Restoring Native Plants

Exotic Plant Removal

Exotic plants are those not native to the area. During the 19th century, people ordered a wide variety of new plants for their gardens which then spread to the surrounding countryside. Other plants hitchhiked in as regional and global trade became more widespread. A few, such as kudzu vine, were well-meaning experiments gone awry.

In a healthy ecosystem, the delicate balance of producers and consumers has been worked out slowly over time. Exotic plants often spread out of control in a new environment. They crowd out native plants, reduce the biological distinctiveness of an area, and--in the case of duckweed or musk thistle--may present hazards to people and their activities. An area twice the size of Delaware is lost to invasive plants each year in the United States. Invasive species of all types, including animals, are estimated to cost $137 billion annually in losses to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and the maintenance of open waterways in the United States.

Common exotic plants found at the Ellington Agricultural Center include bush honeysuckle (above) and Chinese privet (right) which have been mainly responsible for turning what should be open woodland vistas into impenetrable walls of foliage.

Dense mats of multiflora rose that once blanketed the area around Edmondson Pike have already become less common but are a stubborn plant pest requiring considerable effort over an extensive period to eradicate.

Other common exotics slated for intensive management include mimosa, Queen Anne's Lace, musk thistle and Asiatic dayflower.

Along Sevenmile Creek, Chinese privet and bush honeysuckle formed an almost impenetrable mat along both sides of the habitat trail. People who are unfamiliar with the normal appearance of woodlands might think it gave the area a lush, green look. In actual fact it was smothering the forest floor. This photograph of a mature hardwood forest (left) shows clearly how a forest floor should look. It is not a manicured monoculture of grass like a suburban lawn, however it is open and inviting, permitting sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

Removing exotic and invasive plant pests may be hard work, but it is definitely worthwhile. Follow these eight guidelines consistently for best results:

  • Learn the invasive plants common in your region.
  • Identify the invasive species on your property.
  • Resolve not to bring additional invasive plants into your outdoor space.
  • Determine what could fill the space now occupied by invasive species.
  • Choose a method for removal that is effective and within your resources.
  • Select a manageable plot size to tackle and keep at it.
  • Repeat the removal process as necessary.
  • Be vigilant in keeping the old pests--or new ones--from cropping up.

We handle Chinese privet and bush honeysuckle by cutting them even with the ground during the early fall or in the dead of winter, then painting the stump with an appropriate herbicide. Plant debris is disposed of so seeds will not spread to other sites.

Grateful acknowledgment goes to the National Audubon Society for use of some of the materials in this section.

Encouraging Native Plants

Yellow Wingstem

The Ellington Agricultural Center campus is home to a number of native plants ranging from tiny bluets to huge American pokeweed. The best place to see wildflowers en masse is in the meadow on the lowest point of the property. Tall, yellow wingstem (right) is the dominant flower, with close runners up purple ironweed (below) and white common yarrow.

Some of the more interesting plants require more patience or closer examination to find. People are often surprised to see how showy and interesting some of the tiny blossoms are. Even "heads" of clover are collections of orchid-like trumpets.  Blue mistflower is one plant that deserves a closer look, and mock strawberry adds some flecks of crimson to the ground cover though their fruits are not edible.

Purple Ironweed

Our approach to native plant restoration at Ellington involves removal of invasive exotic plants that crowd out natives, reducing mowed acreage, and reintroducing some of the more interesting lost species.

Please help us restore their habitat by staying on the trail system and not disturbing or removing plants.