Monday, March 12, 2012

Caitlin Stewart: Go Native With Spring Plantings

Go native with your spring plantings and choose Adirondack plants for your property instead of invasive ornamentals. Invasive plants like swallow-worts, Japanese barberry, Norway maple, and giant hogweed may look beautiful, but are bad news for our economy and environment. The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District can help you choose native Adirondack alternatives for your landscaping needs.

Invasive plants are a top contender for economic and environmental degradation in New York State. Damage and loss caused by invasive species affect you, costing American taxpayers billions of dollars every year. By planting native vegetation in your yard, garden, or forest, you are reducing erosion, improving wildlife habitat and food, providing windbreaks, promoting valuable wood production, and protecting Adirondack biodiversity.

Non-native invasive plants are introduced beyond the borders of their historic range, reproduce rapidly, and displace native species. Most come from Europe or Asia, and without the ecological checks and balances found on their home turf, cause damage in our area. They outcompete and displace native flora that our furry and feathered friends depend on for food, shelter, and breeding habitat. Some cause human allergies, skin irritations, and severe blisters. If that weren’t bad enough, invasive plants decrease property value, inhibit recreation, and degrade forestry resources.

Black and pale swallow-worts are on the radar as the next big invaders. These twining vines produce maroon or pale pink star-shaped flowers from May to July and can grow to heights of 6 feet. As a member of the milkweed family, pointy pods explode to release seeds attached to silky parachutes that are blown to new locations by the wind. Strong poisons prevent predation by deer and kill monarch butterfly larvae that hatch on the plants and eat it. They smother woodland and forest habitat, as well as roadsides. Plant native Virginia creeper, not invasive swallow-worts.

Japanese barberry is another deadly invasive ornamental. Green leaves turn orange and red in October and November, and bright red berries are produced. Once this plant escapes gardens, it overruns forest edges and understories. This aggressive shrub spreads by roots and seeds, and can grow into a spiny, 8 foot high fortress. It easily adapts to wooded, open, wetland, or disturbed locales. Adverse impacts include altering soil nitrogen and pH values, outcompeting native plants, and degrading wildlife food and habitat. Ninebark and spicebush are fantastic native substitutions for Japanese barberry.

The list of invaders continues with Norway maple that has a jump start on our natives due to early spring sprouting. Leaves stay green through September, and change color to a bright yellow in October. This deciduous tree invades fields and forests, where shade tolerance allows young Norway maple trees to thrive below the canopy. As this invader spreads, dense canopy shade causes native wildflowers and seedlings to die out, while shallow root systems damage sidewalks and roads. Instead of landscaping with invasive Norway maple, choose maples (sugar, red, silver), oaks (red, black, white, chestnut, bur), tulip tree, or American sycamore.

Toxic giant hogweed towers 14 feet high. White, umbrella-like flowers appear in June. Hairy stems are green with purple blotches. This herb overruns forest edges, roadway ditches, disturbed areas, and stream banks. Adverse impacts include competition with native plants and soil erosion problems. Beware of this plant! Phototoxic sap, when exposed to sunlight, can cause blindness, terrible blistering, eye irritation, and ugly scaring. Joe pye weed, purple stemmed angelica, and boneset make great alternatives to giant hogweed.

The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District staff can help YOU make a difference by stopping the invaders. Many of the mentioned native plant alternatives are available in their Adirondack Tree and Shrub Sale. Order forms and item descriptions are available on their website and at their office in Lake Pleasant. Invasive species educational materials including brochures, watch cards, and fact sheets are also available. Staff members provide best management practices for removing pesky invasive plan from your property. Schedule a presentation for your school or organization and learn about invader ecology, spread mechanisms, and management techniques. When you plant native, you allow our economy and environment to thrive. Go native, not invasive, with your spring plantings! For more information, visit or call 518-548-3991.

Photo: Plant orders are ready for pick up at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Adirondack Tree and Shrub Sale.

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Caitlin Stewart manages the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District. The District's mission is to manage and promote the wise use of Natural Resources in Hamilton County. Caitlin will be sharing the District's conservation-focused services, programs, and events. She’s been a full time resident of Hamilton County since 2008 and is an avid hiker, skier, paddler, and biker. She is obsessed with adventuring with her dog Artemis.

6 Responses

  1. 4D says:

    Are you familiar with the work of Timothy Lee Scott? He wrote a book in 2010 called “Invasive Plant Medicine The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives”

    He calls “invasives” messenger plants.

    Here is his website:

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Hi, Caitlin
    Just posted links on Facebook, Twitter and My Space.

  3. Hamilton County SWCD says:

    @4D: Thank you for your comment. I had not heard of Scott’s book. I will see if my local library has a copy. Thank you for sharing the website for “Invasive Plant Medicine.” @Pete Klein: Thank you for sharing the link on the 3 sites. Have a great day, all!

  4. Kstewart13413 says:

    We have planted a variety of non-invasives, thanks to the HCSWCD’s annual tree and shrub sale. I am happy to report they are thriving! Can’t wait for this year’s new offerings!

  5. SwilliAm says:

    Mr. Scott has some interesting ideas on the “value” of invasive exotics in our landscapes and wild lands, but while it’s nice to have plants among us that have medicinal value for our aches, pains and maladies, in almost every other way these plants detract from a healthy, sustainable ecology. To see why Mr. Scott’s thesis that invasives should be embraced is so wrongheaded, I would suggest one read Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Home Nature.

  6. Hamilton County SWCD says:

    @SwilliAm, thank you for your post and the suggested reading.

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