EEEK! You've most definitely seen them and they are probably in your own front yard: invasive plants! You know, English ivy, monkey grass, privet, etc. Now raise your hand if you think removing invasive plant species is one of the most important things you can do to help protect our environment. If not, that's okay, bear with me. If you did pat yourself on the back.
I have had the opportunity to work in Fernbank Forest and the Forest Overlook to take the next step toward earning my Girl Scout Gold Award. This is the highest award that can be earned and is equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award earned by Boy Scouts. The first step of my project was simply to help remove invasive plant species, which ended up being mostly monkey grass. I had no idea that one species could be so stubborn. I learned that if you don't remove ALL the roots, your work will have been for naught. I found myself spotting and identifying invasive species on my drive home. It was then that I began realizing what a pervasive problem these plants truly are.
Here's your crash course in invasive plant species. They don't start out as invasive species. They are introduced from other areas, either to serve a purpose, because they look pretty (which really happens), or by accident. They are removed from an environment where they have natural control factors and are introduced to a new habitat where there are none. Thus, given the proper conditions, they spread like wildfire, resulting in our fields of English ivy, kudzu, monkey grass, and wisteria.
So what? Why is this such a big deal? Well these kinds of plants outcompete other plants, reducing biodiversity and threatening unique native species. Also, once they push out the native species, the animals that ate those plants either move away from the area in search of food, or cannot survive. The introduction of an invasive plant species completely disrupts the balance of an ecosystem.
So what to do? Use pesticides or other chemicals to kill the plant? Preferably not. The most eco-friendly way, and the way I've removed these buggers, is the old fashioned dig-and-pull method. It may sound like yard work, but it's actually very satisfying. Not to mention the fact that you're making a meaningful impact on your local community. It takes sweat and determination, but something as little as removing that patch of ivy in your front yard could make a big difference well beyond your immediate environment.
These plants don't spread strictly by growing. Their seeds are eager to travel and animals pick them up on their fur or eat them as their travel agents, depositing the seeds into another area and giving the plant a new opportunity to invade. These invasive plants may be directly deposited in an area as well as introduced by animals and other factors, placing the special trees and plants that make up our natural landscape at risk. That's why, just by making our own yards native, we can help protect the amazing ecosystems that surround us.
I am currently working through the next phase of my project and am excited to develop an activity for our Discovery Carts about forest ecology, getting me a step closer to earning the Gold Award and a great experience educating others. If you have a passion for restoration and natural areas, I encourage you become a Restoration Volunteer at Fernbank. Learn more.
—Meg Withers, Environmental Education Intern