Monday, September 10, 2018

Invasive Species And Their Consequences

Contact with the sap of giant hogweed It seemed like a good idea. Let’s start a silk industry in the United States. Silk is a valuable cloth in demand all over the world. And insects do the work. All we need to do is import some gypsy moths from France; then just sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

So, the moths were imported. They escaped. And today, gypsy moths are a major threat to U.S. forests. Gypsy moths are just one example of an invasive species.

There are many more. Asian multicolored lady beetles, for example. You know, the invading swarms of yellow-orange ladybugs crawling and flying around in your home; congregating on windows, walls, and light fixtures and landing in your breakfast cereal. Because of their insatiable appetite for aphids, scale insects, and other soft-bodied agricultural, landscape, and garden pests, multicolored Asian lady beetles, commonly found in Japan, Korea, Russia, and China, were introduced as biological control agents on several occasions and in several North American locations throughout the 20th century.

These beetles were probably introduced accidentally as well, brought here as stowaways on board ships and in cargo transported from Asia. With few native natural enemies, they’ve flourished and dispersed across the continent. And they’ve proven themselves to be very aggressive, competing with our native ladybugs for food and habitat. Several native ladybug species that were once very common have become extremely rare. And it happened very quickly.

Giant hogweed was introduced as a perennial garden plant. It’s a native of Asia and a member of the parsley family. It reaches a height of 10 to 15 feet, with massive white umbels up to 2.5 feet in diameter, when in flower. Gardeners were impressed. What they didn’t realize, however, was that contact with the sap followed by exposure to sunlight could cause huge, painful, burning water blisters to form and leave purplish or blackened, light sensitive scars that can remain for years.

Wild (or poison) parsnip is native to Europe and Asia. It has an edible root, like the garden parsnip cultivars derived from it, and was likely brought to North America by European settlers who grew it for food. Since its introduction, wild parsnip has become established in abandoned fields and pastures, disturbed open areas, and along roadsides across the continent. Like giant hogweed, it too produces sap that soaks into your skin and reacts to sunlight, resulting in intense burns, rashes, blisters, severe scarring, and even blindness if rubbed onto the eyes.

Purple loosestrife is native to much of Europe and Asia. It was first introduced to the northeast in the 1800s and is now found across much of North America. It’s a very hardy perennial, which can rapidly reduce the value of wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife by competing with and displacing native wetland food and habitat plants. Wetlands are the most biologically diverse and productive component of our whole-earth ecosystem.

The most widely used definitions of invasive species apply to non-indigenous flora or fauna whose introduction into an ecosystem cause, or are likely to cause, harm to the environment, the economy or to human health. Note that this references environmental boundaries, not political ones.

There are many native species (species that occur within a region or habitat naturally; without human intervention) within the U.S. that are invasive elsewhere in the country. Lake trout, for example, are native to the Great Lakes and much of the northeast, but are considered invasive in Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming, where they compete with native cutthroat trout for habitat.

Thousands of introduced species now prey upon or out-compete native species within the U.S.. The costs of this ecological upheaval, just in economic terms, is staggering. A 2014 report titled ‘The Actual and Potential Economic Impact of Invasive Species on the Adirondack Park: A Preliminary Assessment’; estimated the potential direct economic impact from the eight species evaluated in the study to be $468 to $893 million, with the greatest projected impacts on property value, recreation, and tourism.

Invasive species are among the top causes of biodiversity loss around the world. Gardeners can be part of the solution by:

– Checking to see if a plant is invasive and not planting, if it is;
– Learning to recognize signs and symptoms of invasive species;
– Keeping up to date on the status of invasive (and other) pests;
– Reporting any occurrence of invasive species.

You can make reports of invasive species to the DEC, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, your county Soil and Water Conservation District, Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, or the Nature Conservancy.

Eradicate or control populations of invasive species on your land. Yank them out of the ground. Remove them from the water. And tell your neighbors if you see invasive species on their land.

