Written by Catharine Tucker and Emily Gianfortoni
Attention James River Park visitors! We have a problem with alien invaders, not from outer space, but from other parts of our planet. They are wreaking havoc in our park, and that is why we are “outing” them during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (February 27-March 5) and with our kickoff at Pony Pasture on Saturday, February 25th.
What are Invasive Species?
Species of plants that arrived here from somewhere other than Virginia, either from another region or another continent, may become invasive. They often arrived here as hitchhikers on imported material or because someone thought they’d be attractive and easy to grow in yards or gardens.
Unfortunately, these particular species of plants have the ability to grow rapidly in almost any location, reproduce readily, and are able to quickly spread over sites disturbed by human activities. In addition, they have none of the natural enemies that would have kept them in check in their home territories.
What’s the problem with Invasive Species?
Rampant growth, especially of invasive vines, can smother the ground, preventing growth of native wildflowers like bluebells. They climb over shrubs and trees, sometimes creating enough weight to break limbs and tops. Shrubs like bush honeysuckles and autumn olive shade out spring and summer wildflowers. While birds may eat some fruits, and some animals may forage among them, the food value of invasives compared to that of native plants is often poor. In addition, birds and other wildlife can distribute seeds of invasive plants in their poop, aiding their spread.
In many areas of James River Park, Wintercreeper or Creeping Euonymus and English Ivy form dense mats on the ground and huge clumps in the trees. These are especially visible in the Pony Pasture area. Other invasive plants including Privet, Periwinkle, Oriental Bittersweet, Bush Honeysuckles and Japanese Honeysuckle have proliferated throughout the Park.
These Invasive plants compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. Overall plant diversity is decreased. This results in loss of food and habitat for our native birds, insects and animals.
Where can I learn more about Invasive Species?
For more information about invasive plants in Virginia, including news, invasive species lists, and fact sheets see the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Division, http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/invsppdflist.shtml;