Invasive plants can suck the life out of traditional species in any particular area, and humans find it difficult to control their proliferation, especially if they can cause harm, such as, for example, the giant hogweed that has been spotted along Amity Road. Its sap causes burning to the skin, a “poison ivy on steroids,” said Nancy Polk, a member of the Commission of Publicly Owned Properties (CUPOP).
The commission initiated a series of talks on environmental issues that come up in the Woodbridge ecosystem, dubbed “First Tuesday workshops,” the first of which took a closer look at invasives, helping identify them and documenting their success as a species. Nancy Polk welcomed horticulturist Rose Hiskes from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in Windsor to the Woodbridge Library on May 7.
Hiskes’ talk was titled “The Silent Invaders” and touched not only on plants, but bugs, with a Power Point presentation to help identify common invasives. The pictures showed how a Norway maple, for instance, can take over simply by leafing earlier in the spring than other trees, and dropping them later in the fall. It also has a shallow root system, which competes for nutrients with lower-growing plants. In addition, the long-horned beetle likes the red maple and the sugar maple, but stays away from the Norway. In this way, the Norway maple establishes itself in areas where the sugar maple once reigned supreme. It also makes it a popular tree for homeowners, and the nursery industry does not want it banned, she said.
The presentation also touched on ways to fight certain species people may face in their yards, such as the Japanese knotweed. Some people have been successful by just mowing it over and over, especially if there is a limited amount of it. When digging it out, the gardener needs to be careful not to leave any of the roots behind, as they will reproduce. Once dug out, bag them up and throw them into the garbage. If using herbicides (gasp in the audience), Hiskes suggested to cut the knotweed stems to about 6” above ground, then apply a few drops of herbicide into each stem in late summer. The timing is important, as at that time the plant sends carbs and nutrients down into its roots, and will suck the poison right down with it, depositing it where it will do most harm.
Hiskes’ Power Point helped distinguish between the native sumac and the invasive “Tree of Heaven.” The Spotted Lanternfly, which can impact vineyards and fruit trees, was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014, and officials are concerned about it spreading quickly. The Tree of Heaven is one of its host trees.
She talked about how Japanese barberry, a low-growing bush, helps harbor mice, which in turn spread ticks. Recent studies have found how eliminating the bush can help decrease the tick population. Polk added how in Woodbridge, Japanese barberry can be found all along the Blue Trail and other wooded properties.
Hiskes said how the berries of another invasive, the Autumn Olive, have been found to have cancer-fighting properties. Garlic mustard, an edible plant, was brought here from Europe, and spreads furiously once allowed to seed. It can be easily pulled and eliminated.
For those who would like to identify common invasives, check out a handy listing with pictures on the website of the Massachusetts Audubon society: https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants?
A member in the audience also suggested the Seek app of iNaturalist, with which people can help identify any plant or animal they take a picture of.
The next First Tuesday workshop will look at well water quality, Tuesday, June 4, at 6 p.m.
- Members of the audience check out specimen of invasive plants found in Woodbridge
- Horticulturist Rose Hiskes interacts with members of the audience
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent