Take care to avoid harmful plants in the yard

Lynn Youngblood
Lynn Youngblood

Many people have no idea how important it is to be familiar with plants they choose to place in gardens. Although many are beautiful and so tempting to have, some plants can have potentially devastating results for nearby woodlands, fields or streams. It’s critical to know the ramifications of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants prior to planting. 

The importance of using native species is emphasized because native species (plants from the geographic area) do not get out of control and do not become invasive. Native plants also require much less maintenance. 

Invasive species typically travel by seed or by root. If they travel by seed, it is often by birds. The birds eat the fruit and as they sit on fencerows or trees, they drop the seeds out and start new plants. Some seeds can also spread by catching on animal fur. The seed head typically has barbs, or hooks, and when the animal walks by the seed head sticks to the fur until it gets brushed off, or scratched off at another site. 

Or the plant can simply self-sow, producing so many seeds they just simply have to fall below the seed head and grow huge patches. This is how teasel, a very invasive biennial, spreads. Teasel is most often seen along the highway, especially near entrance and exit ramps and bridges where it is hard to mow.  

Homeowners are not the only culprits in spreading invasive species. The conservation and transportation departments have been guilty of this in the past. The Missouri Department of Conservation planted multiflora rose and autumn olive decades ago, thinking they would provide good wildlife food and habitat. It wasn’t until years later that they discovered both were fast becoming invasive all over the state. The Missouri Department of Transportation planted crown vetch along steep highways, entrance and exit ramps, and other places for erosion control. Again, this plant quickly showed its invasive nature and is banned from all use. 

These examples show the importance of continued study of the effects of plants  introduced into natural landscapes around us. It is naïve to think our actions have no impact on the surrounding environment. Our gardens and landscapes can be beautiful reflections of us, our tastes and our sanctuaries for relaxation, but they also come with responsibility. 

Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net