December 30, 2020 | Number of The Day
Invasive plant species in New Jersey

New Jersey may be known as the Garden State, but residents with green thumbs hoping to cultivate healthy, vibrant flower beds or lush, luxuriant lawns face numerous challenges. How numerous? Hillsborough’s Duke Farms, which calls itself “a model of environmental stewardship in the 21st century, has identified 55 species of invasive plants on its property, which encompasses 810 acres of woodlands and 464 acres of grassland bird habitat.

Folks whose experience with flowers may begin and end with cut carnations bought at the supermarket or bouquets purchased from a local shop may not understand the danger presented by invasive plant species, which often look quite attractive. Beauty in this case is definitely petal deep: invasive species — also known as non-native or introduced species — negatively alter their new environments, adversely affecting invaded habitats and bioregions.

Some of the more common invaders include Norway maples, Ailanthus (aka “tree of heaven”), garlic mustard, Canada thistle, Japanese honeysuckle and loosestrife — dramatic stalks of deep-pink and dark-purple flowers commonly seen in meadows and wetlands. Infestations result in severe disruptions to water flow in rivers and canals and a sharp decline in biological diversity as native food and cover-plant species, notably cattails, are completely crowded out, affecting the life cycles of organisms from waterfowl to amphibians to algae.

The good news: The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offers tools and weapons to wield against invaders. These include overviews, fact sheets and a strike team phone app that lets gardeners, nature lovers and pretty much anyone who likes to spend time outdoors an easy way to pass along info about sightings.

The bad news: A Do Not Plant list of invasive species published online by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space runs to far more than 55 invading species (including plants, shrubs, vines and trees) rated according to threat to the environment — potential, emerging, widespread. According to FOHVOS, plants on their list are “commonly available” for purchase.