By Karen Cohen
Invasive species of plants are non-natives that come from other parts of the world, usually by boat. They don’t always adapt to their new homes but when they do, they can become invasive. That means they cannot be easily controlled. One such plant is called Chinese Lantern. It showed up in my garden this year, perhaps a bird flying overhead dropped some seeds. I have five Chinese Lantern bushes. I first thought they were attractive, resembling tomatillo plants, but not edible. The small papery pods look like tiny Chinese lanterns and have a small fruit inside. Their origins are Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Asia and Japan. After reading more about them, I decided they were definite “invaders” that didn’t have enough positives to remain in my garden. And if I didn’t take steps to eradicate them completely, they would continue to come back in bigger numbers each year spreading by dropped seeds.
Invasive plants are self-sowing, spread easily and quickly, and are often hard to eradicate. The Chinese Lantern is a perennial plant that spreads as quickly as mint does. They are best grown in pots to contain their spreading habit. The leaves and unripe fruit are poisonous to animals and humans. The tiny fruit encased in the “lantern” will ripen and then is considered edible. Right about now the lanterns turn bright orange and you will see them used in fall flower arrangements. But honestly, why would a plant that is toxic be saved and brought into your home at all?
Kudzu is another highly invasive plant. If you haven’t seen it, you must not have traveled south into Georgia. It is rampant there and can grow up to a foot every day. It is called the vine that ate the South but it also grows in West Virginia and north to New Jersey. Kudzu is a perennial vine that climbs up trees, electrical wires and poles; nothing stops it from latching on and expanding quickly. The Soil Conservation Service in the 30’s mistakenly used it for erosion control and it soon became a problem. It puts out so many leaves on the ever growing vines that they rapidly engulf and smother bushes and trees. With the sunlight being blocked even mature trees eventually die. Kudzu prefers mild winters and dry seasons when its roots go deep.
To rid an area of Kudzu, cattle and goats can help control the spread by eating it, it is not poisonous. Cutting the vines at the base is recommended before it starts its daily spread and herbicides are most effective in killing it. Identify it by noting the leaves which are alternate and trifoliate (three leaves) and have hairy undersides. If you see it in your yard, eliminate it as soon as possible and keep vigilant for its return since it spreads underground on roots.
Then there is multiflora rose, another prolific spreader and listed as one of our state’s noxious weeds. Again, it started back in the 30’s as a plant to control road erosion. The best way to eradicate it is to mow it down to the ground 3-6 times during its growing season, year after year until it stops. It is filled with thorns on woody branches so gloves are needed to remove the cuttings. If that method fails, digging it out by the roots with a backhoe can be effective. It has small white flowers that give off a wonderful rose smell and deer, chipmunks, skunks and coyotes love to nibble on it.
When I grew up in New Jersey, we had a huge burning bush in the backyard. It turned blazing orange/red every fall and was gorgeous. It has been used commonly in landscaping around homes. Now research alerts me that it has become invasive in West Virginia. Massachusetts and New Hampshire prohibit the sale of this bush. Note also that the berries and leaves are toxic to animals and humans. The dense bush will crowd out native species if left to spread by roots and berries.
Other invasives to be watchful for are Amur honeysuckle and Morrow’s honeysuckle, autumn olive also called silverberry, and princess tree, all aggressive invasives. For a full list of WV top invasive plants, please go online to: https://wvdnr.gov/plants-animals/exotic-and-invasive-species/top-invasive-plants/
(Karen Cohen is a nature lover, avid explorer, and writes weekly gardening journals. Please email your tips and comments to: email@example.com)