Invasive species are a national ecological threat to the outdoor places we love; from our backyards to where we hike, camp, fish, hunt, and enjoy. Feb. 26 through March 2 marks National Invasive Species Awareness Week, and all around the country activities to inform the public about invasive species and help protect our environment are taking place.
What is an invasive species? Invasive species can be plants, insects, or animals. They are introduced, non-native species that thrive in areas beyond their natural range. Not all non-natives are invasive. The rapid rate of spread, ability to reproduce in new areas without assistance, as well as the extent of environmental impact helps determine if a non-native species is invasive. Many people have probably seen the rampant growth of Japanese knotweed along our rivers, or the non-native invasive honeysuckles shrubs and buckthorns taking over in our forests. Other invasive plants, such as Japanese stiltgrass and goat’s rue, aren’t always so obvious on the landscape, but they are here and have real potential to spread and harm the environment.
Because invasive species spread so easily, we can only combat invasive species if we work across the entire landscape. In our area, a cooperative group called the Allegheny Plateau Invasive Plant Management Area (APIPMA) was recently formed to educate the public and to combat invasive plants within the Upper Allegheny watershed in a five county area. Led by the McKean County Conservation District and Penn State Extension, APIPMA brings together federal, state, and local agencies along with private industry and local citizens to work toward invasive plant awareness, inventory, prevention, early detection, and control. Ultimately, APIPMA would like to prioritize the most critical areas in our region to target invasive plant control and eventually offer assistance to private landowners as well.
One invasive species of particular concern, and on APIPMA’s Top 5 list of problem plants, is bush honeysuckle. There are several non-native varieties in our area including Morrow and Tatarian honeysuckle. These can be distinguished from the less common native honeysuckles by their hollow stems. Bush honeysuckle shrubs prefer to grow on moist soils and typically first appear in disturbed areas. After the tornado of 2003 that blew through the Kinzua Bridge State Park, honeysuckle took over the area. And while many visitors enjoy the fact that the attractive red berries they produce attract a variety of birds, many studies have actually shown that those berries are less nutritious than ones from our native shrubs.
One of the first goals of APIPMA is also to better inform the public and develop a Citizen Science volunteer network that can help the cooperative to monitor and map invasive plants in critical habitats throughout the region. Stay tuned to our upcoming article series this week to learn more about how you can identify invasive plants and help in the fight. For more information on how you can assist APIPMA, contact Kimberly Bohn, Penn State Extension Educator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-887-5613 or the McKean County Conservation District at 814-887-4001
(Kimberly Bohn is an extension educator with Penn State Extension and Jody Groshek is communication and outreach director of the McKean County Conservation District.)