The Asian Invasion
Like identical twins separated at birth, China
and the eastern United States share many similarities. Our
climates and geology are remarkably similar, and as a result plants and
animals from China often find it easy to grow and thrive in Virginia’s
landscape. So I was not surprised to discover that most of our invasive plants
originated in Asia. Autumn-Olive and Japanese Honeysuckle are two
members of this “Asian Invasion” that we could have done without.
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Autumn Olive is
easily recognized by the silvery scales that coat the undersides of the
shrub’s leaves. The plant was first introduced to the United
States in 1830, but it seemed to be a well behaved guest until the Soil
Conservation Service bred the “Cardinal” strain in 1963 and began to
recommend planting Autumn Olive to reclaim strip mined land and to
promote wildlife habitat. As the Soil Conservation Service
promised, the numerous red Autumn Olive berries were beloved by birds,
who gobbled them up and spread the seeds throughout the eastern United
States. Today, Autumn Olive is expanding rapidly and is
considered by many scientists to be the most troubling invasive shrub
on the horizon.
Japanese Honeysuckle was introduced as an
ornamental plant in 1806, and like Autumn Olive took decades before it
started to encroach on native habitats. Despite that fact that
the vine is now listed as an invasive plant in four states and can be
found choking out native plants in most old fields in our area, I have
seen it for sale in local nurseries within the past year.
I consider both
Autumn Olive and Japanese Honeysuckle to be cautionary tales --- the
ecologist’s version of Little Red Riding Hood’s “grandmother” turning
out to be a wolf. I know I have already said this in an earlier
chapter, but it bears repeating: Please try to stick with native plants
in your landscaping, and whatever you do, steer clear of alien plants
listed as providing “wildlife habitat.” If the birds like their
berries as much as the catalog promises, you may soon see that exciting
ornamental cropping up in your neighbor’s forest.