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Published: Monday, 6/4/2007

Plant lovers want nurseries to stop selling invasive plants

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A man walks past last year's growth of Phragmites, also known as "Giant Reed," Sunday, May 13, 2007, at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. Invasive bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie. A man walks past last year's growth of Phragmites, also known as "Giant Reed," Sunday, May 13, 2007, at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. Invasive bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie.
J.D. POOLEY / AP Enlarge

TOLEDO, Ohio Bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie.

Wild flowers have disappeared. Migrating birds have gone elsewhere.

The parkland has changed so much that Dana Bollin, the naturalist at Maumee Bay State Park, no longer leads tours along its boardwalk. I hate to spend an hour talking about invasive plants, she said.

In Michigan, exotic plant species are destroying or threatening habitats along sand dunes. In Florida, swamps are a target.

Environmental groups hope to slow the spread by persuading nurseries to stop selling invasive plants and promote native species.

In California, a partnership of nursery owners and environmental leaders is working on a campaign called Plant Right that will roll out early next year and give gardeners brochures to help them find native plants suited for their regions.

Florida s highway department announced last fall it will stop planting invasive plants along its roads.

Big-box retailer Meijer Inc. announced in March it is removing two invasive trees Norway maple and Lombardy poplar from its stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Only a small percentage of plants sold in nurseries are troublemakers that crowd out other plants and rob animals of their food sources.

But environmental groups say these non-native plants can end up in the hands of gardeners or landscapers who only later find out how quickly they can take over a backyard.

A couple walks past last year's growth of Phragmites, also known as "Giant Reed," Sunday, May 13, 2007, at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. Invasive bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie. A couple walks past last year's growth of Phragmites, also known as "Giant Reed," Sunday, May 13, 2007, at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. Invasive bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie.
J.D. POOLEY / AP Enlarge

Some invasives, like Norway maples and Japanese barberry, are still big sellers.

Often, there s little information about invasives at nurseries for gardeners browsing for spring plants. Adding to the confusion is that plants that are fine in one state can cause trouble in another.

Take baby s breath, for example.

It s not among the worst non-native plants, and isn t a problem in most places. But not many gardeners know that it is taking over the natural grasses that help stabilize sand dunes along Lake Michigan.

It s a cute name and you think it s so harmless, said Melissa Soule, a spokeswoman for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. A lot of names for these things are even a problem.

That s why many groups fighting against invasive plants are encouraging nurseries to give customers more information about what plants are best.

They hope consumers will embrace native plants as they have home-grown organic vegetables. It s buying local and trying to be more natural, Soule said.

Meijer stores in the Midwest now have brochures in their garden departments promoting native plants and tags on plants and trees that are recommended by The Nature Conservancy.

We can reach everyday shoppers and help them understand there is a choice that can be made, said Meijer spokeswoman Stacie Behler.

A few states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, have banned the sale of dozens of invasive plants. New Hampshire s ban on Norway maples, Japanese barberry and burning bush took effect this year.

In most states, though, legislation stopping the sales of invasive plants is a tough sell. Nursery owners oppose it. And even environmental groups disagree on what plants should be included.

So those groups now are working together in several states on voluntary programs.

Before it was more confrontational, said Doug Johnson, executive director, California Invasive Plant Council. It was not real constructive.

Over the last three years, nursery owners, landscape architects and environmental leaders in California have been developing a list of about 20 invasive plants that they want to stop.

Nursery owners are taking the targeted plants out of their inventories, and next winter they will concentrate on educating customers about what alternatives are available.

It will be up to nursery and store owners to decide whether they will follow the recommendations.

It can be good for business, and it will be good for the environment, said Terri Kempton, of Sustainable Conservation, an environmental group based in San Francisco.

Last years growth of Phragmites also known as "Giant Reed" is seen Sunday, May 13, 2007, at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. Invasive bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie. Last years growth of Phragmites also known as "Giant Reed" is seen Sunday, May 13, 2007, at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. Invasive bamboo-like plants that grow taller than adults have choked out native plants in a marsh that once teemed with life along Lake Erie.
J.D. POOLEY / AP Enlarge

Nursery owners and retailers are getting involved, in part, because they want to act before other states attempt to impose bans on plants. The industry also recognizes how fast these problem plants have spread and how much is being spent to control them.

There s no denying that some of the plant material we ve sold over the years have become problems, said Bob Falconer, executive vice president of the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers.

Many nursery owners now believe there are some plants that shouldn t be sold if money is being spent to eradicate those plants from natural areas, he said.

Everyone s becoming a little greener, Falconer said.

The federal government spent $631 million dealing with invasive plants and animals in 2000, according to a U.S. General Accounting Office report.

California, Florida and Hawaii states where plants thrive have big problems with the invaders. Florida spent $54 million in 1999 on trying to control non-native plants, the GAO report said.

Everything grows in Florida, said Kristina Serbesoff-King, invasive species coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in Florida.

The Nature Conservancy s work with the horticulture industry in Florida led Lowe s Cos. to stop selling about 50 invasive plants at its home improvement stores in the state. Other nurseries in the state also have pulled problem plants.

A big key in getting stores to stop selling the plants is showing them just how destructive they have become.

They are willing to listen if it s based on sound science, Serbesoff-King said.



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