How to Identify Invasive Plants?

One of the biggest threats to the natural habitats of North America is invasive plants. While there are many ways you can help in stopping their spread, you have to first be able to identify what they are so that you can know if it’s something you should be worried about or not.

In this guide on how to identify invasive plants, we’ll go over different types of invasive plants, as well as how to prevent them from spreading and taking over your local ecosystems.

What are invasive plants?

A non-native species is any organism (such as a plant, animal, pathogen, or bacteria) that has been introduced into an ecosystem in which it did not evolve and caused harm to some form of local life.

In other words, an invasive species is one that has been introduced into a new area—either accidentally or deliberately—and begins to spread rapidly.

This can be harmful to a variety of reasons: Because these species have not evolved in their new home environment, they often do not have natural enemies.

Their numbers grow unchecked, crowding out native plants and animals and disrupting food chains through predation or competition. In extreme cases, these foreign organisms can kill off entire species altogether.

Being able to identify invasive plants is an important tool

For many professional tree service companies and landscapers, invasives can be a serious problem. They grow out of control, choking out indigenous species, and compromising ecosystems.

On an individual level, they can take over your garden beds and crowd out your other plants. If you suspect that you have invasive plants in your garden, it’s a good idea to identify them as quickly as possible so that you can begin eradicating them before they grow too large.

But first, it’s important to understand what makes an invasive plant invasive in order to determine whether or not yours are truly causing harm.

The best way to identify invasive plants is by sight

Does it look out of place? For example, if you’re in a forest, and see a patch of palm trees or cacti… you probably aren’t looking at plants native to your area.

Invasive plants often have rapid growth rates, allowing them to spread quickly. Check for anything that appears to be growing quickly or out of control. Most invasive plants are also quite easy on the eyes—or ears—so they’ll stand out from their surroundings visually or audibly.

Finally, most invasive plants have some kind of characteristic smell; even subtle ones can be detected with practice and experience.

Keep in mind that there are many different types of invasive when it comes to plants: Some get classified as such because they grow too quickly (such as kudzu); others because they’re considered pests (like poison ivy).

No matter what type you come across, always steer clear: When handled incorrectly, these species can cause lasting damage to an ecosystem and ruin areas where they grow.

Always bring any invasive plant sightings back to an expert so he or she can properly remove them!

When in doubt, take a sample for testing

When you suspect that a plant has invaded your area, it’s best to take samples of it for testing. You can do so by cutting some branches or leaves and enclosing them in a plastic bag.

Make sure that you include information about where you found these pieces of invasive plant and when. Seal up your sample as securely as possible (you don’t want any invasive material accidentally escaping into a new place).

Then, contact your local authorities for more information on how to handle your potential invasive problem.

In most states, there are programs to help with management

These programs may be funded by local, state, or federal governments or a combination of them. There are also several different agencies that help manage invasive plants.

These agencies can include U.S. Forest Service, USDA APHIS NRCS, parks departments in towns and cities, and many others.

Contact your county extension office for more information on specific programs. Some states have dedicated personnel who can give you information on managing invasive plants in your area.

For example, Kansas has a statewide invasive plant coordinator who is available for consultation on how to deal with particular species of invasive weeds if they become established in your area. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides some funding for managing weeds through their Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

In Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota they provide assistance through what is called an assistance program which helps landowners determine whether they have an issue with any particular weed species or not so that management decisions can be made at an early stage.

When you see an invasive plant, report it!

If you come across an invasive plant while hiking, gardening, or camping, take a picture of it and report it. Invasive species are spread by people.

You can help stop their spread by reporting sightings of invasive plants on iNaturalist—an online natural history database and research tool created at UC Berkeley that is free and open to everyone!

Simply log in or create an account (it’s free!), upload your photo and report a sighting. You’ll also be helping researchers track down new sightings of invasive plants.

This collaborative project aims to provide one place for data about non-native species so scientists can use those data more effectively.

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