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Being aware

2012 February 16

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

With help from birds, nandina will invade local forests. Photo by Ken Moore

National Invasive Species Awareness Week is Feb. 26-March 3! Events are scheduled throughout the week in our nation’s capital (, and in North Carolina, the annual meeting of the North Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council, open to the public, is Feb. 23-24 at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville (

Right here at home, “awareness” is scheduled at a special event, “Plant This, Not That: Alternatives to Invasives,” at the N.C. Botanical Garden on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m.

The program, reception and art exhibition is free, but reservations are required (962-0522).

It will surprise most folks that the ever-popular Nandina domestica is the poster child of this year’s awareness activities statewide. T-shirts are available for those seriously aware.

I remember years ago planting this lovely exotic for my mother-in-law, and I’m still digging seedlings out of the local forest. Like some other exotic ornamental garden plants (and not all exotics are invasive), it has been around a long, long time and only now is beginning to be an aggressive “bully,” displacing our native flora.

Julia E. Shields black-and-white nandina original appears on this year's exotic invasive T-shirt. Photo courtesy of the N.C. Botanical Garden

Recently, and irresponsibly, this dazzling, red-berried plant has been promoted in local gardening publications and newspaper columns. However, on a positive note, some nurseries do offer fruitless, non-invasive varieties of nandina.

Many gardeners simply don’t want to understand how exotic plants may be invasive, resulting in biological damage to our environment and millions of dollars lost to local economies.

How well I remember a response from a local gardener when I was describing how Chinese wisteria creeps over and destroys mature trees: “Oh it’s so beautiful, why would one get rid of it?”

In addition to sources of information on exotic invasives on the Garden’s website (, an excellent resource for understanding the issues and discovering native alternatives to the “bully” exotics is the “Going Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants” website at N.C. State (

Native flora is displaced by invasive nandina in Piedmont forests. Photo by Johnny Randall

The site is engaging and worth exploring. For instance, it says that recent studies indicate that birds nesting in some exotic shrubs experience poor nesting success. And exotic fruits, while attractive to wildlife, may not provide the best nutrition for native wildlife.

You may recall Mary Sonis’ beautiful image in The Citizen’s current issue of MILL of the cedar waxwing feasting on privet berries along Bolin Creek. Not only may that overabundance of privet berries be providing poor nutrition, those birds are spreading the seed from the digested berries everywhere, which accounts for the impenetrable privet thickets that, along with the thickets of Eleagnus umbellata, autumn olive, have so degraded that stream corridor.

Plant native pawpaw (left) instead of invasive mimosa (right). Artwork by Irena Brubaker

My woods-walking buddies Brian and Tony are now referring to these invasive species as “bullies” in the native plant world, and you know what? During our walks, we frequently stop and grub out these “bullies” when we come upon them. What a great feeling on a recent walk to free some native spicebush from invading eleagnus along a stream bank. We can say we did it for the spicebush swallowtail.

So become aware of which plants are good and which are not and then take action, one plant at a time.

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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