A Warning When Ordering Plants by Mail   Leave a comment

This morning I spent a few hours volunteering with the American River Parkway Foundation to pull some of the many red sesbania seedlings that have sprouted in this ideal-condition year. In Sacramento red sesbania (aka scarlett wisteria or rattlebox) is an invasive plant, and several years ago when the American River Parkway was surveyed for invasive plants it was tied for #1 worst invasive that is eradicable (tied with Spanish broom, I think). I started volunteering in 2005 a few times a year in this eradication effort, and it is absolutely awesome seeing the progress. Back then the pond at William Pond Rec Area was completely surrounded by a near monoculture of red sesbania all around the banks and on the islands, whereas now it’s a beautiful mixture of plants, many of which are native, with some red sesbania hot spots and a seed bank that will take many years to eliminate.

I often forget that not everyone knows what an invasive species is. The brief definition is that it is any species that is not native to a region, and that disrupts the native ecosystem after it is introduced. Think pigs and goats that were introduced by settlers on many islands (like Hawaii) that went feral and have decimated native bird populations or eliminated some native plant species. Or think zebra mussels in the Great Lakes that cause damage to boats and block up water treatment plant intakes. Or think the water hyacinth that is so popular in aquariums but that is clogging parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Or salt cedar along the Rio Grande, or buckthorn in Michigan… Plants that are considered invasive often outcompete the natives by sprouting more seedlings, or sprouting earlier in the year, or just not having any natural predators that eat them and keep them in check. That can result in monocultures where there are large areas filled with only one plant. Plant monocultures can reduce animal diversity as well if some of the native animals cannot eat or make shelter from that particular plant.

Today I learned that while nurseries in Sacramento no longer sell red sesbania, people order it online to plant in their gardens. (It is considered a “pretty” plant.) With the exception of seeds for vegetable gardens, I didn’t know it was particularly common to buy plants online. That makes the education effort almost impossible! It is hard enough to get nurseries to stop selling these plants, but if people can and do bypass the nurseries and buy online without checking if a plant is a problem, then many species may never be eradicated or even reduced to non-problem status. Remember that these plants (and animals) live in balance in their native ecosystems, and in many other parts of the world they will also be kept in check naturally; it is just in some regions where they become invasive. So I do my part here to encourage anyone/everyone to become familiar with the names of some major invasive species in their localities, and to check before buying something that it is not a problem plant. It can take some searching to find an up-to-date list, but it seems that many master gardener programs have a link that eventually leads to information on species invasive to that state or you could just do a web search. In California the California Invasive Plant Counsel provides a very detailed inventory.


Posted August 13, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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