I was recently shopping for plants for my shady yard, and after a quick discussion with a friendly nursery employee, I had two seemingly great options: Periwinkle and English Ivy. They would cover the area fast and would thrive even in the low-light conditions I described. There was one problem: they are both invasive plants.
An invasive plant is a non-native species that spreads rapidly through an ecosystem, often choking-out native vegetation. Many invasive plants leaf-out earlier than their native counterparts, blocking much-needed sunlight, and making it more challenging for seeds to germinate. Unfortunately, it is very easy to purchase invasive plants for your yard or garden, as many nurseries still carry them. Here are a few you should avoid planting if at all possible: Bishop’s Weed (also called Snow on the Mountain), Periwinkle (aka vinca), English Ivy, Callery Pear, Japanese Barberry, European Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle vine, and Multiflora Rose.
While often slower growing, there are many native plant options for your yard. There are even nurseries here in Pittsburgh that specialize in them. So, lend nature a hand, and think native when it comes to landscaping!
Lindsey Rose Flowers
Restoration and Stewardship Coordinator
Whoops! Sorry for going radio silent the past three months or so… Summer is always a busy time here at NMRWA, but that’s no excuse. Now that Fall is on the way, we’re ready to get back on a regular blogging schedule!
In the coming months, we’ll be posting about NMRWA events and workdays, information about native plants and animals, lists of other upcoming watershed community events, and more, so stay tuned.
Here are a couple snapshots to help recap our summer…
Today’s post comes from the Green Building Alliance (GBA). GBA is the regional chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, and works to inspire the creation of healthy, high-performance places for everyone by providing leadership that connects knowledge, transformative ideas, and collaborative action. GBA has an Emerging Professionals committee that enables like-minded sustainability professionals to be a force for progress within their communities by providing a forum for networking and education.
One of GBA’s Emerging Professionals is Christi Saunders – a virtual construction engineer for Mascaro Construction. She wrote today’s post about her experience volunteering in Frick Park as an Urban EcoSteward. Thank you to Christi & GBA for this guest blog post!
I live in Regent Square and have spent much time in Frick Park, either running, walking the dog, or playing tennis. I have always enjoyed my time in Frick Park because it feels like I’ve have been transported out of the city to the Middle of Nowhere, PA. Its calm, quiet, and beautiful.
Through living in Regent Square and my involvement with the Emerging Professionals at Green Building Alliance, I learned about the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. NMRWA is involved in the cleanup and maintenance of the Nine Mile Run watershed, which includes Frick Park and parts of Wilkinsburg, Pittsburgh, Swissvale, and Edgewood. In all of the time I had spent in Frick Park, I had never considered how the park was maintained. I guess I just assumed that the city and the Parks Conservancy maintained the grounds, which in fact they do – they cut grass address fallen trees, service the restroom facilities, maintain the trails, etc. Other major maintenance activities in the park like collecting trash, removing invasive species, and planting new species, however, is actually accomplished through a volunteer program called Urban EcoStewards, which is managed by NMRWA and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
Since I love Frick Park so much, I was eager to do my part to help maintain its great quality so others can enjoy it as much as I do. I brought the idea of joining the EcoStewards program to GBA’s Emerging Professionals group and we all agreed to take on the project. We have since been assigned a project site in Frick Park that is near the Edgewood/Swissvale on-ramp to the parkway. We started maintaining the site last fall mostly by removing English Ivy, an invasive species that tends to grow everywhere.
We returned to the project this spring, but we wanted to do more than just remove English Ivy. So Tom Cosgro and I attended a Spring Invasive Species training class that was held by NMRWA and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. We learned new species to identify and whether or not they need to be removed from the site. I also talked with NMRWA about what native species we could plant at our site. Two weeks before our spring cleanup day, I headed out and purchased a few bushes and several smaller flowering milkweed plants.
On our spring cleanup day this year, we began by removing several different types of invasive species including Garlic Mustard and Goutweed. Everyone noticed right away the lack of English Ivy, which made us feel accomplished since we knew that our last project had actually made an impact.
After an hour or so, the sky started to look darker so we decided to wrap it up by planting the natives that I had brought. As we began to dig holes for the bushes, the sky opened up and it poured down rain. We debated making a break for the cars but there was no time. We all jumped into the trees and found as much shelter as we could. The pouring rain only lasted about 10-15 minutes but it was enough that we all ended up soaked.
After the rain, we went on to plant a Button Bush, a Spice Bush, and a few Milkweed plants, which attract numerous species of butterflies. After that, we cleaned up and headed back towards Regent Square. We all enjoyed an ice cold beer and laughed about being so wet. Hopefully at the next EcoStewards day we will see our native plants flourishing along the trail in Frick Park. And if you haven’t explored this wonderful park yet, you have to check it out!
A recap of the UES Spring Invasives Workshop
This past Sunday, April 6, 2014, nearly forty enthusiastic volunteers attended the Spring Invasives Workshop in Lower Frick Park offered by NMRWA and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for Jake Baechle, Volunteer Coordinator for the Parks Conservancy, and Paul Yanulavich, Urban EcoSteward Coordinator and Arborist for NMRWA, to talk about the Urban EcoSteward program and the importance of invasive plant removal and its connection to biodiversity.
For example, did you know that many plants from the nursery that people use in their gardens are specifically bred to be pest-free? Unfortunately, many of these plants find their way into Pittsburgh’s parks, where they have an unfair advantage over native plants.
While these invasive, pest-free plants are problematic for numerous reasons, one big one is that they affect the reproduction and survival of butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths are not only unable to eat these plants, but they also are unable to lay their eggs on them, since they will ultimately need to be eaten by the young caterpillars.
One example of note is the monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies’ main food source are native milkweed plants in the US & Mexico. Milkweed is the only plant Monarchs will lay their eggs on, which unfortunately is vanishing at a rapid rate, particularly in the Great Plains states along the Monarch butterfly’s migration route, due to increased use of herbicides. The effects on Monarch populations are alarming – at their peak in the 1990’s, Monarch butterflies occupied 45 acres of forest in the Mexican mountains; this past year they covered only 1.65 acres!
This lack of food and reproductive space for Monarchs as well as numerous other butterfly and moth species in turn affects bird populations. Adult birds can eat the berries of invasive plants, but their babies can only eat the soft butterfly and moth larvae usually found on the native plants these invasives are replacing.
Not all is gloom and doom, however. As participants at Sunday’s workshop learned, we can slow the rate of extinction and boost biodiversity and the food web by planting native plants, like milkweed, in our own backyards (and in the parks), and by removing the invasives that are taking their place.
Although not many plants (native or invasive) were coming up quite yet because of the late arrival of Spring, the group did manage to find plenty of emerging goutweed, garlic mustard, and mugwort plants to remove, and, as always, plenty of vines to cut away from our beautiful, native trees.
Thanks to all the Urban EcoStewards and other volunteers who helped to make the day a success, and to Jake Baechle and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Naturalist Mike Cornell for their knowledge, leadership, and insight.