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Keep eye out for invaders

Invasive. Now that is a nasty sounding word with nasty consequences.

We have all heard about the invasion of the Great Lakes by zebra mussels and the disastrous results, but I had never thought of plants as being invasive until I recently discovered that our landscapes, woodlands, lakes, roadsides, fields and. yes, even our yards have been unobtrusively but aggressively invaded by non-native plants, shrubs and trees.

What, you say? Surely, I exaggerate. Do I sound a little dramatic? Well, I mean to be. We need to be more aware of invasive plants, how to avoid planting them and how to reduce the ones spreading in our area.

The USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center defines invasive species very narrowly. According to Executive Order 13112, “Invasive species’ means an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

According to the center, there are around 50,000 non-native plant and animal species present in the US. Half of them are plants. They cost our economy a great deal, with an estimated $34 billion in damage to the environment, forestry, industry, recreative and human health each year.

What makes these plants so harmful? Basically, they have few or no natural enemies. They are able to tolerate a wide range of conditions to grow and thrive. They grow and reproduce very quickly. Thus, they are able to outcompete many of our native plants. When invasive plants outcompete native ones, they upset the natural ecosystem — where certain insects and animals rely on specific plant species. Research says that at least 42 percent of the federally endangered and threatened species in our country are in danger due to the introduction invasive species.

Most invasives were introduced as the result of human action after 1750 when European settlement occurred. Ships during that era used soil ballasts, which were cast off at the end of the voyage, settlers introduced popular plants brought from their homelands in Europe or Asia, and seeds and microscopic organisms were carried on clothing and other methods of transportation. The relocation of many non-native, alien or exotic species still goes on today without considering the behavior and impact on their new environments especially on native plants and wildlife. Invasives can have a disastrous effect on food sources.

What can you do?

• Plant selection: When adding plants, trees and shrubs to your gardens and homes, choose native. Look to garden centers and specialty growers to ensure you have the correct plant for your garden site, and for our native animals and insects.

• Be observant: Use apps such as the Great Lake Early Detection Network (GLEDN) on your phone to report and learn about invasive.

• Education: Sign up for classes with OSU, Mill Creek MetroParks, Beaver Creek and more. We have a great wealth of information in our region.

• Report: If you see something unusual — like a funny-colored insect or a plant that is taking over an area — report it. The OSU Extension, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, USDA and others can help with identification of the suspected invasive and point you in the right direction.

For details on invasive plants in the Midwest, go to mipn.org.

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