Let’s Call It What It Is

Chapter I: A Non-native Invasive Plant is Biological Trash!

Honeysuckle damage 1 cropped 01-23-20
Native sapling strangled by Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Today’s post is influenced by a combination of factors: frustration at the horticultural industry (nurseries, garden centers, landscape designers and architects) for continuing to propagate, sell and recommend non-native invasive plants; disbelief that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to allow the sale of non-native invasive plants that are on a list compiled by another state agency (Department of Conservation and Recreation) charged with protecting our natural resources; and pent up need to vent after months of watching the impacts of COVID-19.

Although I am not big on “marketing”, I do recognize that words can matter.  So some years ago I was happy to start replacing the phrase “storm water” with the much more evocative phrase “polluted runoff”.  It is a perfectly accurate term and gets the attention of the public in a way that storm water does not and provides an opening for some education.

In the same vein, I have started referring to non-native invasive plants as “biological trash” because it generates a sense of disgust that is not produced by saying “invasive plants”.  No responsible person wants to be guilty of littering.  So if people start viewing invasive plants as trash, I think they are more likely to stop planting them and will hopefully remove them.

The adjective “biological” may not be the best word because it requires a little explanation.  But the major point is that invasive plants are much, much worse than typical trash that just sits there until someone picks it up or it gets washed down a storm drain.  (For now, let’s not get into damage cause by the degradation of plastics into small ingestible particles and the giant garbage heap in the middle of the ocean.)  Invasive plants are living organisms that multiply and disperse – sometimes quickly and widely.   It’s this ability to reproduce that allows invasive plants to degrade large swaths of native habitat – an impact which dwarfs a bag full of fast-food remains along the side of the road or a tire discarded in the woods.  We will have turned the corner when a majority of people view invasive plants with the same disdain reserved for a discarded diaper in a park. (Let me know if you think of a better word than biological.)

While frustrated, I do recognize that the situation has improved steadily over the last several years.  The current efforts to get people to take personal responsibility for invasive plants is analogous to where Richmond was 20 years ago on scoop the poop.  The fact that most people now clean up after their dogs is a source of hope that people will change behavior with some effective education.  Personally, I would much rather rip out an invasive plant than pick up dog poo.  Let’s keep the momentum going until Richmond has been cleaned of biological trash.

Resources on Invasive Plants

  1. James River Park Invasive Plant Task Force – https://jamesriverpark.org/invasives/
  2. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation – Natural Heritage Program (prioritized list of invasive plants in VA) http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/invspinfo
  3. Great resource for distinguishing non-native plants that look like some of our natives https://www.nybg.org/files/scientists/rnaczi/Mistaken_Identity_Final.pdf
  4. National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife (great resource for identification of invasives in our area) https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/midatlantic.pdf
  5. Blue Ridge PRISM – Fact sheets for specific invasive species with plant description and methods for removal.  https://blueridgeprism.org/



One thought on “Let’s Call It What It Is

  1. Preach! I’ve been talking about this issue ad nauseam for years; I’ve written my delegate and state senator that the Virginia DCR invasive plant list needs to have teeth to it, nurseries shouldn’t be selling invasive plants. No such luck yet but will keep trying


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