– Excerpted from April 2002, CT Council on Environmental Quality
The second biggest threat to Connecticut ‘s natural habitats is invasion by alien plants and animals (behind loss of habitat to sprawling land development.) With few natural enemies, these species grow, spread, and multiply so fast they can transform healthy ecosystems into weed-choked woodlands and waterways in just a few years. Worse, many of our native plants and animals are deprived of light, nutrients and ultimately their continued existence. Collectively, invasive species are a silent but serious environmental problem for which Connecticut is not prepared.
What is an invasive species? Federal agencies have agreed on this working definition: “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”
Many invasive plants were introduced purposely to America , then found their way to Connecticut , sometimes with further human assistance. They were imported to beautify landscapes and water gardens or to enhance wildlife habitat. Regrettably, about eight to ten percent of these imports turned out to be aggressive in their new environment.
Below are descriptions of several invasives that are plaguing Connecticut at this time.
Purple Loosestrife: Meet the Beetles
Able to produce 2.5 million seeds per plant each year, Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is widespread in many kinds of wetland habitats throughout Connecticut . Known for its attractive flowers, Purple Loosestrife is dangerous because it crowds out native vegetation and provides few of the ecological benefits of native plants. In 1996, a pilot program saw the release of two beetle species into loosestrife stands in Storrs and Haddam, with encouraging results. Care was taken to make sure the beetles would eat only Purple Loosestrife, and not turn into pests themselves. Now, two hundred thousand beetles are serving as biological control agents for Purple Loosestrife.
Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush
This plant (Euonymus alatus) was brought to the US in the mid-nineteenth century from eastern Asia, but did not begin flourishing in Connecticut until the mid-1970’s. It turns bright red in the fall, and is very popular as an ornamental shrub. Also widely used for landscaping along highways, its seeds can be easily scattered by animals. Winged Euonymus is a problem in woodlands, where it replaces native flora, and in other areas, where its roots can form dense mats below the surface of the soil. This matting, along with the shade the plants provide, creates an inhospitable environment for native plants. Management strategies for Euonymus include hand pulling and herbicides for younger plants, and the use of heavy equipment to remove larger shrubs.
Please help spread the word that invasive plants are dangerous to the environment in Connecticut and have tremendous impact on areas economically. For further information please go to Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group’s website at http://www.hort.uconn.edu/cipwg/
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.