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Midwestern invasive plants

In the Midwest, certain invasive plants destroy agricultural plants and soil and can threaten the economy. Many vulnerable and vanishing species are lost because of invasive plants. Animal habitats are imperiled because their food supply is compromised, or the environment itself jeopardized, i.e. oxygen levels in rivers, lakes and streams. They are responsible for most pollen allergies.

The Beginning of Spring
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Midwestern invasives can be herbaceous plants, grasses, shrubs, trees, vines, ground covers or aquatics. They can be indigenous or nonnative to the Midwest. Species become invasive when they threaten the existence of other plants. Sometimes this occurs when plants are naturalized from another part of the country. While most alien species aren’t intrusive, invasive plants usually are aliens. They’re introduced for a specific reason or accidentally by travelers.

Invasive plants invade Midwestern gardens and take over a garden in several ways. They grow rapidly because they are sturdy, healthy plants. They are indifferent to Midwestern climatic conditions. Soil and growing conditions do not threaten them. Natural enemies have little effect on them. They have longer flowering and fruiting cycles. The plant’s seeds have short dormancies and germinate easily, and the seeds are produced in vast quantities. These plants possess the ability to reproduce by means of bulbs, rhizomes or suckers—underground shoots or roots.

Many Midwestern invasive plants have been identified, but five particular plants need to be watched by those interested in gardening and agriculture in the Midwest. These five are bush honeysuckle, Eurasian watermilfoil, European or common buckthorn, Russian olive and Sericea or Chinese lespedeza. These plants will be described in future columns.

Chicago gardeners, study invasive plants to protect Midwestern gardens and farms. Learn to identify them because they need to be watched, controlled or removed.

Live long and well—garden.

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