War With Aliens!

I'm at war. It is an alien invasion. I'm fighting the aliens. You should be too. My property is at risk of becoming alien territory. Already they have made many inroads, and some seem unstoppable.

I'm speaking of course of invasive alien plants. Many of these were intentionally planted in gardens of New England in past centuries. Why all of a sudden are they spreading out of control, after being somewhat well-behaved for years? Dare I suggest climate change? Or perhaps once they reach a certain critical population level they multiply exponentially?
The first task is to recognize the invaders and recognize the threat. But sadly, most of these are going to be impossible to eliminate. The best you can hope for is control. But even if you can control your own property, there are just too many waste/neglected areas where no one is paying attention. My neighbor "Farmer Dan," owns a large wooded area behind my land. I was talking to him recently and mentioned the invasives. His response was, "Nah, I don't have any of those." I beg to differ.
Let's start with the worst of the worst, to me that is. It's Black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae). There is nothing redeeming about this alien, either in looks or behavior. To give you an idea, it's also called the dog-strangling vine. I don't know about dogs, but it sure can trip you if you try to walk through it. It's in the milkweed family, and apparently monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on it, but it provides the larvae no sustenance and they die. As if it wasn't bad enough!

It's an herbaceous perennial vine that can flourish even in complete shade. As such, it quickly forms a carpet that crowds out any native flower or ground cover. Then it climbs any support it can find, where it forms tapered seed pods that burst open and distribute downy parachutes, which float for miles.

In the past year it has formed numerous colonies in my woods, and along the stone walls and fences, and it keeps trying to invade the vegetable garden and all other landscaped areas.
Just try to pull one out of the ground. The root ball, resembling asparagus crowns, will break off, and even a tiny fragment left in the ground will quickly regrow.

There is only one treatment for it, and that is Roundup. Believe me, I had to do a lot of soul-searching before I decided to use it. But there is just no other way to get this hideous plant under control. And I certainly can't spray where there is any desirable vegetation, so in those areas I can only cut it back before it flowers. At least where I sprayed last year along the stone wall that runs along the road, what did survive was much less vigorous this year. I gave it another shot. Here's what it looks like once the Roundup has taken effect. Die, alien!

Yet even if I manage to get it under control, and I'm a long way from that, there are so many on nearby properties that it would not be long before it recolonizes if I am not vigilant.
The next-worst is Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). It is really nasty vine that twines around desirable foliage, frequently overwhelming it. Because of its red berries, people love to make Christmas wreaths with the twigs, which may have helped it spread so much. Here you can see that it overtops what it has grabbed on to.

Its stem can get very large. This is a common sight in “infected” woods.

It has taken over a large part of the fence surrounding the meadow.

The only way to control woody invasives like this is to cut them down to short lengths, then spray the remaining foliage with Roundup. You will use less Roundup that way, better all around. But it's a lot of work, and a lot of brush to haul off. Here's the same view, after cutting but before the Roundup has taken effect.

Next is Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). It has lovely fragrant flowers masking brutal thorns. Trying to remove this plant even when wearing thick gloves makes you look like you lost an argument with the cat.

Next is Winged euonymus, or burning bush (Euonymus alatus). It is still commonly planted as an ornamental. It does have stunning foliage in the fall, but let me tell you it escapes and colonizes the woods. It is now banned in New Hampshire.

Next is either European or Japanese barberry (Berberis sp.). It doesn't matter, both are invasives. They've also been widely planted as ornamentals, but have escaped. I have seen many of them in my woods. More nasty thorns.

This is Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus). It's an herbaceous perennial that stays green well into the winter. It is attractive, and has many herbalist uses, but is invasive on my property. I haven't gotten around to eradicating it yet, but I'm starting to see it encroach on my small patch of lovely and desirable Spotted jewelweed, so I will get to it. I should be able to just dig it up.

 Two plants I consider invasive, but are not alien, are Staghorn sumac and Wild Cucumber. Both are well-established on my land. Sumac is well known, and attractive, but once it gets in it is almost impossible to get out.

Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is an annual vining plant. It starts out looking like a volunteer squash plant. It grows like crazy. It's a native or nearly so (naturalized), but grows like an invasive--strangling whatever it lodges on to. I pull it up when I recognize it.

Two other invasives I don’t presently have, but I’m keeping an eye on:
Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This one has gotten on the radar of many people, as it is spreading in many countries. They say only herbicides can control it. I fortunately do not have any yet, but there is a large patch about 100 yards beyond my property line, into Farmer Dan's woods. All I can do is keep an eye on it.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), the deadly beauty. Everyone in the Northeast is familiar with it. Along rivers it has formed dense mats, stunning to look at in bloom, unless one knows how insidious it is. But it colonizes almost any damp place, and even some that don't look damp at all. It just seems to need full sun.  A colony is established a few hundred yards down the road. But I'm on the lookout for it, and will eradicate any plant that starts.

Supposedly there are some insects from its native region that eat only it, and scientists have been introducing them here. I've heard that for years, and have yet to see any effect. And something about importing the parasite to kill the imported plant strikes me as dangerous.

So those are the major invaders plaguing or threatening me. I encourage you to read up on them, and by all means, help prevent further alien attacks!

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