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Aliens in your neighborhood

If you know what to look for, you will discover aliens nearby, brutal ones bent on world domination. Some walk around, some fly, but the really dangerous ones blend into the landscape and slowly increase in numbers undetected until it’s too late and they take over. This isn’t science fiction, but a nasty reality show called exotic invasive pests, and many are out to get our forests.

An exotic invasive species is a plant, animal or disease that is not native, but was brought in from another country and can spread rapidly because the forest has no built-in predators or disease resistance to them. Some invasives were brought in on purpose to do some intended good, such as providing food for wildlife, or because they are pretty for landscaping. Some were brought in accidentally, from eggs laid on shipping pallets or in the soil of potted plants. Some recent examples include the Emerald Ash Borer, which is killing native ash like a plague right now, and Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, that is doing a number on hemlock trees. Historically the worst invasive to hit our forests was the Chestnut Blight, a disease that all but wiped out a tree that once dominated our forests and was highly valued for its lumber and nut production.

Invasive plants are of most concern to me because they blend into native vegetation. An exception is Kudzu, which is highly visible because it can take a native forest with hundreds of species of plants and animals and turn it into a green desert with only itself for company. I hate that stuff, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg, with dozens of invasive plants that aren’t obvious until their sheer numbers make them stand out and the forest is then in true jeopardy.

The worst invasive plants are the ones that produce edible seeds spread by birds. One mother plant can have her babies spread for miles around. Below is a listing of invasive plants that I have observed to be spreading rapidly and of greatest concern. It is by no means complete, as the list of invasive plants in our area is depressingly long. If you own land, even just a house lot with an overgrown fence row, there’s a good chance you have an invasive. You would help us all and the forest if you would learn how to identify them and kill them with extreme prejudice. They are most often found along woodland or fence edges, out of reach of the mower but still able to get sunlight. There is plenty of information on the internet, so just type in the name and stand back.

Privet was brought in as a landscape hedge that can tolerate heavy pruning. It produces a small purple berry that is spread by birds. Autumn Olive was brought in as a food plant for mostly birds. It produces heavy crops of small speckled red berries that birds eat, but then fly off and poop the seeds out everywhere. It can spread rapidly. Bush Honeysuckle was brought in as an ornamental and has small flowers like the vine honeysuckle you are more familiar with. It produces a small red berry spread by birds. Multiflora Rose was brought in as root stock for ornamental rose grafts, for wildlife food, and for creating a living livestock fence. It produces a large multi-stem shrub with nasty thorns and heavy crops of bird dispersed seeds. Bradford Pear wasn’t supposed to be able to produce viable seed, but it figured out how to anyway. In early spring the white blooms can be seen everywhere. Birds spread the seeds, which grow into trees with genetics from earlier breeding stock that can include nasty thorns.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.