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Native Vs. Invasive Species: What You Need to Know

Native vs. Invasive Species: What you need to know

As spring rolls around, we are faced with a choice that many people know nothing about: invasive plants vs. native species.

Many of the common plants, shrubs and trees found at the local garden store are examples of invasive species. As you plan your gardens, it’s important to know the difference and how planting invasive species can impact your environment. Check out these 16 Invasive Species you could be planting in your yard. Although, gardening is just one way to introduce invasive species to a new environment.

What are Invasive Species?

An exotic species is any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that habitat. In the US, this term usually applies to a native plant is one that occurred within the habitat before settlement by Europeans. Each state and country have their own version of these plants and their own version of “European settlers.” Not all non-native species are invasive, but those that are often reproduce quickly, lack natural predators and cause environmental or economic harm, or impact human health.

Why Should We Care?

The introduction of invasive species can have a dramatic effect on our natural resources, human health, and economy. Everyone has probably heard about invasive species like the zebra mussel, but the invasion began almost as soon as Europeans landed in the new world.

One such invasion was the brainstorm of a German immigrant who decided it was a good idea to introduce as many species as possible of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to the US. In 1890, he released 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park, and we all know how that came out. Kudzu was introduced from Asia in the 1870s as an ornamental vine, and it became “the vine that ate the south.” Nutria were brought in from South America to be raised for their fur in the 1930s, and have been munching away on the roots of aquatic plants since shortly after their arrival, becoming a serious pest in wetlands.

When non-native species are introduced into an ecosystem in which they did not evolve their populations sometimes explode in numbers and they hurt the ecological processes in that area.  In their native lands, these things have predictors or an order that involves check and balances, but in their new habitat, it has nothing to the invasive species can out-compete the original species for food, water, shelter and other things they need to survive. Eventually, even if the native species survive, the diversity in that region will be much less diverse.

Where Do Invasive Species Come From?

Back in the days when America was first established, they came from settlers, most likely those who wanted to bring something from their home with them or as a biocontrol.

For instance, in the 1800’s, rats that came to the Virgin Islands on ships infested the sugar cane fields on the islands, causing massive crop damage. Farmers had the bright idea to bring in mongoose as a predatory control for the rats. However, the rats are nocturnal and sleep in trees, whereas the mongoose are diurnal and cannot climb trees. So instead of controlling the unwanted rats, they became another invasive species to deal with.

Of course, the impacts of such things were much less known then. Although, that still happens now, with the expansion for opportunities for world travel, these new species can come in by careless travelers or by accident hidden on ships, such as rats, or in luggage or some other way. Also, with the expansion of the exotic pet trade, often people will get pets, decide they don’t want them or can’t handle them, so they are release into the wild. Pythons are a classic example for this. These were once a popular pet because they are brightly colored and have an easy-going demeanor, but now they are an invasive species in the Everglades. They can grow up to 6 feet in the first year and live in excess of 20 years. A full-grown Burmese python can be up to 13 feet long and requires a specially-made enclosure and a large amount of food. This quickly becomes too burdensome for many owners, who then release them into the wild. As a result, a large population of these snakes now occupies South Florida.

So What Can We Do?

Education is the first part of coming up with a solution. To get a list of the species that are considered invasive in your area, contact your State Department of Natural Resources. Check out your local library, book or garden store for more information on your area. Most states also have horticulture clubs or a native plant society that can help you find resources. This education can make more aware of the dangers of bringing in another species on purpose, and help them be more careful to prevent introducing invasive species on accident.

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