Invasive Plants: The Green Menace


What is an Invasive Plant? 
Non-native or "Alien" plants are those introduced by people either accidentally or on purpose into a region far from their native habitat. For the most part, alien species form an important part of our culture and contribute immensely to farming, gardening, landscaping, and soil stabilization. Many of our staple food crops are actually non-native plants. However, among the many introduced plant species, some have displayed unexpected growth tendencies allowing them to readily invade our natural areas. These so-called invasive alien plants typically exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Rapid growth and maturity
  • Prolific seed production
  • Highly successful seed dispersal, germination, and colonization
  • Rampant vegetative spread
  • Ability to outcompete native species
  • High cost of removal and control

Where do you find them? 
Invasive alien plants typically thrive in disturbed sites, like roadsides, farmland, and areas of new development. Native plant communities fragmented by human disturbance are most vulnerable to invasion, but many invasive species can infest even intact ecosystems. Invasive alien plants are free of natural controls such as insects and diseases that keep them in balance in their native habitats.

Why are they a problem? 
Invasive plants are widely recognized as the second greatest threat to biodiversity, just behind habitat loss to development. Because of their growth traits and lack of natural controls, invasive plants often overwhelm native vegetation to which birds and other wildlife have become adapted. Dense stands of non-native plants can choke out native species, destroying and altering habitat. While native vegetation encourage a diversity of species, invasive plants typically create a monoculture.

Invasive Plants Strike Close to Home 
Here in our wooded community, invasives are a real and growing threat. In 2002, a professional arborist completed a survey of our wooded parcels as part of our Forest Conservation Management Agreement (FCMA) to evaluate the overall forest health. The survey found an alarming spread of invasive plants that will destroy the forested areas we hold so dear. Click here for a list of the worst plants.

The Woodlands Committee, acting on the recommendations of the FCMA plan and with direction from the Board of Directors, is taking the lead in fighting the spread of non-native invasive plants in our community.

What Greenbelt Homes Is Doing

  • Tracking the threat. GHI and the Woodlands Committee are monitoring all of our wooded areas for invasive plants. Many areas are heavily infested while others are more natural. Regular monitoring will help us best target our efforts.
  • Controlling the spread. GHI is systematically removing the most aggressive invasive plants from our wooded areas. Staff, contractors, members, and volunteers are helping pull, cut, and properly dispose of unwanted invasives. GHI is also working to update plant recommendations to replace invasive species with natives.
  • Educating members. Many invasive plants spread by accident. Some grow out from member's garden areas and yards, others sprout by seeds dropped by birds. Stopping invasive plants requires member's help to discourage invasives from spreading outside their yards. GHI has developed fact sheets and is organizing workshops for members on invasive plant identification and removal.
  • Replanting natives. Once invasive plants are removed, GHI is committed to helping reestablish native plants. Sometimes nature takes care of itself, other times it needs help. GHI is replanting native plants in targeted restoration efforts where necessary.

What You Can Do

  • Scout for invasive species in your yard or near your home. Learn which plants are problems in Maryland, so you can recognize them if you see them. GHI has developed helpful fact sheets on the most common invasive plants in our woodland areas.
  • Avoid introducing invasive species. Check with plant sellers before you buy, to make sure that the plant you want, whether native or alien, is not invasive. Ask about non-invasive alternatives for your garden. Click here for a list of the plants prohibited in GHI.
  • Minimize disturbance. Many invasive species are adapted to disturbance and rapidly take over newly disturbed areas. Keep open areas on your property to a minimum and monitor disturbed areas for species that spread quickly.
  • Remove invasive species before they become a problem. The best way to control invasives is through early detection and rapid response. Pull, cut, spray or deadhead problem plants before they go to seed. Contain spreading vines and other plants to your property so they don't infest our wooded areas.
  • Join the GHI Weed Warriors. Controlling the spread of invasive plants in our woodlands is a lot of work. We need help from members young and old. Our Weed Warriors are trained to identify and remove invasive plants and to help educate other members. Join our team to keep Greenbelt "green!"

Our woods are one of our greatest assets - let's preserve them!