Protecting your greens and landscapes from weather, insects and invasive exotic plants isn't your only job, but it sure can take up a lot of time. There are many ways to battle each of these pesky problems, but sometimes, we are to blame for allowing the war to occur in the first place.

Since the 15th century, humans have been responsible for taking plants, animals and other organisms to places nature would not have taken them. When people spread an organism beyond its natural range, it is considered an exotic. A few of these exotic plants are non-invasive — corn, wheat, oats — and form the basis of our agricultural industry. These crops pose no threat to our natural ecosystem.

However, some exotic species were planted for erosion control, livestock grazing, wildlife habitat, enhancement, ornamental and other uses. The planters might have had the best intentions when introducing exotic plants to the land, but some have accidentally escaped from arboretums, botanical gardens and even our own backyards. Free from the complex array of natural controls present in their native lands exotic plants may experience rapid and unrestricted growth in new environments. When the exotic grows and spreads rapidly, establishes over large areas and persists, it is considered an invasive.

Invasive organisms are one of the greatest threats to the natural ecosystem of the United States and are destroying the country's natural history and identity. These plants are disrupting the natural ecology, displacing native plant species and decreasing resources. Aggressive invasive plants reduce the amount of light, water, nutrients and space available to natural species, as well as alter hydrological patterns, soil chemistry, moisture-holding capacity and erodibility. Some exotics are able to change a plant's genetic makeup by hybridizing with native plant relatives.

Plant Native Range Ecological Threat Uses Distribution
English Ivy Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa Threatens all vegetation levels of forested and open areas Used as a low maintenance alternative to lawns Located in at least 26 states and the District of Columbia
Garlic Mustard Europe Severe threat to native plants and animals in the forest communities No use Ranges from eastern Canada, south to Virginia, and as far west as Kansas and Nebraska
Silk Tree Iran and Japan Strong competitor to native trees and shrubs in open areas or forest edges Used as an ornamental because of its fragrant flowers Located in New Jersey to Louisiana and in California

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an estimated 42 percent of the nation's endangered and threatened species have declined as a result of encroaching exotic plants and animals. Each year, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service spend an estimated 2 and 10 million dollars, respectively, on controlling exotic plants. Approximately 4,000 species of exotic plants have established free-living populations in the United States and over 1,000 of those species have been identified as a threat to the native flora and fauna as a result of their invasive characteristics.

Although most of the invasive exotic plants can be controlled with manual or chemical management approaches, we need to be aware of the resulting effects when we introduce them into the natural environment, whether it be accidental or purposeful.

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