Seasonal changes may help in identification of problem invasive plant pests

Unwanted exotic species, adapted to conditions in other regions of the world, may cycle somewhat differently than local varieties making identification simpler.

Common buckthorn in late fall under a Northern Hardwood stand in Iron County, Michigan. Photo Credit: Mike Schira l MSU Extension

Common buckthorn in late fall under a Northern Hardwood stand in Iron County, Michigan. Photo Credit: Mike Schira l MSU Extension

Native plants are incorporated into the ecology of their local environment providing, food, shelter and habitat for other associated plant and wildlife species. When plant species from outside of a particular region are introduced, they are generally referred to as “exotic”. Many exotic species are beneficial but, on occasion, some foreign or exotic species, due in part to the lack of competition and pests, will have their populations explode and begin replacing native species.

Spreading invading exotic plants, usually defined as “invasive” species, displace and replace native species. This displacement disrupts an area’s ecology and in many cases, healthy varieties of native plants are replaced by a single new invasive exotic species. Once established, these invasive exotics can negatively impact regeneration of native plant species as well as disrupting the general health and abundance of wildlife species dependent on the native plants that are no longer available to them.

The best defense against these exotic pest plant species becoming established is early detection and eradication. Michigan State University Extension, in partnership with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI), has online materials available that can help in identification and hopefully early detection of problem invasive. Another helpful publication is the “A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities” available through MNFI.

Often, because these problem invasives come from different regions of the world, annual plant cycles will be different than surrounding native species. If you can identify pants with green leaves after most others in the same area have shed their leaves in the fall or plants leafing out in the spring earlier than most of the other plants in a given area, there is a chance these may be problem invaders.

Some native plant species do take advantage of seasonal light availability so it is no guarantee that seasonally-unusual plants are problem exotics. Should you see something out of place in nature however, it is worth taking a closer look at to determine if it’s something to be concerned about. If identification is uncertain, consider contacting a resource professional to assist with identification.

In addition to getting assistance from your local county MSU Extension office, many of Michigan’s local Conservation District offices have personal that may be able to help with identification if needed. Additional online assistance is available through the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN).

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