Nature

Taking out Invasives

Emerald & Gold, an invasive shrub that's distributed via bird poop.

The WILD garden came with two highly invasive shrubs originally from Asia.

Burning Bush — by the kitchen window. 

And Emerald & Gold along the fence line.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) in front of the kitchen windows.
Emerald & Gold along the fenceline
Emerald & Gold (Euonymus fortunei) aka Winter Creeper

Both plants are popular in New Jersey because they grow fast, have colorful leaves and thrive in the shade.

Birds eat the berries, fly off and spread the invasive plant seeds in their poop.

Burning Bush and Emerald & Gold do so well that they are taking over native woodlands.

Credit: Emily Finci, woodyinvasives.org
Emerald & Gold, aka Winter Creeper climbing trees. Credit: Emily Finci, woodyinvasives.org
Invasive Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Credit: Bill Duesing

Yet both of these invasive plants are still sold in New Jersey!

Euonymus is promoted as “insect resistant.”

Big Box stores promote plants like Emerald & Gold as “insect resistant.”

It’s true. As we dug we found some leaf mold, but otherwise the Emerald & Gold leaves were untouched — nothing was eating it.

Something Doug Tallamy said in a lecture at New Jersey Friendly Yard’s 2017 conference really stuck with me: a sign that a plant is not native is that its leaves are pristine. If there are no chomp marks, no holes, no jagged edges…it’s not food.

We also learned from Tallamy that birds raise their young on insects. Not seeds. Caterpillars and other insects are packed with the fat calories and protein that hatchlings need to thrive.

Native plants support native insects that support hatchlings and all the creatures in the interlocking web of life in New Jersey’s unique coastal habitat. Coevolution 101.

Other than the fall berries —the way these invasive shrubs spread beyond suburban gardens! — the Emerald and Gold was no good at supporting wildlife in New Jersey.

Digging out the Emerald & Gold

It took all our combined strength for Dave and I to get rid of the Burning Bush and the Emerald & Gold.  We had to dig the shrubs out in stages.

It was exhausting, but worth it because it made room for some native shrubs.

Under the kitchen window we planted black chokeberries. This native shrub is like a year-round banquet of blossoms , berries and insects. All year we look out the kitchen window and we find cardinals, wrens, blue jays, mockingbirds looking for tiny insects or feasting on the rich black chokeberries in fall.

Black Chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa)

There were extensive bare patches after we dug out the Emerald & Gold. To economically fill it in we sowed grass seed.

After years of taking out lawn, we were now carefully growing it.   : )

I also transplanted Viburnum dentatum to fill in one large bare patch. The previous owners had planted the native Viburnum along with non-native Spiraea in a strict alternating sequence along the fence line:  Viburnum / Spiraea / Viburnum / Spiraea/ Viburnum / Spiraea / Viburnum / Spiraea / Viburnum / Spiraea /   It was more an algorithm than a garden design.

In the Viburnum Dentatum Thicket

The native Viburnum are now grouped in a thicket. The cardinals and I LOVE it.

The Spiraea and several other plants that came with the garden are also exotic — not native. They are not aggressive spreaders like Burning Bush and Emerald & Gold so we let them be.

If I were richer or stronger, I’d replace the exotics that seem to just….carbon sequester.  

I hold my true love for the plants that sustain and bring the WILD into my corner of suburbia.  

2 Comments

  • Lee

    Sarah, this is a great post! I really learned a lot about both those two invasive species as well as the role of insects in the food web. As you know, I love ecology, birds, and plants, so the interconnections of an ecosystem are important to me.

    I also like the choice of chokeberry. I like its berries and flowers. For fall red color instead of the burning bush, I’m sure there are natives that do the same thing. Staghorn sumac first comes to mind, although maybe that grows too tall. But there has to be more.

    • Sarah

      I love Staghorn sumac! Or as I used to call it as a kid, “the candle stick tree.” You’re right, Staghorn sumac would have been too tall in front of the kitchen window….Dave and I are considering it in our backyard…but we’re leaning towards Witch Hazel.
      Thanks for commenting, Lee!

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