Backyard Birder

The invaders are among us

If you can’t beat them, eat them!

Pictured here on the chopping block are two of the most invasive plants in our region — garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed — before they were stir-fried to accompany our Sunday night omelet.

Saturday, at the annual Greenerborough Festival in downtown Peterborough, I handed out a new brochure that describes garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, and 10 other highly invasive plants in our region, with local photos and best control methods included.

I also had clipped or potted examples of each one and encouraged people with Jordan almond rewards to try to ID them.

IDs aren’t easy this early in the growing season, but many invasives leaf out first and drop their leaves last for a prolonged growing season. That’s one of several strategies that give invasive plants a competitive advantage — and land them on New Hampshire’s list of prohibited plants: Their sale is illegal, along with their transport here from out of state.

Most introduced, nonnative plants aren’t invasive. If they escape backyards and gardens, they fit in with the native mix just fine. Dandelions, an introduced plant, might not be loved, but they don’t spread to become a single-species mass that hogs light, water, nutrients and space, elbowing out a natural mix that includes native wildflowers, shrubs and trees.

That’s what plants on the invasive species list do.

Garlic mustard recently became a statewide focus, and community “pulls” are part of what UNH Cooperative Extension calls “The Garlic Mustard Challenge”: a friendly statewide competition for the most bagfuls pulled

Like most invasive plants, garlic mustard has no insect enemies or diseases here to keep it in check; and herbivore browsers leave it alone — other than humans who pick it and cook it. One plant also produces a multitude of seeds and is self-pollinating.

It does wildlife no good as a food source, and spreads to take over wildlife habitat as well as food-producing plants.

It also has another fearsome weapon: roots that release a chemical that’s noxious to other plants, as well as to what’s called a tree’s “fungal partners.”

Mostly unknown and unheralded, there’s a vast underground root-like network formed by various fungus species. The network attaches to tree roots, extending them and delivering additional mineral nutrients and water uptake — a lot more.

In exchange, the fungi receive carbohydrates from the trees in a brilliant, mutually beneficial partnership.

Garlic mustard releases chemicals that break up a partnership that people who know the forest say is essential to forest health.

The plant hasn’t invaded New Hampshire — yet — although the Hanover area has some bad infestations, as well as many organized “pulls” to combat them.

Deservedly, they’ll win the Garlic Mustard Challenge hands down.

With all the invasive plants, early detection and removal is essential. After invasive density is reached, control is difficult and sometimes impossible.

That’s the goal of the Peterborough Conservation Commission’s new brochure: early detection and removal. Both garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed are introduced in roadside fill, and the more watchful eyes along roadways the better.

The 10-page brochure is available free from ConCom members and at the Town House. Invasives are a regional problem, and many copies were printed with the goal of regional distribution.

As for Japanese knotweed, its roots go down and out great distances and it’s fully capable of pushing up through cracks in pavement. It’s another top-priority invasive that requires roadside vigilance. In the photo it’s the one that looks like asparagus. Wild-food foragers describe it as tasting like lemony asparagus.

In addition to roadsides, knotweed is taking over river shorelines that host a bountiful mix of plants and animals as true biodiversity champions. Loss of that diversity is bad news.

As double trouble, knotweed roots are bulbous, lacking fine rootlets that stabilize soils. The plant not only takes over shorelines, it increases shoreline erosion.

I gave away a lot of the invasive plant brochures at Greenerborough, and had the pleasure of meeting people very aware of invasive plants and doing something about them.

I often wish I could drive by stretches of the Contoocook River taken over by knotweed and not notice; or hike Casalis State Forest behind our house and not notice impenetrable masses of glossy buckthorn around the beaver pond.

It helps to know that other people are noticing, too.

We need your eyes watching your roadsides. Please take some booklets and pass them around your neighborhood.

Invasives are easy to ID. The 10-page booklet has photos of local invasives on recognizable streets, as well as some recognizable people pulling, hauling, lopping and burning invasives, two of our grandchildren included.

Success stories from Dublin, Harrisville and Hanover, and Franklin Pierce, too, are described. “Pulling Together” is the theme. There’s work to be done, and doing it together is the way to go.

Note: The Peterborough ConCom has scheduled its first community garlic mustard pull Saturday morning. If you would like to participate, please call me at 924-6550. Lend a hand and take home some brochures.

Backyard Birder by Francie Von Mertens appears every other week in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

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