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What Impact do Non-Native Plants have on the Environment?

Although non-native species are beautiful, always ask yourself before planting them, what impact do these plants have on the environment? Non-native plants spread quickly and disrupt the natural ecosystem. Not only can they can dominate your garden beds, but they can also control the growth of your other plants. Non-native plants disrupt soil causing impacts such as erosion, habitat loss, and reduction of tree cover in their environments.

Invasive plants spread quickly and can displace native plants, preventing their growth. These plants cause a disruption in their habitat by reducing biological diversity. 

Areas largely dominated by invasive plants are more likely to erode during floods because invasive plants have short roots that do not bind the soil, unlike native plant roots which extend deep into the soil.

As much as anyone detests insects, they are essential to our ecosystem. With non-native plants, insects face threats such as habitat destruction and loss of food sources. Given the decrease in native plants, insects are restricted to a diet of specific plants. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds all feed or pollenate from flowers, favoring native flowers from their habitat.  

You can read more on the impact of non-native species here.

Natural yard

What Impact do Non-Native Vines, Shrubs and Plants have in a Michigan Environment?

Plants that aren’t native to Michigan can quickly turn to invasive because their growth suffocates other native plants and prevents them from growing in their environment. Many plants that are invasive have shallow roots and spread quickly, overtaking the natural habitat.

The Environmental Impact of Non-Native Vines

When planting vines, it’s particularly important to be careful which you are planting because of how fast vines grow and overtake the area they are in. 

1. Black Shallow-Wort

Black shallow-wart is compose of small, dark purple flowers that are shaped like stars. This vine is toxic to many insect including caterpillars and its roots are toxic to animals. It spreads quickly and freely because the seeds are carried by wind or water. 

2. Chinese Yam

Chinese yam is an aggressive vine that can overtake vegetation by climbing over shrubs and trees. It vines are pointed, hearted shaped and are indented on the sides. Chinese yam can grow up to 16 feet in height, engulfing surrounding plants in its path. Chinese yam dies in the winter but it grows and reproduces so quickly, it reduces plant diversity and threatens native ecosystems. 

3. Kudzu

Kudzu in the summer

Kudzu grows immensely fast at up to a foot a day and reaching up to 100 feet, with as many as 30 vines per plant. Overtime kudzu causes habitat loss that can lead to species extinction and biodiversity loss. Comparatively, kudzu dominates the areas they grow in, stifling native grasses, wildflowers, and even trees by blocking them from sunlight. You can identify kudzu by its alternating, compound leaves with 3 leaflets and its purple flowers in late summer. Kudzu grows rapidly once established and can smother and shade out native plants.

More information on Kudzu can be found here.

Shrubs

Species of shrubs that are not native also have the potential to harm human health or natural resources. Invasive shrubs often grow quickly depriving native species of food, water, and space; and often do not provide the same food and shelter that native plants do.

1. Common Buckthorn

Common buckthorn is not restricted in Michigan but has many ecological concerns. This plant spreads quickly through seeds distributed by birds and other wildlife. It’s a host for alfalfa mosaic virus and crown fungus. You can identify this plant by its dark green, oval-shaped leaves. Its twigs often have a single, sharp torn on its tip and has a distinctive orange inner bark.

More information on Common Buckthorn can be found here.

2. Multiflora Rose

Multiflora rose can grow up to 15 feet tall. It has small white to pink flowers and a strong fragrance. Moreover, multiflora rose spreads aggressively by rooting its branches and by seed dispersement. Contrarily because multiflora rose grows so quickly and aggressively, it prevents native shrubs and herbs from establishing.

More information on the local concern for Multiflora Rose can be found here

Herbs and Flowering Plants

1. Himalayan Balsam

Balsam flower. Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) plant in bloom.

Himalayan balsam grows between 3 and 6 feet tall, with purple-red stems. Each stem grows 5 to 10 flowers. Himalayan balsam competes with native species and alters the behavior of pollinating insects. 

Himalayan balsam also has a few native look-alikes that includes jewelweed and pale touch-me-not. Firstly, jewelweed has yellow or orange flowers that are much smaller in size with rounded leaf blades. Pale touch-me-not has yellow flowers and rounded leaf blades as well. 

You can read more on Himalayan balsam on Michigans website here.

2. Spotted Knapweed

Silver washed fritillary on Brown Knapweed flower

Spotted knapweed is a bushy, perennial plant that grows between 2-3 feet with pink-purple flowers. This plant is poisonous to other plants, creating areas where only knapweed grows. 

Additionally, knapweed is a threat to open fields and may cause skin reactions, so it is especially important to avoid this plant and kill it if you find it on your property. 

3. Oleander

Pink oleander or Nerium flower

While oleander is not considered invasive in Michigan, it does pose potential danger to your sewer lines. Their roots have been known to creep into water and sewer lines potentially causing extensive damage. 

Oleander is an eye-catching plant with pink flowers. This plant is highly toxic to pets and even you. Therefore, if ingested oleander can be fetal. It’s best for dog owners to avoid this plant. 

Choose Michigan Native Plants For Your Lawn and Garden

Choosing plants native to Michigan’s climate and environment can save you time, energy, and water usage. Since native plants are accustomed to their natural habitat and climate, they require less energy to maintain and need to be watered less frequently. 

In addition, choosing native plants to Michigan will also help restore natural habitats for animals and insects in your area. Native plants provide a natural food source for many birds within the area. They will produce fruit, nectar, nuts, and seeds for wildlife. Native plants are also preferred by bees as opposed to non-native plants. Non-native plants do not always provide bees and other pollinators with enough pollen or nectar.

Preserve biodiversity by growing native plants. Moreover this preserves the natural connections between the plants in your garden and the creatures that depend on them for survival. Native plants provide food for insects and shelter for small animals in your area. 

Native plants are rarely invasive and will allow your other plants to grow freely. Invasive plants will make landscaping more difficult, whereas they control the growth of your other plants.

Native Plants to Consider

Researching the impact of non-native plants on the environment can be time consuming. A few options for flowers include yarrow, giant hyssop, smooth aster, and woodland sunflower. Additionally, you can see our full list of recommended native plants here.