Putting plants on the stand – the dangers of invasive plant species

By Bella Keys, Technograph Writer

Evil comes in all forms, and invasive plants happen to be a special type of it. They have racked up quite a list of offenses against the environment, killing all kinds of species. It’s time that these plants get what’s coming to them, it’s time they’re brought to trial.

The charges against invasive plant species are that they endanger many native plants and animals and decrease the quality of the environment. Fortunately, not all non-native plants are invasive, but unfortunately, they become invasive when they begin to negatively affect the environment and the plants and animals that live there.

This was never the original intention, as when these plants were introduced to the environment it was not known that they would lead to such problems. Instead, these plants were brought here for the things that they do. There are many different examples of invasive plant species, but today we will be discussing three species that were brought into the United States intentionally, for human uses. These plants are kudzu, garlic mustard, and maple trees. 

First up is kudzu, and it came to the United States from Japan. Kudzu is a mossy green groundcover that sprawls over the landscape covering everything, including trees. Joseph Edwards, a graduate student who is majoring in ecology, evolution, and conservation, says that the original reason Kudzu came to the United States was for it to be used as a “groundcover that can be used for forage.”

This plant is one of the few plants that you can eat all the way down to their roots and will still grow back. As an added plus, these plants grow quickly so you would never run out of grazing land for your cattle. To make the deal even sweeter, these plants prevent erosion of the land. Therefore, bringing kudzu over seemed like a no brainer, though it turned out to be a nightmare.

The havoc kudzu caused is too great to be ignored as the plant grew tremendously in an incredibly short amount of time. By covering all of the land and trees, kudzu deprived nearby plants of their much needed space and sunshine. Consequently, many plants died, and as a result, many animals either perished or had to leave the area because of food shortages. It is impossible to make a case in favor of kudzu, as the consequences vastly outweigh any benefit the plant may have.

This next plant is one named exactly after its purpose: garlic mustard. That’s correct, this plant smells and tastes very much like the garlic mustard seasoning. The people who brought garlic mustard over here were only thinking about “how they like the leaves, the taste” and that it “reproduces really quickly,” as our resident expert Edwards said. In addition to this, garlic mustard stays green even in winter. Who hasn’t wanted a green lawn in the dead of winter?

Regrettably, those who brought it over did not understand the tragedy this plant would leave in its wake. This plant grows insatiably, covering the understory of forests until there is nothing left to see but garlic mustard sprouting from the ground. After it has successfully covered the land, the plants that lie beneath it begin to wilt and die. This sets a ball in motion and ripple effects can be seen all across the forest. Once the plants underneath the garlic mustard begin to die from lack of sunlight and nutrients, other residents of the forest die as well.

This damage spreads all the way from the microscopic soil fungi and continues on to ruin the lives of some salamanders, mollusks, and butterflies. Therefore, garlic mustard needs to leave the states and head back to where it came from because green lawns in winter and tasty snacks are not worth the price of death. 

Our final plant on the stand is one that many people will know, as these plants are the beautiful maple trees. Maple trees have stunning large leaves that turn lovely shades of red and orange in the fall. As always, there are consequences to being beautiful, and these pretty trees are no exception. One at a time, maple trees take root in oak forests and begin to grow until their leaf covers block the sun out.

The problem in this case is not that the maple trees grow too fast, but rather that they grow too tall. Maples grow dozens of feet taller than oak trees, and once they reach full height, they shade the entire forest. By creating shade everywhere, these trees effectively wipe out quite a few oaks, as well as other forest residents. Thus, having a maple tree cover the forest ground is very different than having an oak do this.

This difference comes in because of the types of shade these trees offer. Edwards comments on this as he says that “in a pristine oak forest, it’s very open, the canopy isn’t closed, and there is lots of light.” On the other hand, maple forests’ canopies are closed which means that less light is able to get through. After the light is removed from the understory, many of the plants and animals there have to relocate to new homes as their old forest is no longer habitable. At the end of the day, maple trees cause the destruction of many lives and need to be stopped.

While there are undeniable positives to these plants, the benefits are deeply overshadowed by the consequences in all cases. The charges made against these plants today are that they endanger the lives of plants and animals, as well as decrease the quality of the environment. These points have been unequivocally proven, and it’s time that something was done about it. Their punishment is that they are sentenced to banishment. In fact, all invasive plant species should be banished, for the sake of our land, the residents residing on it, and the native plants that deserve to be growing. There are other places in the world these species can go to be appreciated, but the United States is not that place.

 

Bella is a junior in LAS. 

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Links:

http://nyis.info/invasive_species/garlic-mustard/

http://nyis.info/invasive_species/norway-maple/