I spy with my little eye, something that does not belong! Taking a look at the photo above, at first glance it looks like a healthy, luscious natural space full of tall grasses and flowering plants. Unfortunately, there is more to the story here. If you take a closer look, you may notice it is full of a troublesome invasive plant species called phragmites. Although it looks like an environment that would be home to many different animal and plant species, in reality this is a common example of a poor, inhospitable environment for our local flora and fauna. So you may be asking, what are invasive species and what’s so bad about them? Let’s dive a little deeper into this serious issue that hinders our ecosystems’ functions and biodiversity.
What are Invasive Species?
An invasive species is something that was introduced to a new environment, and through its aggressive behaviour, ends up adapting and dominating the natural space. Now there are some introduced species that are non-aggressive and don’t cause such a major issue. FUN FACT: Earthworms and ladybugs are both examples of introduced species in Canada! However when it comes to invasive species, the issue is they take up resources and space from other native plants/animals, leading to an unhealthy environment and reducing the biodiversity.
Everything in nature is connected through the food chain, with nutrients constantly being cycled through different stages. If nothing can eat a certain plant or insect species, then it’s not a useful part of the ecosystem. It uses up energy, water, and nutrients, without giving anything in return. Think of invasive species like greedy guests; they come empty handed, eat all of your food and they just won’t leave!
How do they even get here?
Normally, plants and animals manage their own migration and natural range shifts slowly over time, however with the world being so connected through travel, it is getting more and more common for plants and animals to end up in an environment they are not properly suited for.
Sometimes this can happen by accident with seeds or insects hitching a ride on your clothing, luggage, food crates, boats, etc. This is where we need to be more careful and monitor our activity. Ever wonder why parks and conservation authorities are so strict about only getting firewood from the immediate area, and being sure not to dump your left over worm bait in the forest? It’s to protect these areas from any further spread and infestations of invasive species.
Another way these species can get here is actually on purpose. In the past, especially when European settlers arrived in Canada, they would bring along plant and even animal species they wanted to have in the new world. Nowadays, there is a lot more awareness in discouraging this, and governments have even gone as far as to ensure there are no plants, fruits or vegetables being carried privately when you travel, in hopes of reducing the risk. So next time you see a beautiful plant along your travels that you would love to see grow in your backyard, maybe take a photo instead to enjoy all year round.
Common Invasive Plants You’ll Find in your Garden-
Norway Maple, Common Buckthorn, Dog Strangling Vine, Oh My! There are many different invasive species dispersed around Ontario alone. You can check out the Ontario Invasive Species Awareness Program website to learn more, but here are some of the most common ones you’ll find in your neighbourhood.
How to ID: During the first stage, this plant has large, rhubarb-like leaves low to the ground. Second stage grows its tall stalk (as seen in the picture), with burs that stick and attach onto clothing. You can’t miss it!
How to Get Rid of It: Best way to get rid of this plant is trying to get down into the root. They are quite strong roots, even as a young plant, so you’ll need a good shovel. If you’re struggling removing the plant in its mature stage, try to focus at least on getting rid of the seed pods (burs). That’s a great way to avoid any further spread! CAUTION: Be sure not to put the seeds in the compost or yard waste as it will just disperse the seeds even further. Place them in a tightly sealed bag to be thrown out.
How to ID: During the first stage, garlic mustard grows low to the ground in kidney bean shaped leaves with a jagged edge. Similar to burdock, come it’s second stage it will grow into tall stalks with pointier leaves and small white flowers, before going to full seed.
How to Get Rid of It: This invasive species is quite simple to get rid of, but you want to do it quick before it goes to seed! If left alone it can double, even triple in population growth the following year. To remove it, simply use a trowel to get down to the root and remove the whole plant. A great way to avoid germination of seeds next Spring is placing 2-3 inches of mulch over a layer newspaper or cardboard in any heavily invaded areas.
How to ID: This is a common prickly plant found in our gardens and parks. The easiest way to point it out is the sharp spines all along the points of the leaves. Later in the summer season you can find these as taller stalks with vibrant purple flowers.
How to Get Rid of It: Even though these are not pleasant to the touch, luckily they are quite simple to remove. The roots are quite shallow, so with a small shovel or trowel, you can easily dig them out.
What can you do to stop the spread?
There’s a number of easy, simple habits we can exercise to avoid the added spread of invasive species. Here are a few tips of how you can do your part!
– Check your clothes, shoes, and pets to remove any hitchhiking seeds before leaving a park
– Staying on the trail when going on hikes reduces the risk of catching any seeds on your clothes
– Enjoy camping? Be sure to collect firewood on site. Bringing wood from somewhere else could risk introducing some invasive insects
– Support native plant species in your garden— Not only does this provide a healthy space for native insect and animal species, but it also helps to compete with any invasive species that try to migrate on your property
– Make native seed balls and spread them around your area. This is a great activity for kids and a fun way to spread some native species in your neighbourhood.
– Be a citizen scientist! If you see any invasive species in your neighbourhood, help researchers track the spread by making note of it on EDDMaps Ontario. This helps them see where they need to be focusing their management efforts and how far species are spreading.
Interested in learning more? We’ve only scratched the surface! Check out some of the websites mentioned below for more information and resources, and thank you for helping to keep our natural environment healthy!
EDDMapS Ontario. (2020). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.eddmaps.org/ontario/
Invasive Species // Conservation Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://conservationontario.ca/conservation-authorities/watershed-stewardship/invasive-species
Invasive species centre. (2020, April 28). Ontario Invasive Species Act. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/learn/ontario-isa/
Invasive Species in Ontario (Oct 2020). Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.ontario.ca/page/invasive-species-ontario
Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program (2020). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from http://www.invadingspecies.com/
Parks, A. (2020, May 19). Meet the invaders. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from http://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/invasive-species-in-ontario/
Species. (2020, October 26). Ontario Invasive Plant Council. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/invasive-plants/species/