Our forests, wetlands, and prairies are under attack. The threat comes disguised, but is actually alien invasive plants. These plants are not native to Indiana and cause harm. Not all non-native plants cause a problem in natural areas, but many do as they complete with and crowd out more desirable native species.
Many invasive plants have been introduced from nurseries, sold as ornamental plants for home landscapes. In the past, forestry and wildlife agencies also recommended many rapid growing, exotic plants as food for wildlife and a solution to problems like erosion.
As we study the long term effect of non-native plants in our region, the list of dangerous invasive plants and the magnitude of the problem continues to grow. Two of the biggest invasive plant threats to east central Indiana woodlands are the Asian bush honeysuckle and the garlic mustard.
Driving along highways and country roads you can spot honeysuckle bushes growing along the forest edge. Bush honeysuckle shrubs can grow up to 15 feet tall, producing fragrant white flowers and red berries. Don’t be fooled.
These shrubs form dense growths in the forest understory. They shade out plants on the forest floor, preventing the growth of young trees and wildflowers. If you look at the ground beneath the shrubs you will see it is bare. Nesting birds struggle to find food or raise their young when honeysuckle takes over the woodlands.
Garlic mustard is a plant that can grow up to 4 feet tall with small white flowers clusters at the top. Unlike the other woodland blooms, this is not a native spring wildflower. Thin cylinder seed pods grow at the top of the plant containing thousands of seeds.
The seeds are moved by wildlife and the plants spread rapidly. They crowd out wildflowers and inhibit fungi in the soil that are important to tree growth. Garlic mustard also has leaf chemicals that are harmful to the caterpillars that become butterflies.
Invasive plants threaten thousands of acres of natural areas in Indiana, and each year millions of dollars are spent to control them. Hunting, fishing, mushroom collecting, bird-watching and many other outdoor pursuits are affected when our natural areas become overrun by these plants.
What can be done to rescue our woods and waterways? Learn more about native plants that support pollinators and wildlife. Plant a wide variety of these native flowers and shrubs in your yard. You will be rewarded with beauty as well as butterflies, bees and birds.
Learn to identify the most threatening invasive plants and how to remove them. Replace invasive plants like burning bush or Bradford pears from landscapes with native alternatives like winterberry, serviceberry or redbuds. Volunteer to clear honeysuckle and garlic mustard from natural areas.
Red-tail Land Conservancy provides training to identify and safely remove invasive plants. A group of families, co-workers or youth working together can make a huge impact to restore natural areas. Volunteer with RLC to restore places for wildlife to thrive and people to play.
Visit www.fortheland.org to learn how to volunteer in our area to remove invasive plants.
A complete list of invasive plants in Indiana can be found at https://www.entm.purdue.edu/iisc/invasiveplants.php.