Pretty Invasive

Wrestling with weeds sometimes seems like a no-win situation. I don’t mind the spreading spearmint too much in my garden. However, the scraggly sage makes me struggle to strip it out. Prickly thistles are even worse.

You might guess weeds wouldn’t be a worry out in the wild, but think again. Sometimes even pretty plants threaten to take over huge tracts. And when those plants are outside invaders, they can crush the natural ecological balance.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to observe a few of these invasive plants firsthand while walking through the swamp at Maumee Bay State Park in Ohio. The park’s boardwalk loops let visitors safely explore the area up close without sinking into goo.

Phragmites (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Phragmites
(c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

First, I saw phragmites. (Say FRAG-might-ease). These coarse, reedy grasses can grow more than 12 feet tall. Yet they spread like crazy, crowding out native species and reducing overall diversity.

Purple loosestrife is also on the loose out at Maumee Bay. It also crowds out native plants, reducing diversity and providing poorer food resources for wildlife.

These plants looked pretty as I was out on my walk. But they and other non-native plants can also be pretty invasive.

Purple loosestrife  (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Purple loosestrife
(c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

One more thing: Thanks to the Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources. Their workshop on agriculture and water quality in Lake Erie was the reason I was out at Maumee Bay in the first place. The presentations and discussion were fantastic and provided lots of great ideas for me to pursue in my work as a freelance journalist. The workshop also added to my understanding about complex water quality and agriculture issues facing the Great Lakes region.

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