Photo of rash from contact with the sap of giant hogweed (or poison parsnip), courtesy USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Plant Protection and Quarantine Program (APHIS PPQ) – Oxford, North Carolina,

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

15 Responses

  1. John Jongen says:

    The list of invasive species in New York is longer, but my observation within the ADK blue line includes the aggressive Swallowwort Vine, Bindweed Vine, and Garlic Mustard. And of course Poison Ivy. The easiest of these to eradicate is Garlic Mustard by simply uprooting the tall shady plant before it goes to seed, thereby returning sunlight to our native plant species.

    • Bruce Van Deuson says:

      Poison Ivy is not invasive in the classic sense, meaning from outside North America. When Europeans came, their massive land clearing activities opened many new areas the plant could spread to. The plant “invaded” previously Poison Ivy free land as more sunlight reached the ground..

      • John Warren says:

        The definition of invasive species does not require them to be from outside North America, although it’s unsurprising that people on the right might imagine it does.

        • Bruce Van Deuson says:


          Why do you feel it’s necessary to inject your politics into the conversation? But since you felt it so, I have one question…do you support the rantings of people like Maxine Waters?

          • Bruce Van Deuson says:


            I resent being labelled based on misstating the thrust of the article in the Utica paper. That was purely on me and my inattention and had nothing to do with politics. bit the way I read the article. I voted for several Democrats, so what does that make me now?

  2. Paul says:

    Good article.

    Almost no crops that we currently grow in our gardens are not native to this area.

    Tomatoes, corn – South America
    Melons – Africa and the Middle East
    Carrots – Europe and Southwestern Asia
    Potatoes – South America

    • Paul says:

      Sorry – remove the “not”

      • adkDreamer says:

        @Paul. An excellent observation, although I doubt very much that these crops necessarily ‘take over’ in the wild by themselves (not perennial). More important is the notion that ‘invasive species’ is a relative term. ‘Invasive’ is relative to what is desired by another. Brown trout, rainbow trout and other sport species have been imported into North America for over a hundred years, but no one is complaining that those species are out competing brook trout or other aquatic species. Our beloved Adirondacks is nothing more than a contrivance of desire, a manufactured so-called wilderness. There is little wild about it and most of what visitors experience as a terra formed trek. The only certain invasive species is… wait for it… us.

        • adkDreamer says:

          typo: “is a terra formed trek”

        • Paul says:

          Us – if you think that humans are not an intricate part of the entire ecosystem. We have incredible powers to adapt – we need to be careful to not adapt ourselves to extinction.

          • adkDreamer says:

            Yes, I agree. Humans are not an intricate part of the entire ecosystem.

            • Paul says:

              Dreamer, You are killing me! Evolution has delivered us humans here just like the rest of the organisms out there. You know that evolution is a fact right?

        • Boreas says:


          I may qualify as “no-one” but I have been objecting for decades about non-native trout stocking in the W. Branch Ausable. I don’t support wiping out existing non-native trout at this point, but I do not support further stocking of them, but rather stocking appropriate, native brook trout strains instead. But I will concede this is the minority opinion. Follow the money – it ain’t gonna stop soon. Whatever we stock, they had better be resistant to increasing water acidity.

  3. Ellie Maas says:

    Good article. And let’s re-emphasize that “invasive” is not synonymous with “non-native”. Bottomline: can you control it? Is it running rampant, out-competing native species? (think, bamboo.) So if you planted Japanese wisteria in your garden, cut it back each year after flowering, maintain it; it’s not invasive. It’s not taking over, or out-competing the native plants in your garden, or your neighbors (especially since you’re not allowing it to re-seed elsewhere) But if you let it grow, without keeping it in check, it will climb your lower trees, block their sunlight, eventually killing those branches or tree, spread seed, and cause havoc in your surrounding yards and garden. To say nothing of not contributing to the food sources for local wildlife. An excellent book that explains the value of native to our wild insects, birds, etc, and explains how to work w/ what you already have in your yard at the same time, is Doug Tallamy’s, Bringing Nature Home, or more recently, The Living Landscape (co-author, Rick Darke).

  4. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “Whatever we stock, they had better be resistant to increasing water acidity.”

    And mercury!