Look Out For These Invasive Plants in Indiana

If you own property in Indiana, watch out for invasive plants like poison hemlock and white mulberry. Learn more here.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Oct 11, 2022
If you own property in Indiana, watch out for poison hemlock, white mulberry, and other invasive plant species in the state.
Species are deemed invasive for various reasons—usually because they outcompete native species and threaten local biodiversity, or they pose health threats to humans. If you own property in Indiana, that means you have a responsibility to make sure you’re doing your part to help keep your local ecosystem in balance. (Your property value may even thank you for it later!)
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The top 10 invasive plant species in Indiana

The first step of invasive plant management? Knowing what species to look out for. 
Certain invasive species can easily be mistaken for species that are actually native, so it’s a good idea to get an expert to identify the species when possible before you take action. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also recommends you
report invasive species
when you find them.

1. Autumn olive

Scientific name:Elaeagnus umbellata
What it looks like: Deciduous shrub that can grow to be anywhere from 3 to 20 feet tall; it has thorny branches and its leaves have silvery dots on their undersides. They produce small, yellow flowers in spring and red, juicy berries in fall.
Why it’s a problem: Autumn olive shrubs in bloom can certainly be a sight to behold, but they’re problematic in that they can quickly overtake areas and crowd out native species—particularly in more open environments.
What to do: Remove young shrubs early, digging out the root completely. For larger shrubs, you may need to cut them at the base and cover them with something like a bucket so they don’t regrow. In some cases, they may be spot-treated with the right type of herbicide at the stump.

2. Garlic mustard

Scientific name: Alliaria petiolata
What it looks like: Green plant with toothed, heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers; has a distinctive garlic scent when crushed
Why it’s a problem: Garlic mustard is native to Europe and became introduced in North America during the 1800s in part for its medicinal properties—but for Indiana woodlands, it’s far from what the doctor ordered. 
Garlic mustard can quickly crowd out other understory plants that other species rely on, and they’re also allelopathic, meaning they release compounds that can prevent nearby plants from reproducing.
What to do: Depending on the severity of the problem, garlic mustard growth can be limited by cutting or mowing them down and preventing new seeds from being dispersed, or spot-treating with herbicide.

3. Japanese honeysuckle

Scientific name: Lonicera japonica
What it looks like: Vine that produces large, fragrant, tubular, whitish-pink flowers and black berries
Why it’s a problem: Japanese honeysuckle is a hardy species that does well in a variety of conditions, like drought and low light, and it grows and spreads quickly. But these characteristics also means it quickly overtakes the space of established native species.
What to do: Pull up and completely uproot vines. Parts of the stem can re-root, so it’s a good idea to bag removed plants to prevent them from doing so. Spot-treating with the right herbicide can also be effective. What doesn’t help in this case is mowing, which can actually encourage the honeysuckle to spread. 

4. Purple loosestrife

Scientific name:Lythrum salicaria
What it looks like: Tall flowering plant that produces bright purple flowers
Why it’s a problem: What started as a popular landscaping plant in the 1800s has since become a serious problem. A single purple loosestrife plant can produce up to 2.7 million seeds in a single year, and their extremely small size makes them easy to spread. 
According to the Indiana DNR, over a million acres of wetlands in the United States are overtaken by purple loosestrife each year.
What to do: Glyphosate herbicides can prove effective against purple loosestrife, but in an aquatic environment, you would need to be sure to use the right type of formulation. The Minnesota DNR offers additional guidance on treating purple loosestrife with herbicide

5. Poison hemlock

Scientific name:Conium maculatum
What it looks like: Shiny green leaves with clusters of white flowers; at times is mistaken for the also-invasive Queen Anne’s lace
Why it’s a problem: Poison hemlock is a member of the carrot family—but don’t put it on your dinner plate! All parts of this plant, especially the seeds and roots, are toxic to humans and other wildlife. Like other invasive species, it also crowds out other native plants.
What to do: Whatever you do, don’t burn poison hemlock! Burning it can create toxic fumes. Wear protective gear when you attempt to handle them to protect yourself from its sap. Herbicides are often used to treat severe problem patches.

6. Spotted knapweed

Scientific name:Centaurea stoebe
What it looks like: Perennial forb with thin stems that produce pink-purple flowers
Why it’s a problem: Like the other plants on this list, spotted knapweed spreads quickly and limits other native plant species that local wildlife depend on for food.
What to do: Spotted knapweed can irritate some people’s skin, so wear long sleeves and gloves when handling it. Mowing or cutting down the plant before it flowers or spot treatments with the right herbicide can be effective. Particularly problematic areas can take several years to get back under control.

7. White mulberry

Scientific name:Morus alba
What it looks like: Deciduous tree that produces mulberries, which are white early on but redden as they mature; often confused for native red mulberry trees. Red mulberry fruit, by contrast, is a dark purplish blue to black when it’s ripe.
Why it’s a problem: The white mulberry tree, which originated in Asia, can quickly compete with and crowd out other local species, including the
red mulberry tree
that is native to North America. It may also be capable of transmitting a root disease to other red mulberry trees. 
What to do: Looking for a fruit tree? Plant a red mulberry tree instead. Young white mulberry saplings can be uprooted, while more mature trees can be cut down and treated with herbicide when appropriate.

