When I heard this passage from Jeremiah, all I could think of was how appropriate an introduction for this column. Everything I’ve been reading over the last several months has something to do with “invasive,” and how invasive creatures are laying waste to our environment. To start, I looked up the word invasive. The definition of invasive is someone or something that intrudes or that spreads itself throughout, like evil in the above passage from Jeremiah. A good example of invasive is cancer. It spreads itself throughout your body and fear in its wake. Cancer is invasive. A person can also be invasive. How about the guy who is constantly showing up at your home and butting into your life? Surely you agree, that guy is not only a pain, but invasive.
Further, what fascinates me is not trying to control what is invasive outside our borders, but what is already here, in America. Frankly, we have an invasion on a huge scale on so many different fronts that it’s hard – nearly impossible – to marshal our forces to respond. The battle lines are drawn, for sure. But how do we create solutions for jumping worms, Burmese pythons, feral pigs, kudzu and others? While invasion conjures different things to different folks, trust me, creatures and plants are taking over: suffocating, eating, over-grazing and wallowing their way into our lives. In almost every region of the US, we are confronted with invasive activity. We are struggling to develop appropriate solutions to control our natural environment. Indeed, we are at war. Let me explain.
Several years ago, I wrote about kudzu, an invasive plant species introduced from the subtropical and temperate regions of China, Japan, Korea, and other countries that are warm and tropical. According to Richard Blaustein, “Its introduction has produced devastation, environmental consequences in many parts of the southern United States.” Its nickname is “the vine that ate the South.” It has “outpaced the use of herbicide spraying, increasing the costs of this kind of control by $6 million a year.”
I talked with landowner Tom O’Donnell of Bull Valley, IL, about invasive plants. He commented on how invasive species affect his land:
“My exposure to invasive plants is based on restoring my 35-acre property to its native state. This property includes Dry Prairie, Wet Prairie, Burr Oak Savannah and Wetlands, including a Wetland Fen. Invasive plants crowd out native species and wildlife, negatively change the ecosystem, and many times become a monoculture of one particular invasive. I have removed the following invasive plants utilizing numerous special herbicides and back breaking labor:
- Canadian Goldenrod – an especially noxious invasive that is particularly difficult to remove as it is Rhizomatous, and spreads thru its roots in addition to seed heads.
- Garlic Mustard – a very advanced invasive in that it produces allelopathic compounds that change the soil composition and inhibit other plants from germination.
- Buckthorn – The seeds act as diuretics to consuming birds.
- Purple Loosestrife – a visually attractive wetland invasive that is decimating native habitats. Good news here is that Cella beetles, when introduced, have done an excellent job of controlling this invasive.”
Liz Lavezzorio, of the Garden Club of Lake Forest, Illinois, reminded me of the story of the Weed Wrangle in the quarterly issue of the Garden Club of America (GCA) Bulletin. Weed Wrangle is a name coined by the Garden Club of Nashville. Their actions in Nashville were picked up by the New York Times and reported in an article titled “Innovative Project to Eradicate Invasive Plants.” Liz is the Vice Chairman of GCA’s P4P (Partnership for Plants) and says “once the invasive species are removed, you must restore the habitat to prevent invasive plants from coming back.” GCA partners with a variety of conservation and horticultural committees to restore native habitats. Tom O’Donnell goes it alone on his 35 acres, while the GCA has thousands of volunteers committed to eliminating invasive plants. Go Liz and go Tom. Interestingly none of these weeds and noxious plants originated here in the US. They are non-native and reduce land value, increase water erosion, and compete with native plants, ruin wildlife habitat, can be toxic to animals and humans, increase surface water evaporation, and reduce water tables. Have any of you tried to eliminate buckthorn? It is incredibly aggressive and full of sharp needles. If you are wounded in the removal process you can be seriously infected. Nasty stuff and very invasive and hard to eradicate.
Let’s move on to some invasive creatures that include feral pigs, pythons, jumping worms and spotted lantern flies. The list of invasive species is endless. The Burmese python is now at invasive proportions. I have watched videos of professional hunters trying to trap and eliminate pythons with limited success. Certainly, pythons are invasive in the Everglades area of Florida.
I had no idea that feral pigs were such a serious problem. Ask landowners and farmers in South Georgia, Texas and Mississippi. Feral hogs or pigs have created a $50 million problem in just Alabama. That translates to a half billion in the southern part of the US.
We have just added two new invasive species to the list, jumping worms and spotted lantern flies. In Illinois we not only have emerald ash borer and Asian carp but the jumping worm, also known as crazy worm, Alabama jumpers or snake worms. According to Chris Evans, a University of Illinois Extension Service Forester, “basically in Chicago they’re everywhere. We consider anything in Chicago covered.” Evans is covering the invasion, and he and Brad Herrick of the University of Wisconsin say that the common earthworm is beneficial, but Jumping worms, conversely, like to hang around in the upper layer or even on top of the soil. They lurk in leaves, mulch and the top layer of organic matter like cruise ship passengers at the midnight buffet: eating and eating...and eating. “They are voracious in their feeding behaviors,”says Herrick, who notes that some landscapers have reported having to reapply mulch multiple times within one growing season because the worms have consumed it so quickly. They will stay in that top layer just consuming the organic matter until it’s all gone, which is why you can see them so easily, and they’re kind of shocking in high abundance.” The rapid depletion of the organic layer of soil has an impact on plants. “Plants need that layer in order to germinate,” says Herrick, “and trees need it in order to survive.”
The latest invasive species is the spotted lantern fly, which has invaded southeastern Pennsylvania. These superbugs originated in India, China and Vietnam. That state’s Agricultural Department says, “The bugs threaten to destroy $18 billion in plant-based commodities in the state.”
There are many more invasive plants and creatures than I’m able to mention here, or I fear this column itself will be considered invasive. But if you get this far, you’ll realize we have a serious problem to consider within our borders even as we focus so much attention outside. Thank goodness our industry isn’t quite as invasive. At least that’s my view.
Another Letter from the Earth.
Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is email@example.com.