GHENT, WV (WVNS) — The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reports more than 663 species of plants in West Virginia are non-native, but which of those make up the WVDNR’s “Dirty Dozen”?
An exotic plant is one that has been transplanted from its original habitat; from one country to another on the boots of hikers, on vehicle tires, or the fur of animals. As a result of these exotic species, increasing losses of wildlife, food and habitat can occur.
Kudzu – Pueraria montana, this vine grows a foot a day, extending nearly 60 feet in a growing season over shrubs and trees, strangling branches and smothering foliage. Within a few years, acres of wildlife habitat vanish. Kudzu was introduced to the U.S. from Asia in 1876 and promoted as a forage crop for livestock and as an ornamental plant. Beginning in the 1930s it was promoted as a control for soil erosion. By 1953, it was considered a weed pest or “weed gone wild.”
Water Shield – Brasenia schreberi, first appeared in a West Virginia lake more than 30 years ago. A small waterlily that produces rounded-purplish leaves and purple flowers, the water shield has out-competed native aquatic plants and its thick growth interferes with fishing lines and the movement of smaller boats.
Crown Vetch – Coronilla varia, was introduced from Asia in the 1950s for use as a ground cover for erosion control on roadsides and excavation sites. This aggressive plant invades sunny habitats, climbing over small trees and ground cover and shading them out.
Japanese Knotweed – Polygonum cuspidatum, entered the United States from Asia in the late 1800s and has become one of our state’s most widespread and problematic invasives. It thrives in wetland habitats, completely covering miles of stream banks.
Japanese Stiltgrass – Microstegium vimineum, Japanese stiltgrass was used as a packing material in boxes of porcelain imported from China in the early 1900s, and probably escaped into the wild as people disposed of the dried grass. It easily invades habitats that have been disturbed by roads and trails, displacing wetland and forest understory vegetation. It can completely displace hundreds of species of wildflowers and prevent the growth of tree and shrub seedlings.
Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata, these plants, ranging in two to three feet in height, invade the forest floor much like Japanese stiltgrass. Garlic mustard and Japanese stiltgrass outcompete native plants by monopolizing light, moisture and nutrients.
Tree-of-Heaven – Ailanthus altissima, forms impenetrable thickets and prevents native trees from growing back. Like the famed Hydra of Greek myths, you cut a tree-of-heaven down and it sprouts multiple new “heads” from its roots. Very few native tree species sprout new stems from their root systems. Leaving a few cut trees in a forest or near a forest edge may lead to a rapid displacement of the existing forest that was once there.
Reed Canary Grass – Phalaris arundinacea, a large, sod-forming grass that escaped from cultivated fields into wetlands across the state. Where it thrives, it displaces the diversity of native plants that provide food for waterfowl and serves as host plants for insects eaten by birds and other animal species.
Mile-a-Minute – Persicaria perfoliata, this trailing vine grows over shrubs and trees blocking sunlight, severing the lifeline of sunlight to every plant under it. Distributed mostly along the Ohio River, it poses serious problems on the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. It readily invades open areas such as streambanks, parks, roadsides and forest edges.
Purple Loosestrife – Lythrum salicaria, a perennial that produces beautiful spikes of rose to purplish colored flowers. It thrives in a variety of wetland habitats, displacing the native grasses, sedges and other flowering plants beneficial to wildlife. It has destroyed thousands of acres of wetland habitat in the U.S.
Multiflora Rose – Rosa multiflora, In the early 1930s scientists promoted multiflora rose for use in erosion control and as a living fence for livestock. Multiflora rose supports fewer numbers and kinds of wildlife species because it does not provide adequate food and cover for all species. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent each year trying to remove this pest plant.
Yellow Iris – Iris pseudacoris, This native of Europe thrives in the open water of wetlands. Just thirty years ago, it existed in fewer than six counties, now it may be found throughout 20 counties threatening to degrade the productivity of this habitat for wildlife, and eliminate several species of rare plant species.
While some of the plant-life seen in West Virginia may seem like it belongs, you may be surprised of its origin story. For anyone looking for more information on the origins of West Virginia’s invasive plant species, they can go to the WVDNR’s website.