From the common buckthorn to garlic mustard, these are some of the most invasive plants in Upstate New York and the New York City area.
New Yorkstate is a diverse landscape, from the high mountains of the Adirondacks to the grape-filled fields of the Fingerlakes to the cityscapes of Manhattan. But did you know that every corner of the Empire State is at risk for certain invasive plant species, which can wreak havoc on your home and even lower your property value?
The top 10 invasive plant species in Upstate New York
1. Common buckthorn
Scientific name:Rhamnus cathartica
What it looks like: Deeply veined oval-shaped leaves that are yellow-green; gray bark covered in dimple-like marks; round shiny purple-black berry-like fruits produced August and September
Why it’s a problem: This plant degrades the wildlife habitat and threatens the future of forests, wetlands, and prairies by out-competing native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture.
What to do: Remove trees with fruit first to reduce the number of seeds that fall in the area. Keep a close eye on areas where you’ve already removed the plant and continue to remove any newly sprouting trees.
2. Common reed
Scientific name: Phragmites australis
What it looks like: Hollow and rough stem with a feathery flower; can reach over 1 foot in length
Why it’s a problem: The common reed grows in dense thickets that make habitats unsuitable for local animals. It replaces native plants by producing mesoxalic acid, which is toxic to many plants.
What to do: Mow areas affected by the common reed, and/or plant vegetation that competes with it, such as Jesuit's bark, groundsel trees, or black rush. Burning and/or herbicide use should only be done after consultation with a professional.
3. Garlic mustard
Scientific name: Alliaria petiolata
What it looks like: Heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges, small white flowers in a cluster of four at the very top of the stem
Why it’s a problem:Garlic mustard is dangerous to forests as it chokes out native plants by controlling light, water, and nutrient resources. It even releases a chemical that interrupts the necessary relationship between native fungi and grasses.
What to do: Pull out the plant by hand, being sure to remove at least the upper half of the root. This will need to be done consistently for five years to completely eradicate the plant. Herbicides should only be used if no other plant is present.
4. Giant hogweed
Scientific name:Heracleum mantegazzianum
What it looks like: Thick green stem with purple markings; massive leaves that can grow up to five feet across; can grow up to 20 feet tall
Why it’s a problem: This gigantic member of the carrot family is one of the most dangerous invasive species in Upstate New York due to its ability to cause permanent scarring through painful burns caused by its sap. It spreads quickly and, because of its massive size, can block out the sunlight to smaller plants beneath it.
What to do: Manual, mechanical, and herbicidal methods are all effective in removing giant hogweed—however, because of how dangerous it is, you should contact the
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)before attempting to remove it yourself.
Scientific name: Lonicera
What it looks like: Oval-shaped leaves; small red berries that grow in pairs; white, yellow, or pink flowers; hollow stems
Why it’s a problem: While some honeysuckle species are native to New York, others are invasive. Invasive varieties can be distinguished by their hollow stems and their ability to outgrow native species. The berries are not very nutritious and can harm the animals that eat them.
What to do: Hand removal should be effective if the infestation is mild; otherwise, pesticides or burning can be used.
6. Japanese knotweed
Scientific name:Fallopia japonica
What it looks like: Green and purple zig-zag shaped stem with shield-shaped leaves and tiny cream-colored flowers
Why it’s a problem: Dense thickets of Japanese knotweed spread rapidly and shade out native plants. Once the plant takes over, it can quickly cause soil erosion.
What to do: Single Japanese knotweed plants can be hand-pulled, so long as you’re careful to completely remove the root. Larger infestations can be treated with glyphosate and triclopyr herbicides.
7. Japanese stiltgrass
Scientific name:Microstegium vimineum
What it looks like: Lance-shaped leaves arranged on a stalk; grows over large areas
Why it’s a problem: Out-competes native grasses, sedges, and herbs by rapidly spreading.
What to do: Hand-pulling and mowing in late summer and fall can be effective for small infestations. Herbicides may be effective, but research shows that this plant can grow resistant to herbicides over time.
Scientific name:Artemisia vulgaris
What it looks like: Smooth greenish-white stem with deeply lobed leaves and a hard-to-see greenish-white flower
Why it’s a problem: Mugwort is specifically problematic in nurseries, on turf grass, and in orchards, as it delays the natural ecosystem succession. People with hay fever are also commonly allergic to its pollen.
What to do: Non-specific broadleaf herbicides such as glyphosate or dicamba are both necessary and effective to control mugwort.
9. Oriental bittersweet
Scientific name:Celastrus orbiculatus
What it looks like: Vine that climbs wooded plants; tear-dropped shaped leaves, bright red berries clustered along the stem
Why it’s a problem: Oriental bittersweet strips away the protective bark on the trees and plants that it clings to. As it grows larger and heavier, it can even cause the branches of other plants to break.
