What are Invasive Plants?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

They came… they conquered. But they didn’t see! Any guesses?

The word “invasive” attached to “plants” may conjure up alarming images of sunflowers marching across fields or ivy slithering across leafy forest floors. But invasive plants are only dangerous in a more subtle respect. Essentially, an invasive plant is one that has been introduced into a foreign ecosystem and has replaced the natural flora–– “invaded,” if you will.

Invasive plants can be introduced by many means to new ecosystems. Most often, this transport occurs as a result of human activity. Plants are often transported in the ballast water of ships. They can be introduced deliberately as garden plants and subsequently spread beyond the garden wall and into the natural ecosystem. It should be fairly clear that we, as humans, are the ones principally responsible for the spread of invasive plants. The increase in global communication as a result of globalization has drastically increased instances of invasive species introduction.

Not all introduced plants become invasive species. Certain types of foreign plants will not thrive particularly well in new environments. For a plant to become invasive, it generally must have little competition (for sunlight, nutrients, etc.), have good adaptive ability, and reproduce quickly.

Often, invasive plants thrive so well in new environments that these plants significantly reduce the ability of natural plants to grow in the ecosystem. The diversity of the ecosystem is thus reduced, and other species that depend on certain natural plants may not be able to survive. The ecosystem may change drastically, endangering these natural animals and other plants. For this reason, environmental initiatives often advocate the removal of invasive plants.

Preventing the spread of invasive species is important in ensuring the viability of ecological systems and maintenance of biodiversity worldwide. When buying plants, be sure to avoid purchasing any plants classified as “invasive” in your region. Also, initiate or participate in invasive plant removal activities in your local area. When planning to remove invasive plants from public land, make sure to obtain a permit from the region. Also check guidelines for the specific species. Certain plants require special tools. Others must be removed very carefully. For instance, some plants can regenerate from clippings left in the soil, while others, if disturbed during certain seasons, may release a huge number of seeds. Be cautious so as not to do more harm than good.

There are many areas in the world where the environment has been drastically altered by invasive species. By preventing and reversing the spread of invasive plants, you can contribute to the maintenance of global biodiversity.