I have done my part, unintentionally, in making my yard a haven for alien invasive species.
I planted Periwinkle, having seen it looking pretty in local forests and thinking it a native “wildflower.”
From nearby ditches, I dug up Dame’s Rocket and Bouncing Bet, locally known as wild phlox.
I planted variegated Bishop’s Goutweed.
I planted Crown Vetch.
I planted two Norway Maples. And two Amur Maples that I actually grew from seed purchased from the (now closed) Ontario Tree Seed Plant 20 years ago, at a time when the native status of a plant was not viewed as a critical consideration.
All these plants loved my place.
I was hoping to create an environment that reflects what a healthy wilderness would be and build a small wildlife haven, a refuge for bees, butterflies and other insects, as well as for birds, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals. The web of life, in other words, stretching from the fungal networks below ground to the Cooper’s Hawk that visits from time to time, casting a pall of silence among avian residents.
Then I learned that these plants get in the way of my vision. They are bullies. They outcompete native plants because they arrived on these shores without the pests and diseases that keep them in check in their home territory. They are adventurous, not too fussy about where they grow and they start growing early in the spring before the natives emerge, getting ahead on hogging light, moisture and nutrients. Some can even change the chemistry of the soil so native plants don’t germinate.
Invasive plants are a leading factor in the extinction of native species, second only to habitat destruction. In fact, introduction of an invasive species IS habitat destruction, no better than paving it over as far as availability of resources to bees or birds is concerned, only more drawn out and insidious in its effect.
I fought back.
Periwinkle and Goutweed were ousted by a thorough dig and a couple of years’ diligent removal of any residual sprouts. Nature abhors a vacuum, so replacement planting is always needed. Wild Ginger is a great native for reclaiming vacant space. Heartleaf Foamflower, Virginia Waterleaf and False Solomon’s Seal also get the job done in shady areas.
The Dame’s Rocket and Bouncing Bet were extracted; they still pop up here and there but are speedily removed. I got the memo about the Crown Vetch soon after I planted it and it came out immediately, never to be seen again.
The Norway Maples? They would have been taken down had I been near a forest or natural area, because they adversely impact native maples. Same for the Amur Maples. But I am surrounded by agriculture, so I’ve left them for now, a monument to my lack of understanding when I started my gardening here.
As a gardener, I am part of a tribe that is a major player in the threat to our biodiversity. More than half of invasive alien plants - 52 per cent according to a study by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - are ornamentals brought in or propagated by the horticultural industry to be purchased by you and me.
(Agriculture accounts for 23 per cent, herbal and medicinal uses for 11 per cent, and erosion control for 11 per cent.)
The economic impact of invasive terrestrial and aquatic plant species has not been comprehensively quantified, but it’s in the millions of dollars, with government budgets, recreation, tourism and agriculture all affected while landowners face control costs and also see their property values reduced, particularly for waterfront land.
Variegated Phragmites anyone?
People come to my nursery to buy native plants because they too have a vision of a wildlife haven. And when they tell me that, for instance, they’ve purchased and planted flats of Periwinkle or Goutweed in their shady woodland property and ask for advice, I reply - take it out.
The reaction ranges from despair to determination. The question always arises, why do “they” sell this stuff? Leaving us with a ticking time bomb of a spreading disaster area that will outlive us if we don’t deal with it? or with hours of often back-breaking work if we decide to do battle?
It’s a question that kept arising in discussion among the Master Gardeners of Ontario, and last year the organization set up a task force which resulted in the creation of the Canadian Coalition for Invasive Plant Regulations. I’m not a Master Gardener but I heard about the initiative (thanks to my friendly local librarian) and attended the first Zoom meeting in December.
Now there’s a logo, an informative website, and an army of determined campaigners who want to see the federal government take serious action to curtail trade in invasive species and to prohibit the import and sale of the most serious threats.
This is not a novel idea. To our south, US border states all have enacted legislation to do just that. New York State, for instance, lists more than 70 ornamental species that are either prohibited or regulated. Prohibition bans sale or possession of the species. Sale is allowed of the six plant species that are regulated, but the seller (generally a garden centre) is required to affix a label warning of the environmental hazard and providing alternatives and mitigation measures.
In Canada, the CCIPR feels our legislative framework makes it more logical for a nationwide approach to controlling invasive species. But this legislative framework of ours is out-of-date and fragmented, and responsibility for who controls invasive plants is unclear, the organization said in a news release in May.
My view: There’s been a massive abdication of responsibility by the federal government. We need Ottawa to step up to this threat to our land and water, our health, our economy, our biodiversity. The provinces, territories and municipalities also have a role to play as this is a national crisis.
What can you as a concerned individual do?
-Become a CCIPR supporter, get organizations you're a member of to become a partner, and/or join the team.
-Link to information from the CCIPR website on Facebook, Instagram or any other platform you may use.
The CCIPR’s recommendations (improved risk assessments, bans on high-risk species, labelling, education and a verifiable industry-wide Code of Conduct) are on the home page, as well as the key message - Prevention is Key.
A point of interest to raise with your public representatives: While every state along the Canadian border has prohibitions or restrictions on a number of invasive ornamentals, no similarly targeted legislation exists in Canada.
It’s time for our voices to be heard! Spread the word about the urgent need for a nationally coordinated plan to your friends and fellow gardeners.