What to do: Pull the vines by hand, being sure to remove all the roots. This is most easily done before fruiting.
10. Purple loosestrife
Scientific name:Lythrum salicaria
What it looks like: Stiff stems with bright purple or pink spike flowers, each with five to seven petals
Why it’s a problem: Purple loosestrife creates a canopy that suppresses the growth and regeneration of native plants, while the dense roots trap sediments, raising the water table and reducing water flow. It can also cause a problem for nesting birds.
What to do: Small infestations can be hand-pulled, as long as you remove the entire root. Four species of beetles have been released to help control the invasive population of loosestrife.
The top 5 invasive plant species in the New York City area
The five boroughs of New York City have an almost entirely different ecosystem compared to Upstate—so it only makes sense that the invasive plants in the Big Apple are a bit different.
1. Golden bamboo
Scientific name:Phyllostachys aurea
What it looks like: Solid-jointed canes that are hollow between the joints and 1-6 inches in diameter; range in color from golden green to deep green to black; can grow up to 40 feet in height
Why it’s a problem: Originally grown intentionally as an ornamental plant, golden bamboo is difficult to maintain from spreading. It can grow in open and wooded environments and on forest edges. It can snuff out native plants while interrupting the movement of birds and other wildlife.
What to do: Do not plant it in the first place! Cutting, burning, and herbicide can be used to control an existing infestation, noting that it is essential to remove all rhizomes through excavation. Repeated treatment of the area will likely be needed.
2. Yellow groove bamboo
Scientific name:Phyllostachys aureosulcata
What it looks like: Canes are up to 2 inches in diameter and 40 feet in height; green canes have alternating yellow stripes; some canes are straight, while others zig-zag
Why it’s a problem: Yellow groove bamboo spreads extremely rapidly, up to 3 inches a day. Its strong roots can buckle sidewalks and driveways, while the above-ground plant often eliminates native plants. Certain birds which eat yellow groove bamboo can then spread respiratory disease to humans through their droppings.
What to do: Only plant yellow groove bamboo in a pot/container, if at all. To treat an active infestation, cut the stalks close to the ground and spray the resprouts with 1% imazapyr plus 1/2% non-ionic surfactant, repeating until dead. To control it without chemicals, the stems must be cut to the ground a minimum of five times per year for several years or the roots must be excavated.
Scientific name:Rubus phoenicolasius
What it looks like: Silvery underleaves; thorns and fine red hairs on the stem; leaves that grow in clusters of three; a berry similar to a raspberry or blackberry
Why it’s a problem: Wineberry creates spiny, impenetrable thickets that reduce an area’s value for wildlife habitat and recreation. It also replaces native vegetation, including native edible berry shrubs.
What to do: Hand-pulling and herbicides are quite effective in controlling wineberry, thanks to its simple underground structure.
4. Porcelain berry
Scientific name:Ampelopsis brevipedunculata
What it looks like: Climbing vine; hard berries (green, white, lavender, blue, or pink) appear in September and October; simple heart-shaped leaves with coarsely toothed edges
Why it’s a problem: Porcelain berry grows incredibly quickly, climbing over existing vegetation and shading out shrubs and trees. It also increases the possibility of wind and ice damage to the trees it climbs.
What to do: Vines can be carefully hand-pulled from trees and shrubs. Fruit should be bagged and disposed of in a landfill to prevent the spread of seeds.
5. Autumn olive
Scientific name: Elaeagnus umbellata
What it looks like: Grayish green leaves with silvery scales on the bottom side, giving off a shimmery look; stems are speckled, often with thorns; bell-shaped cream or yellow flower clusters; silvery fruit that ripens to red
Why it’s a problem: Originally brought to the NYC area to control erosion and provide wildlife habitat, the autumn olive plant has rapidly and uncontrollably spread across forest edges, roadsides, meadows, and grasslands, replacing native plants. Autumn olive’s nitrogen-fixing root nodules allow the plant to grow in even the most unfavorable soils.
What to do: Attempts to remove the shrub by cutting and/or burning created even more autumn olive, but hand-pulling seedlings is an effective way to rid yourself of the plant. If the plant is too big to pull, herbicides will be necessary.
How to save on homeowners’ insurance in New York
All of the invasive plants listed above are a threat to the environment in New York state, but some are even a threat to your home and property. While the removal of these plants is the first step in protecting yourself, securing a robust homeowners insurance policy is the next best thing.
Fortunately, homeowners insurance doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg—at least, not if you shop with Jerry! As a licensed insurance broker,
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