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Nature’s Invaders: Invasive Plants, Pests In Our White Plains Landscapes

Bob DelTorto removes invasive vines.
Bob DelTorto removes invasive vines. Photo Credit: Contributed by Bob DelTorto

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- You can’t miss them – the “tree-eating” invasive vines so evident along our parkways, the insect invaders that decimate our native trees, the carpets of invasive plants that engulf our forest floors. Invasive plants and pests seem to be everywhere, and in record numbers.

The timely workshop, “Nature’s Invaders: Unwelcomed Plants and Pests” was recently presented by The Native Plant Center in Valhalla, New York, as part of Go Native U at Westchester Community College.  Landscape professionals, non-profit staffers, municipal employees and home gardeners filled the auditorium to hear the latest information on invasive species and what to do about them.

The first of three instructors, Jessica A. Schuler, Director of the Thain Family Forest at the New York Botanical Garden, spoke about the problems and progress with invasive species in our region.  Exotic invasive species did not evolve here, but have been brought to the U.S., intentionally and unintentionally, from other countries -usually from Asia or Europe.  The pests and predators that keep them in check in their own countries are absent here.  Without these obstacles to rampant reproduction, invasive species can be highly successful - able to outcompete and displace our own native species, and as a result, they can disrupt entire ecosystems.

If left unchecked, invasive species have the potential of completely eradicating certain native plants.  Canada Hemlock, an important native conifer, unique for its ability to grow in shady conditions, has been devastated by the exotic invasive insect, Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.  Birds and mammals that depend upon Canada Hemlock for cover and nesting sites, have been left with no evergreen alternatives in the inner reaches of our forests.

Schuler shared some of the new initiatives in New York designed to raise awareness about invasive species and help control their spread.  New York has recently passed regulations that will go into effect next March, regulating and prohibiting the sale of many invasive plants.  Regionally, the recently formed Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management is an important resource for information and action against invasive species.

Schuler encourages all of us to “get involved in the regional conservation effort to protect and restore native plants in local ecosystems through the monitoring and management of invasive species.“

Bob DelTorto, VP of the Bronx River Parkway Reservation Conservancy and member of the Invasive Vine Task Force of Groundwork Hudson Valley, was the second instructor at the workshop.  DelTorto has led volunteer invasive removal efforts throughout Westchester County for 10 years and has done battle with countless invasive plants.  DelTorto explained the numerous ways that invasive plants can spread  - birds and mammals can spread seeds after eating the fruits of invasive plants, wind can carry invasive seeds from invaded areas, seeds may be carried by water, down a stream, or via stormwater runoff, and humans can inadvertently spread the seed on the soles of their shoes.  Many invasive plants grow very successfully without any additional help.   Japanese Knotweed is particularly adept at this, with an extraordinary ability to regenerate from pieces of the plant as small as a thumbnail.

DelTorto detailed many of the common invasive plants that are threatening our region:  Oriental Bittersweet, Porcelain Berry, Multiflora Rose, Norway Maple, Tree of Heaven, Japanese Barberry, Winged Euonymus,  Mile-a-Minute Vine, Phragmites, Kudzu and more.  Many of these species were introduced from other countries in the late 1800’s, explained DelTorto, due to their ornamental features or functional applications. Japanese Stiltgrass, now a ground-hugging thug in our forests, was used as a packing material to ship porcelain from Japan.

The workshop continued outdoors with DelTorto pointing out several invasive species growing immediately outside of the building’s entrance.  Some plants were barely noticeable, in early stages of growth, while others were engulfing a sizeable rhododendron, which could barely be detected under the strangling vines.  Within minutes DelTorto had freed the Rhododendron, which otherwise, would have surely died.

“I'm encouraged by the interest of today's participants in dealing with invasive plants,” said DelTorto, who would be delighted to have you join him as a volunteer as he releases native trees and shrubs from their green invaders throughout the Hudson Valley.

Jennifer Dean, the final speaker, is the Invasive Species Biologist for the New York Natural Heritage Program.  She provides the biological expertise for the New York iMapInvasives database, an online, GIS-based data management system.   Dean demonstrated this system that allows assists citizen scientists and natural resource managers to identify and report invasive species.   Detection and reporting of invasive species is a critical step in curtailing their spread.

“The best ways to protect our valued places from invasive species are to avoid spreading invaders into new areas and to catch new infestations before they get out of hand,'' she said. You can learn to identify some of the most damaging, high priority species, and report possible findings by signing up at New York iMapInvasives.

The message from “Nature’s Invaders” is an encouraging one – we can each do our part to report, remove and replace invasive plants and improve the quality of the environment around us.

Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial. When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.

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