An Ecological Inventory
Winged burning bush, Euonymus alatus
The Impact of Invasive Species
By Taylor Smith
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “invasive” as “the onset or appearance of something harmful or troublesome, as a disease.”
A massive influx of invasive flora and fauna has negatively impacted huge swaths of our native ecosystem, disrupting plant, animal, and human function. In contrast, native plants help to sustain native wildlife like butterflies, birds, mammals, reptiles, beneficial insects, and other fauna.
The vision of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) is to protect New Jersey’s natural lands with their native plants. Its focus is on eliminating threats posed by newly emerging invasive species before they become widespread pests. Created to do just that, the FoHVOS New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is currently working on a project to protect rare species throughout the municipality of Princeton.
Since 2017, the Strike Team has focused a great deal of its efforts on Herrontown Woods and Mountain Lakes. Both areas are battling invasive plant species including Amur corktree, Boston ivy, Callery pear, English ivy, Japanese aralia, Japanese maple, jetbead, Kousa dogwood, oriental photinia, Siebold’s viburnum, Toringo crabapple, and wintercreeper. According to the group’s website, “Japanese maple has been of primary concern due to the high population in the Princeton area. Since 2017, we were able to eradicate more than 110 populations.”
The Strike Team goes on to note, “As in the Hopewell Valley, Japanese aralia has several limited, but notable, populations. Our goal is complete eradication of this highly threatening species in both Princeton and throughout Hopewell Valley.” Project partners are Friends of Herrontown Woods, Friends of Princeton Open Space, and the Municipality of Princeton.
Another active site for the Strike Team is protecting the Highlands forests of the Morris County Park Commission. Project locations of Tourne County Park and Lewis Morris County Park are seeing great threats to forest health due to the proliferation of oriental photina, Japanese aralia, Siebold’s viburnum, and linden viburnum. These species are threatening due to their height. Growing up to 20 feet tall, they are most prolific in shaded habitats where they spread through fruit and underground runners.
Since early 2019, the NJ Strike Team has targeted the newly-discovered Photinia fraseri population in Morristown National Historic Park. The Morristown branch team said it will also be targeting populations of jetbead, winged burning bush, border privet, and oriental photinia.
While non-natives have been here for a long time, the first invasive plants most likely came over with the first settlers in bags of seeds. Not all plants turn out to be invasive, but the one’s that do take hold often share a number of traits, such as producing vast quantities of seeds naturally, as well as offspring that easily take root and have a tendency to crowd out natural diversity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Invasive Species Information Center recently shared a study on the discovery of a new invasive pest in New Jersey’s Warren County — spotted lanternflies. Also known as the Asian plant hopper, the lanternfly could be potentially devastating to New Jersey crops and hardwood trees.
A complementary Rutgers University study on the discovery of lanternflies in Warren County states, “The insect was accidentally introduced into Pennsylvania in September 2014. At first, it was found only in Berks County, however, today it has been collected from Lehigh, Northampton, Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester County. Since its discovery in Pennsylvania, a state quarantine encompassing 13 Pennsylvania counties for SLF was issued, meaning that live SLF and any material or object that can spread the insect cannot be moved from the quarantine area.”
It was suggested last year that people and businesses traveling into and out of Mercer, Hunterdon, and Warren counties should inspect their vehicles for “hitchhiking SLF.”
Approximately 1 inch in length, the colorful adults have a black head, gray-black spotted forewings, and reddish-black spotted hindwings. Their egg masses are laid on smooth surfaces and appear like a patch of mud, and the juveniles will hatch from the eggs around mid-May.
In terms of destruction, “feeding occurs on the trunk and limbs of plants, not on the fruit or leaf tissues.”
Another blight on New Jersey’s environmental health is the emerald ash borer. Much has been reported on this insect, which was discovered in May 2014 in Somerset County. According to the State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) website, “Through March 5, 2019, emerald ash borer has been found in New Jersey in Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties.”
This non-native insect infests and kills all species of ash trees in North America. The emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan, alone. Of the many forests in New Jersey, 24 percent of them have ash trees, according to the NJDA. The lifespan of an infested tree is just 3-4 years. Protection treatments are soil treatment or trunk injection, and bark spray.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the only agency of the U.S. government whose primary responsibility is the conservation of the nation’s fish, wildlife, and plants. Because of its responsibilities, the Service is dedicated to “the impacts that invasive species are having across the Nation…. Invasive species degrade, change, or displace native habitats and compete with [our] native wildlife and are thus harmful to our fish, wildlife, and plant resources.”
For example, in the Florida Everglades, federal officials have spent millions of dollars addressing threats posed by pythons. According to fws.gov, “the Burmese python has established breeding populations in South Florida, including the Everglades…. Burmese pythons on North Key Largo have killed and eaten highly endangered Key Largo wood rats, and other pythons preyed on endangered wood storks.” If the pythons spread to other states, the federal government will be forced to spend more money on control and containment purposes.
So, what can you do to prevent the spread of invasive species?
The Nature Conservancy offers six easy guidelines:
1. Verify that the plants you are buying for your yard and garden are not invasive.
2. When boating, clean your boat thoroughly before transporting it to a different body of water.
3. Clean your boots before you hike in a new area.
4. Don’t “pack a pest” when traveling. Fruits and vegetables, plants, insects, and animals can carry pests or become invasive themselves.
5. Don’t release aquarium fish and plants, live bait, or other exotic animals into the wild.
6. Volunteer at your local park, refuge or other wildlife area to help remove invasive species and/or help to educate others about the threat.
No matter where you live, chances are you’ll be able to find an invasive species volunteer opportunity nearby. Some state governments organize online training programs where you can become a “Weed Warrior” and be certified to conduct removals on state property.
Lastly, remember that if you see an unfamiliar plant or animal in your community, you should report it to a local environmental, state, or academic group specializing in invasive species management.