Why You Need to Remove Invasive Plants from Your Yard
I like to boast that there are no weeds in my rewilded yard – meaning there are no plants I don’t want growing in it. Some of my favorite native plants have the misfortune of having the word “weed” as part of their common name but are habitat treasures for wildlife. Some of the weeds you might find in my naturescaped yard include Tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana), Burnweed (Erechtites hieraciifoliu), Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium), Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), Butterweed (Packera), Fernleaf scorpian weed (Phacellia bipinnatafida), Pokeweed (Phyltolacca americanus), Smartweed (Polygonum), Rustweed (Polypremum), frostweed (Verbesina virginica), and Ironweed (Vernonia).
I’m familiar with every inch of my little urban sanctuary and somewhat diligent and ruthless about not letting any non-native invasive plants take hold. I know what belongs and am amazed at the number of invasive species that have popped up in my smallish intown Atlanta (Morningside) yard. For fun I went through the Georgia Exotic Plant Pest Plant Council list and there are almost two dozen invasives from the list that have found their way to my yard including seven from the Trees Atlanta’s list of the top 10 invasive plants harming our urban forests. Invasives I’ve pulled up in my yard include Japanese chaff flower (Achyranthes japonica), Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis glandulosa), Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora), Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera), Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate), Winter creeper (Euonymus fortune), English ivy (Hedera helix), Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta), Chinese, Japanese, and Glossy privet (Ligustrum), Monkeygrass (Liriope), Japanese and Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica and maackii), Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum), Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana), Big and Common periwinkle (Vinca major and minor), and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis).
The only invasive plants I dug out when I transitioned to native plants were vinca and liriope – all others acted as true invasive plants do and just appeared in the middle of my native plant communities. Sometimes they seem to grow overnight like an expanding Japanese stiltgrass plant that I found last fall infiltrating a little shady area where woodland phlox (phlox divaricate), Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans), Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), and Little sweet betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum) bloom in the spring.
This spring a plant that was unfamiliar to me was growing near the deck of my backyard next to a group of native plants including evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia), bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), round-leaved boneset (Eupatorium rotundifolium), flat-topped white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in a section where I had added multiple winter sown seedling in the last couple years. I thought I must have planted it. When this new plant grew as tall as the evening primrose, I even supported it with bamboo sticks forming an X in front of it to keep it from flopping over into a walkway.
The other day I stopped and took another look at it this five-foot stranger in my yard and realized I couldn’t figure out what I might have planted that it could be. My PictureThis plant ID app showed it was Sericea lespedeza or Chinese bush clover (Lespedeza cuneata) – a Category 1 invasive plant in Georgia, meaning it is an exotic plant that is a serious problem in Georgia natural areas by extensively invading native plant communities and displacing native species. The photo above shows just how insidious invasive plants can be when they blend in and grow along side the native plant communities they disrupt.
Bush clover is a nasty invasive with allelopathic qualities meaning it will inhibit the growth of other plants around it so it can form a monoculture. If that's not bad enough, the mature seeds can remain remain viable for up to twenty years! To be sure I had the right ID, I posted on a great Facebook page called Georgia Native Wildflowers and Plants where folks who are more granular about native plants than me generously identify plants and if they are native to Georgia or not. The wonky native plant hive came through and confirmed it was indeed Sericea lespedeza/Chinese bush clover. This interloper has a similar story to many invasives overtaking our natural areas. It was intentionally planted (in the late 1800s!) to control erosion and for livestock.
I couldn’t just pull it out of the ground like most of the little invasive slips that I can easily identify and pull up as soon as I spy them. I had to use a shovel because I had let it take hold for a few months. Hopefully, I got enough of the taproot and this is the end of the bush clover. but I’ll continue to be vigilant.
My family thinks I need to make more "action" videos of me in the yard, so my Gen Z son took this one of me removing the bush clover. By the way - the shovel I’m using was a gift from my husband who thought a small, quality shovel would be perfect for me because I'm petite. He didn’t know it was a child’s shovel. It has turned out to be my favorite shovel for digging without disturbing too much soil!
Once I did the basic things to restore as much nature as possible to my smallish urban yard such as removing invasive plants and the lawn, stopping all use of pesticides and yard chemicals, and adding hundreds of different native plants, it became a microcosm of what might happen in natural areas that aren’t curated like my yard is. If I didn’t identify and pull up the bush clover before it flowered and set seed, it would be able to quickly develop an extensive seed bank in the soil and would displace the less assertive natives around it. If the goal is to restore nature at home, removing invasive species needs to be a priority. Otherwise, the invasive will do the same thing they do in natural areas and make it difficult to create a healthy ecosystem with native plants.
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