Letters to the EditorNews

Georgia Should Ban Invasive Plants

The Eastern Forest is changing. Where once the understory of a forest was open enough for one to walk and see through without much impairment, now many forests—especially those in or near cities, towns or even rural homes—are choked with exotic, invasive plants that are radically changing them. Most neighborhoods here in Athens are already thoroughly invaded by these plants, whether the current landowners planted them or not.

Many people are already familiar with kudzu, “the plant that ate the South,” that was introduced to control erosion and has been steadily smothering trees and roadsides by the acre for a century. But there are many others that are steadily degrading our forests, including trees, shrubs, vines, forbs and grasses.

Many exotic invasive plants are commonly for sale at most landscaping and nursery venues. They grow quickly, put on handsome fall foliage and/or make good privacy barriers. They tend to grow well here because, due to being non-native, they do not have pests that control them or herbivores to graze them. Many, like privet, are prolific producers of seed that several species of generalist birds eat and distribute. Many, like privet, are also prolific root sprouters, growing clones of themselves over large areas, and creating dense thickets that choke out all other plants. These rhizome spreaders will even grow a new plant when a piece of a root breaks off in the ground as one pulls out the main stem, or can grow whole new plants even after they’ve been shredded for mulch.

As mentioned, many species of birds will happily eat the fruit of exotic invasives; after all, that is what fruit is for. However, some birds need the fruit or flowers or insects that feed on very specific types of plants that are choked out by the presence of invasive plants. Over the long term, this can cause reductions in biodiversity of plants and animals, lessening the chance that you’ll see your favorite birds or flowers. Unfortunately, some birds don’t know to distinguish certain berries and can be killed by exotic invasives; Cedar waxwings have been known to gorge on nandina berries and then die.

So why should anyone care if the already ecologically disturbed forests in and around people’s houses have a few dozen (or thousand) invasive plants? Well, these plants escape into the native forests of the area, where they take up available resources, such as sunlight, soil, water, and nutrients, choking out native plant species. As mentioned, this reduces biodiversity, but so what? Biodiversity is an important tool that Eastern Forests (and all biomes) have to respond to disaster. Forests invaded by exotic plants experience degradation that makes them less resilient to disasters like drought, heatwaves, wildfire, floods, pest outbreaks, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. As climate changes, these disasters become more common, and invaded forests lose resilience to that change.There are many people like myself and citizen groups who combat the scourge of invasives by pulling them out of the ground, cutting them back, and/or (my non-preferred method) using herbicide. Individual action is great, but we must do more if we are to preserve the integrity of forests and other biomes in Georgia. We need a statewide ban on the sale of exotic invasive plants, including but not limited to all species of privet, Nandina, Russian summer thorny olive, Japanese bayberry, winged burning bush, leatherleaf mahonia, Chinese wisteria, oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle and many others that can be found at