There’s a lot of terminology used when referring to plant life. Sometimes marketing lingo borrows loosely from scientific terms and then things can get confusing. In recent years horticultural experts have been paying closer attention to natural habitats featuring native plants. While a lot of non-native plant life can be interesting and unique, it’s not always best to feature them when designing your outdoor space. Let’s take a quick look at how horticulturists define exotic plants, and when they fit the definition of being invasive. Exotic Plants: Defined The easiest definition of an exotic plant is one that simply never grew naturally in that spot. Exotic plants are also sometimes referred to as introduced or alien species. All of the terms are meant to explain that a plant is living outside its natural distribution range. As far back as humans have been traveling, we’ve been discovering plant life in other locales. In some cases we brought them back on purpose and in some cases by accident. Sometimes we found a flower that was beautiful and wished we could have it growing nearer to our home. Or, plenty of fruits and vegetables have been transported so we could grow them in the places we live. Tomatoes, for instance, are native to the Andes but are now grown all over the globe. While tomatoes feel as common as any other plant in our daily life, they technically are defined as an exotic. They never would have naturally found their way to the United States without human intervention. Invasive Plants: Defined Sometimes exotic plants do okay in their new environment, and then sometimes they just don’t survive at all. My African coffee tree does okay in the summer here in Rochester, but in winter it is miserable! If I left it outside all year, it wouldn’t even make it to see Thanksgiving. While tomatoes and coffee are exotic, they’re never going flourish to the extent that they’ll take over and become a nuisance. It’s the exotic plants that don’t have a natural check in place that end up taking over. They not only survive and flourish but they proliferate. There’s a few dangers to an exotic plant reproducing to that extent. To start, any plant growing faster than the others could potentially take over and kill off the other plant life. In many cases, those species don’t naturally fit into the local ecosystem. Without natural balances in check, they can spread and take over. So an invasive plant is defined simply as an exotic plant that has flourished so well that it has now become either a nuisance or even a danger. Invasive Plants In The Finger Lakes Region Unfortunately, we have a list of invasive plants here in this area. Japanese knotweed for instance is so damaging, it can grow right through the cement foundation of your home! Wild parsnip and Giant Hogweed are invasive species that can cause serious burns to human skin. Touching them even just once can cause complications […]
I’ve been interested in native plants for a long time but I always looked at ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials from other parts of the world as valuable additions to our landscapes. After reading Doug Tallamy’s books (Nature’s Best Hope, Bringing Nature Home, and The Nature of Oaks), I’ve realized that every non-native plant that we use in the landscape is a lost opportunity to feed our ecosystem at a time when that local ecosystem is struggling to sustain itself. I won’t immediately remove all the non-native plants in my yard, but I will not plant any new ones. All those berries that you see on some non-native plants might not feed any of our native creatures. The fact that my non-native plants have almost no signs of caterpillars or other insects eating the leaves is no longer a positive characteristic. Those pristine leaves are a sign that those plants fail to provide food for caterpillars which are essential food for our birds. Invasion Of The Aliens Sometimes non-native insects like the Spongy Moth (formerly Gypsy Moth) overrun our forests but that is precisely because the native birds don’t eat them, or at least not very many of them. The sticky tape that people use to keep the Spongy Moth caterpillar from climbing their tree will also keep other caterpillars from reaching the ground to pupate, so once the worst of the Spongy Moth infestation has moved out of our area, you should remove that sticky tape. The Superpower Of The Mighty Oak Now I understand several key reasons for the decline in insects and therefore birds because the landscapes around us are filled with mostly grass and non-native ornamentals. Lawns are a virtual monoculture of a few varieties of grass, and support only a few moths, butterflies, and birds. Robins love the worms if you aren’t using pesticides and the larvae of the June Bugs (European Chafers) love to eat the roots of your grass, but that is about it. In contrast an oak tree might host over 550 different species of moths and butterflies in our region. The caterpillars from these species are a key food for migrating birds and nesting birds like Chickadees. A pair of Chickadees will catch 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to raise one clutch of eggs. Start Small Perhaps, But Start Soon You don’t need to have acres of land to create a natural habitat and have a significant impact on our ecosystem. In the past ten years I have raised over 1,000 Monarchs from eggs that were laid on the Common Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed that are intermixed with all the other plants in my City of Rochester 1/10 acre yard. You can feed the ecosystem by planting a few pots, eliminating grass in a portion of a side yard or backyard. Nature will appear almost overnight.
Ditching your lawn for a sustainable landscape can be an overwhelming concept. It might be even more than overwhelming for someone who has always had perfectly manicured grass around their home. Recently businesses and homeowners have begun to realize the benefits of transforming lawn space by introducing native plants. For most environmentalists the list of reasons for replacing is a long one. If you’re a homeowner, consider just a few reasons why replacing your grass might improve your world. Maybe even more importantly, improve the world around you. Costs Less While the start up costs of installing a sustainable landscape on your property may initially seem more costly than you currently pay to maintain a lawn, consider the longterm average of both. With a lawn, you’re paying for a mower and maintenance, and the fuel to run it. You’re paying for fertilizers and weed killers, and maybe even pesticides. While it may be minimal, you’re still paying to water your lawn, especially if you prefer to avoid it going dormant later in the season. Once a sustainable landscape is established, you won’t need to worry about expensive lawn care equipment. With many natural landscapes, there is little to no maintenance once installed. More Free Time Consider how much time you spend mowing your lawn (especially in the spring) and then edging the lawn along the sidewalks, and then cleaning up the clippings, etc. Think about how you plan your week and realize it’s going to rain Tuesday and Wednesday and you already have plans on Thursday but by Friday the grass will be too long. You have no choice but to mow today even though you’d rather do something else. With a sustainable landscape in place, you can do some trimming and low-level maintenance, but if you feel like putting it off or not doing at all, you can! Fewer Pesticides And Fertilizers Has a big box store convinced you to build a plan where you buy a special fertilizer for the spring, and then a grub killer (do you even have grubs??), then a winterizer, etc? Some of those programs include six steps of spreading different chemicals across your lawn. In most cases, most of those steps aren’t actually needed at all! (If you’re not convinced, take a photo of your lawn. Then skip one of the steps, and compare that photo to the following year.) While all those huge bags you’re lugging back from the store are inconvenient, they’re also pretty expensive. Even the smallest bags serving a 5,000 square foot lawn could run over $200 a summer depending on how many steps you choose. The worst part though is that most people will over fertilize and over spray their lawns. Even if you don’t mind throwing money away, those extra chemicals runoff into our water systems–even in the city! Energy Conservation That pristine lawn doesn’t just require the maintenance you put into it. The root system in those grasses is considerably different than the root system in […]