natives, the leaves are not evergreen, and will die off in winter, but they provide beautiful reddish hues during autumn.
Be wary of cultivar sub species and buy from a reputable native plant supplier. They may not be as showy or manicured, but it’s the best fit for the environment. It’s not easy keeping up with yard maintenance, so do a little each season to swap native plants in – mother nature will thank you for it!