Garden addict

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     I am, admittedly, a gardening addict.  When I am not in the garden, I am looking at books, magazines and web sites about gardening.  I read posts on a social media site pertaining to gardens and nature.  I do not claim to be the final authority, but I have accumulated a fair amount of knowledge over the years.
     Lately, I have been seeing a lot of posts and articles about invasive plants.  I have even written one or two myself.  The problem is that there seems to be a lot of confusion about just what is invasive.  The good plant experts at Purdue University have defined invasive as a non-native plant that grows prolifically and tends to inhibit the growth of other plants.  This may endanger the very existence of native plants and, in turn, the pollinators and other animal life that depend on those native plants for nourishment.
     However, that is not to say that the invasive plant cannot support at least some of the animal life.  The ornamental or callery pear of which I wrote several weeks ago may be buzzing with pollinators during the time of blooming.  Otherwise, they would not produce the fruits that have come to make the trees invasive.  Many birds also eat the resulting fruits, and, in actuality, the main way the trees get spread around is by seeds in the excrement of birds.  I am not certain if the nutritional value of the callery pear fruit is beneficial to the local birds, or if that fruit is junk food for our feathered friends.  I do know, however, that the calley pear trees have spread out of control and are threatening to change the ecosystem.
     However, not every plant that grows prolifically is invasive.  I once heard a DNR official refer to the native spice bush as an invasive.  I know he was frustrated that the native bush is hard to kill out when one wants to grow something else in a place it has occupied.  However, as a native, it is not really invasive.  Recently, I saw some posts on a social medium calling Star of Bethlehem invasive, and urging others to dig up the bulbs, bag them, and send them off to the landfill.  I agree that they are non-native and that they tend to spread rapidly.  However, they are ephemeral, and disappear fairly early in the growing season, allowing other plants a chance to grow in the same space.  The people who usually hate Star of Bethlehem the most are those who want perfect turf grass lawns.  Turf grasses are not themselves native and could actually be considered the invasives.
     Some gardeners contend that we should only plant natives, since native plants support native pollinators and other native wildlife.  This would mean getting rid of such treasured plants as peonies, oriental and Asiatic lilies, cannas, daffodils, tulips, gladioli and lilacs.  None of these iconic garden plants is native, but they have been grown for many years without spreading out of control.  They may be found around pioneer homesteads, but rarely spread far from the place they were planted by our ancestors.  I have seen posts this spring asking people to refrain from getting the dandelions out of lawns because they provide early nectar to honeybees.  However, neither dandelions nor honeybees are natives.   Should we view honeybees as invasive as we consider the emerald ash borer?
     As you can see, the questions about invasive species abound.  I do not have all of the answers.  I read the official invasive plant species list, but must admit that there are plants not included there that I find to be worse offenders than some that are included.  My point is that we need to care.  All of us need to be informed about our plant choices and to try to be good stewards of the earth.  It is the only life-supporting planet we have.  Let’s all do our part to keep it for the future.


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