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Invasives Overshadow Weston's Native Plants

WESTON, Conn. — Invasive plants are stealing sunlight as well as overcrowding and strangling Weston’s native plants. And the cycle is hurting the biodiversity of the forest and disrupting the food chain, scientists say.

“We’re losing species at a dramatic rate – it’s close to the sixth greatest extinction of species on Earth,” said Bill McKinney, a licensed arborist, owner of Habitat Restoration Services and chief invasives officer at Aspetuck Land Trust. “Diversity is a principle of survival. We’re losing our biodiversity.” He said 45 percent of the plants in North America weren’t here 300 years ago, and 6 percent to 9 percent take over other plants by becoming a monoculture.

Nearly all native plants have something that controls their population – such as the birch bark borer, which goes only after birch trees. Invasive plants don’t have this kind of control, said McKinney.

Japanese barberry, an invasive species in Weston, is covering several acres in Trout Brook Valley, he said. To control the population of invasive plants, sheep will be let loose to eat the plants in Trout Brook Valley in the next few weeks.

“It’s really taking over,” said McKinney. The appearance of Japanese barberry is “doubly bad,” he said, because of its connection to Lyme disease. The plant creates humidity near the soil, which attracts ticks and provides a nest for the white-footed mouse, which carries the nymph of the tick, McKinney said.

“If you have barberry on or near your property, there’s seven times higher chance of getting Lyme disease,” he said.

Garlic mustard is another invasive plant that is prevalent in Weston. McKinney said it imitates wild mustard, which is native to the area, and tricks butterflies into putting their eggs on the plant – which is poisonous to the caterpillars. It also changes the pH of the soil and “exudes chemical warfare,” said McKinney. It kills a fungus in the soil that helps trees assimilate nutrients in the soil. “The only way to get rid of it is to get on your hands and knees and pick it,” said McKinney.

Garlic mustard was brought over by Colonists as a salad green, to make tea and to help prevent scurvy, said McKinney.

Climbing vines invading Weston include Oriental Bittersweet, Chinese Wisteria and Japanese Bittersweet. “They’re deadly. They climb up into the canopy and out, competing with leaves of trees for sunlight,” said McKinney. “People say, ‘It’s green, so I’m not going to touch it.’ But it’s killing the trees it's climbing on.”

The plants can be cleared, he said. But you'll need to stick with it because a year later, they’ll all be back again. “They have a seed bank of five to seven years. Their progeny will continue to survive for a number of years,” he said.

Bill McKinney has a booklet prepared for homeowners on how to go after invasive plants and suggestions for replacing them with native plants. To obtain a copy, email bill@noinvasives.com .

How do you control invasive plants in your yard? Leave your tips in the comment box below.

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