8. Glossy buckthorn

Scientific name: Frangula alnus
What it looks like: Shrub or small tree with multiple stems that become a singular trunk as it gets older, with lenticels on its bark that help it “breathe”; smooth, glossy leaves; produces red to dark purple berries
Why it’s a problem: Glossy buckthorn, also known as alder buckthorn or fernleaf buckthorn, is known to crowd out other woodland species and degrade the local habitat as a result.
What to do: Uproot small plants while disturbing the soil as little as possible—this could make it easier for future buckthorns or other invasive plants to establish themselves. Prescribed fires can be effective at the right time of year in the right environment. 
Another approach is cutting the glossy buckthorn at the stem before the growing season and applying an herbicide to the stem.

9. Musk thistle

Scientific name:Carduus nutans
What it looks like: Tall plant that has sharp thistles along its stems and blooms into bright purple flowers
Why it’s a problem: Musk thistle isn’t a very popular food choice among livestock and wildlife, which helps it quickly outnumber local species. Because it doesn’t tend to disperse its seeds very far, it can densely populate areas where it’s established itself and degrade local biodiversity.
What to do: Wear gloves when uprooting young thistle, making sure to get the root. Large patches are sometimes treated with herbicide.

10. Mile-a-minute vine

Scientific name:Persicaria perfoliata
What it looks like: Vine with barbed stems and triangular or arrow-shaped leaves that produces blue berries
Why it’s a problem: Aptly named, mile-a-minute vine grows and spreads rapidly, covering other plants, depriving them of light, and preventing other species from having enough room to grow.
What to do: Because it’s an annual plant rather than a perennial, it needs to disperse its seeds for future plants to return the following year. Mile-a-minute vine can be uprooted to limit spread early on. If the problem is more extensive, it can be treated with the right herbicide before it begins to produce seeds. 
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The six most invasive aquatic plants in Indiana

Aquatic Plant Rule
identifies 30 aquatic plant species as invasive. The following is a look at six of them.
Before deciding how to address an invasive aquatic species, you’ll need to
report it
to the Indiana DNR first, confirm identification, and get guidance on next possible steps.

1. Curly-leaf pondweed

Scientific name:Potamogeton crispus
What it looks like: Underwater plant with wavy leaves that are olive green to reddish-brown in color
Why it’s a problem: Curly-leaf pondweed can bring about a variety of problems. It can disrupt water flow, and as it decomposes, it can contribute to algal blooms, which deprive fish and other aquatic life of oxygen.
What to do: Physically remove the plant when possible.

2. Duck-lettuce

Scientific name:Ottelia alismoides
What it looks like: Underwater herb with broad green leaves; small fruits contain hundreds of seeds that resemble quinoa
Why it’s a problem: Duck-lettuce can deprive other aquatic plants of sunlight as it spreads and disrupt underwater oxygen levels.
What to do: Remove by hand before seeds develop.

3. Parrot feather watermilfoil

Scientific name:Myriophyllum aquaticum
What it looks like: Tall, singular stem that can extend above the water’s surface and has feather-like leaves; develops small white flowers
Why it’s a problem: Parrot feather watermilfoil can take over small bodies of water quickly and outcompete native watermilfoil species, as well as other aquatic plants like pondweeds. Another downside: the plant also appears to be more hospitable to
mosquito eggs
than native species.
What to do: Parrot feather watermilfoil can be physically removed, but be aware that any plant fragments left in the water may allow it to regrow.

4. Water chestnut

Scientific name:Trapa natans
What it looks like: Submerged plant that extends to the water’s surface to photosynthesize; grows small white flowers with four petals
Why it’s a problem: Water chestnuts can quickly carpet the water’s surface and block sunlight from other underwater plants. Less underwater plants mean lower oxygen levels, which can kill fish populations.
What to do: Hand-pull plants before they produce seeds. 

5. Narrow-leaf cattail

Scientific name: Sagittaria sagittifolia
What it looks like: Tall green shoots with a brown spike that has a corndog-like appearance
Why it’s a problem: Narrow-leaf cattails and their hybrids can outcompete native cattail species, and they can be difficult to distinguish from one another. It densely populates the areas where it grows, which undermines local biodiversity. 
What to do: Response to invasive cattails depends on the sensitivity of the site where they’re growing. Uproot narrow-leaf cattail early when it’s been identified, ideally before it produces seeds. For larger stands, the “cut and flood” method, which involves cutting the plants off at the stem and flooding the area so that the water stands a few inches over them, can prove effective.

6. Anchored water hyacinth

Scientific name:Eichhornia azurea
What it looks like: Rooted plant that extends to the water’s surface; has round, glossy leaves and white and purple flowers
Why it’s a problem: Anchored water hyacinth may be beautiful in bloom, but it can quickly become problematic. A single plant can produce up to 5,000 seeds, and a couple plants have been found to produce 1,200 additional plants in a period of
just four months
The beds they form can grow to be nearly 200 tons per acre—and that serious density starves other underwater plants and reduces water oxygen levels as a result.
What to do: Chopping and physical removal of the plants can help prevent spread, and aquatic herbicides are occasionally used. In some cases, experts may choose to introduce insects that feed on the anchored water hyacinth to help keep their populations in check.

How to save on homeowners insurance in Indiana

While you keep a close eye on the species on your property, don’t forget to protect the rest of your home with the right
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