OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: Spring is a good time to devote energy to fight the invasion of non-native plants

Non-native plants hurt local ecosystems

Invasive species: Any species not indigenous to a region, which becomes established and displaces native species.


About this time each year, some of my friends start to tease me about my obsession with invasives. No, it's not Martians I get uptight about, but bush honeysuckle and its evil invasive buddies like Bradford pear trees. Those two are taking over the land and may strangle us in our sleep, but most folks never give them a thought.

In case you think I've gone completely bonkers, look out your window and down your street. Greenery has leafed out in understory bushes beneath the trees. In most cases that's bush honeysuckle or privet hedge waking up to a new season of berry-making and root-creeping.

In some neighborhoods, people use these bushes as privacy buffers between adjoining properties, even shaping them into tall walls of green. Privacy is nice, but so are ecosystems. Invasives devastate diversity and thereby change how everything works, or more precisely, doesn't work.

Native plants are supposed to be kept in balance by the other things in their ecosystem. Non-natives throw a wrench into that scheme, since they are not inconvenienced by any natural enemies munching their foliage, unless, of course, everyone raises goats in their backyards.

Birds eat the fruits of non-natives and spread their seed abundance far and wide. This inadvertently limits the regeneration of native foods like blackberries, eastern red cedar berries, serviceberries, pears, plums, wild cherries, and other soft mast. Young native trees must struggle to find room to grow in between the alien occupiers causing squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, raccoons, and deer to have fewer acorns, pine seeds, hickory buds and nuts, etc., from which to choose their diet.

Invasive bushes and trees create desert-like conditions for anything trying to germinate, since they shade out the sunlight and monopolize the water and soil nutrients. No food for wildlife means no one is doing the work of rejuvenating the ecosystem, and that is what's not happening in our yards, along our roadways, in our parks, etc. That's why in the spring when these aliens get out ahead of everything else, I get grumpy because invasives seem so overwhelming. But by pulling and digging the honeysuckle, wildflowers by the millions have been released to grow in our yard and woods. May-apples, spring beauties, blue-eyes, wild hyacinths, trillium, buttercups, spiderworts, trout lilies are just a few that have come up, and many more are on their way. See wildflowers at https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-natural-heritage/naturalareas/native-plants.

There is hope of rescue from the invading scourge, but it will "take a village." The city of Fayetteville is holding its fifth bounty-on-invasives program until April 14. While supplies last, residents can get a free native tree or shrub for the removal from their property of Bradford pears, bush honeysuckle, Chinese privet, tree of heaven and/or golden bamboo. Callery/Bradford pear trees have just finished blooming. These invading hybrids have thorns. Dig them out if possible or cut large ones down to prevent another year of seed spreading.

A video on recognizing and removing honeysuckle is at https://www.fayetteville-ar.gov/3028/Invasive-Plants-and-Native-Alternatives.

People need to take photos of their cut or dug (best method) invasives and email them with their contact information to: [email protected] or call John Scott, urban forester, 479-444-3470.

The trees and shrubs being given away are red oak, black gum, white oak, red bud, red buckeye, arrowwood, beautyberry, buttonbush, elderberry, shiny sumac and fringe tree. Check the city's Parks and Recreation website for more details. Scott will also be at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks on Friday, April 21, from 3 to 6 p.m. for a sapling giveaway. These small whips will include sumac, paw paw, shellbark hickory, willow oak, false indigo, black oak, burr oak and others.

The city will assist civic organizations, churches, University of Arkansas groups, neighborhoods and others that adopt spots for "invasive plant pulls." There are several pulls lined up on public lands this month, and there will also be a community Earth Day Clean-up and Celebration (April 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. originating at the Marion Orton Recycling Center, 735 W. North St.). For details, contact Kristina Jones, volunteer coordinator, at [email protected]. The Celebration of Trees giveaway will be held in October because planting young trees when they will be dormant over the winter helps them get established before spring.

Mainly, go outside and marvel at our beautiful dogwoods and redbuds all across our area and our state. Loving the natives growing here strengthens our will to protect them.