A countryside view of invasive plants from here to Maine

Memorial Day weekend I drove to Maine to attend my uncle’s funeral. I made a conscious effort to note the roadside flora along the 900 mile trip. This was not an intensive inventory mind you. I just wanted to see if my preconceived notions would pan out.

As everyone knows, kudzu is a major invasive plant throughout this state, but I noticed only small patches from here to southeastern Virginia. After that it was absent altogether. The same can be said for wisteria.

Chinese privet, common privet and Japanese honeysuckle were the easiest to spot for the first couple hundred miles at 65 mph. That’s largely because they were in full bloom. The most common weedy trees I observed were Chinaberry and Tree of Heaven. Chinaberry disappeared north of the Great Dismal Swamp, but Tree of Heaven hung on for a few hundred miles.

Shortly thereafter, multiflora rose and autumn olive became common and in some cases dominant. Both species are found locally but make a greater impact further north and away from the coast.

By the time I hit New York State, Japanese knotweed was a problem. It’s an aggressive bamboo-like plant that spreads by underground stems. This perennial is hardy all the way up to Alaska and northern Canada. I wouldn’t wish this buckwheat relative on anyone.

Purple loosestrife was the most obvious intruder throughout wet areas in this portion of the trip. Plants have beautiful summer bloom but they wipe out native wildflowers. Rare in southeastern states, it’s very common from the Mid-Atlantic States northward.

By the time I reached southern Maine, bush honeysuckles appeared to be the most severe invaders. Again, they were easy to spot because they were in bloom. Native honeysuckles exist, but every sample I found was exotic. Native honeysuckle bushes have branches with solid centers, while pith tissue of exotic types is hollow.

Exotic honeysuckles can be of special concern because they have allelopathic properties. This means that plants release toxins which inhibit other plants, usually native ones. Honeysuckle bushes create thick expanses along woodland edges and in open areas.

Bush honeysuckles have a similar effect as the wild privets and Japanese honeysuckles do here. They generate a canopy so thick that nothing else can grow. My brother’s property was full of them. I told him if he wrapped a chain around the clumps and pulled them out with his truck whenever he had the time, he’d eventually get a handle on them.

My survey is woefully incomplete. The only plants that struck me were expanses large enough to be seen at highway driving speeds obeying the nine mile per hour rule. Many low growing species weren’t even evident yet, especially further north where some of their trees are just beginning to leaf out. I couldn’t spot aquatic aliens either.

Traveling to a funeral on Memorial Day Weekend wasn’t what I planned to do. However, Larry was a Marine Corps Korean War Era veteran. He was lucky enough to make it back for another 65 years and we were lucky enough to enjoy his company. Several of his friends didn’t. Bless them and their families.



Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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