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What you can do about invasive plant species

Invasive species pose a significant threat to local plant and wildlife. Invasive species are alien animals and plants that are normally introduced by humans, whether purposely or accidentally,  and which spread widely thereby negatively impacting the environment, local animals and plant life, and even human health. 

Invasive species can have a range of impacts. For example, some introduced plant life can negatively impact forest productivity. For example, a common sight across Canada, but especially in urban and rural parts of Central and South Eastern Ontario, in gardens, ditches, fields, and forests filled with flowering plants called garlic mustard (shown in top photo). 

The danger of garlic mustard

Some unknowing urban dwellers allow garlic mustard to grow to maturity in their gardens, because of the unique shape of the leaves, and in its second year, the beauty or this biennial plant in bloom. However, garlic mustard self seeds rapidly and spreads widely when allowed to flower, and its roots produce new plants if not pulled entirely. A single plant left to bloom can eventually take over an entire garden, an entire neighborhood,  and spread into forests and fields. Garlic mustard seeds can lay dormant for up to 30 years, and then sprout in shady and sunny areas. Forest and field productivity are greatly reduced by the presence of garlic mustard because the plant interferes with the development of beneficial fungi that encourage native plant growth (native species like trout lily, trilliums, and wood poppies).  In addition, garlic mustard is not a significant food source for any local wildlife, and given its tendency to overtake local plant life that are significant food sources for local animals, it also poses a significant threat to local animal species and well.

This is just one example of an invasive species that threatens local wildlife. The Ontario Invasive Plants Council, the Ontario Invading Species Awareness Program, and The Canadian Council of Invading Species all provide numerous other animal and plant invasive species that similarly threaten local wildlife. 

What can we do about invading species? 

First, make the decision not to.plant invasive species in your home garden — some ornamental plants sold at gardening centers are in fact invasive.

Common examples include:

  • Goutweed, a ground covering plant that spreads widely and if left unchecked can enter wild spaces;
  • English Ivy, a popular vine and ground cover that overtakes gardens and chokes out local plant life; and,
  • Periwinkle, an evergreen ground cover with purple flowers.

Garden centers often market invasive species as ground covers or filler plants. 

Second, commit to removing alien invasive species when you discover them, and educate your neighbors on their risks. 

Third, join an invasive species council, support them financially,  or use your social media platforms to educate others. This is especially important because the Ontario Invasive Plants Council lost their funding through the Ontario Government in 2019, which means that they have limited resources to track and address the spread of invasive plant life across the province. Further, given social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic,  large groups that would normally gather to remove invasive.species from forests and roadsides have been discouraged. More than ever, they must rely on people like you to help track, report, and remove invasive species.

A note, however,  that some invasive species may be dangerous — especially invasive animals, but also plants species may be poisonous or irritating to the touch. So  it is important that you first, educate yourself on proper handling of invasive species, and in the case of invasive animal species, always contact local wildlife authorities to ensure their safe and ethical removal.

Johanna Fraser

Johanna Fraser is a proud mom to a hilarious 2 year old, a grateful partner to a hardworking stay-at-home parent, and a friend to a house full of non-human animals. She runs a small handcrafted soap company called Dirty Daisy Soap Co., and whenever she has a spare moment you can find her in her small urban food garden in Hamilton, Ontario. Johanna is also a passionate collector of knowledge and is presently a PhD candidate in Communication and Culture at York University. She holds an MA in Political Theory from McMaster University.

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