New Jersey’s rich botanical heritage is in jeopardy and, with it, the ecological structure that supports our native wildlife. Throughout the Garden State, non-native plants with aggressive reproductive strategies are overtaking native species and claiming the habitats for their own. Geographic location and geologic transition, together with dramatic climatic variation, result in a remarkable floristic diversity for a state as small as ours. The natural vegetation of our outer coastal plain barely resembles that of the rocky ridges of the northwest; each harbors a unique species composition. Our own region in the state’s midsection bridges the divide with yet another set of biotic communities.
Sadly, we are going to have to fight to maintain our botanical diversity. Both by accident and by design, non-native plants have been introduced into the landscape. At latest count, there are more than 1,000 nonindigenous plant species in New Jersey that have been introduced from Europe and Asia. Some of the more notorious miscreants are known to us all: multiflora rose (introduced as understock for hybrid roses, used as hedgerows and wildlife cover); tree of heaven (hardy street tree); purple loosestrife (ornamental); Japanese stiltgrass (packing material). But there are many, many more. A list of plants considered invasive in New Jersey can be found at www.state.nj.us/commissioner/policy/pdir2004-02_appendix.pdf. Though the list is quite astonishing, it may not be complete!
What is even more astonishing is the fact that many of these species are still used in landscaping and can be purchased readily at nurseries or through catalogs. A recent spring issue of a popular catalog lists, among other nightmares: Norway maple, autumn olive, mimosa, privet, burning bush, wintercreeper and crown vetch.
Generally, the most aggressively invasive plant species are clever at more than one means of reproduction, putting out seeds as well as runners or rhizomes. Anyone who has ever tried to maintain a walking trail or a field for grassland habitat can attest to the stubborn nature of these weeds. Cut them back and they send up more shoots. Decapitate the seed heads and they retaliate with runners. Burn them and they come back with a vengeance. Only our own stubborn persistence can beat them down.
Can’t we at least keep people from planting more of these plants-that-refuse-to-die? Maybe. In 2004, Governor McGreevey established a New Jersey Invasive Species Council which was charged with the task of developing comprehensive measures to combat plant, insect and other invaders and to develop a plan for protecting the state’s biological diversity. Now, almost exactly three years later, a plan has been drafted. Consultant Michael Van Clef, Ph.D. drew up the plan for the Council and presented it to them on March 30. The plan covers topics on outreach, prevention, control and restoration, and recommendations of the Council. WCAS is throwing its support behind this plan and hopes to impress upon the Council and the Governor that we are very serious about protecting our native natural heritage.
What you can do: First, if you are planning to do any plantings on your property, check the lists of invasive species to be sure you are not adding to the problem. Second, learn to identify some of the common invaders like garlic mustard and remove them from your yard. Photos of some of the most common invasives can be found at www.invasive.org/eastern/midatlantic/. Finally, contact the Council and the Governor and tell them you support a strong, no-nonsense plan (refer to Dr. Van Clef’s draft plan) for controlling invasive species before it is too late. Contact information:
Carl Schulze, NJDA, Director, Division of Plant Industry
Robert Cartica, NJDEP, Administrator, Office of Natural Lands Management
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