Spring Invaders: Now's the time to track them down!

Spring is right around the corner and there are the usual tell tail signs: the birds are starting to sing, the air is warmer, and tiny patches of green are poking through the ground, giving our eyes a reprieve from the drab brown palette that becomes of our outdoor spaces as the snow melts away.

But did you know that another sign of spring is the appearance of many invasive plant species? In fact, many of those sprigs of green throughout the landscape are the very species we lament about later in the season.

This is because many invasive plant species have a secret advantage: the emerge and begin to grow earlier than our native species, giving them a head start. This jump on the competition is problematic for native species for multiple reasons:

  1. When a plant ‘leafs out’ (its leaves emerge) before surrounding species, it can shade out those other species to the point of preventing their growth and development

  2. Many species that emerge early also flower and go to seed earlier, giving their ‘offspring’ a head start at establishing in soil over native species

  3. These invasives have a longer period of time to store energy, making them more resilient than surrounding native species. In fact, many invasive plants even keep their leaves longer into the fall than native species too, giving them even more time to establish themselves.

But it’s not all bad news (at least it doesn’t have to be if we’re smart about it!). That’s because although this ecological advantage gives invasive species a leg-up on the competition, it also poses a disadvantage: it makes it much easier to spot them on the landscape. They give away their position, so to speak, making it easier to treat the problem.

Spring Invaders in New Brunswick

So what ‘early-bird’ invasives should you be on the look-out for this spring in NB? Check out the list below! If you identify any on your property, we have also included links to a fantastic set of Best Management Practices created by the Ontario Invasive Plant Council that you can use to help combat them.

Garlic Mustard

This flowering herb is often found covering forest floors. It has two different life phases: during it’s first year it stays close to the ground and grows light green leaves in a rosette pattern. In its second year, it grows tall stocks (up to 1 meter) of light green triangular leaves and tiny white flowers. It is easily recognized by its strong garlic-y smell, especially when the leaves are crushed.

Fun fact: garlic mustard makes great pesto, so you can put your foraging and culinary skills to good use and help control this invasive plant!

Best Management Practices:

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed a bamboo-like plant that can grow almost anywhere- gardens, riverbanks, woodlands, roadsides, through pavement- and as such, is considered one of the world’s worst invasive plant species. While the above-ground portion of Japanese knotweed dies off each winter, the plant is easy to identify in spring by its dead reddish-brown stems that remain standing until new growth emerges. These stems tend to be darker in colour at the base and reach about 2-3m tall before arching over.

As spring progresses, you will see the new shoots emerging from the ground in and around the dead stems. These shoots look very similar to asparagus spears and are reddish-purple in colour.

Best Management Practices:

Glossy Buckthorn

Glossy buckthorn is an invasive shrub that prefers sunny, moist areas like wetlands and roadside ditches, but also grows in woodlands and fields. It can grow up to 6m tall and grows in dense thickets, to the point it chokes and/or shades out any other species. If can be identified by its simple, glossy leaves that have distinct veins from the centre of the leaf to the edge. It has small greenish-white flowers from late May to September and produces tiny berries about the size of a pea in late summer.

Best Management Practices:

Japanese Barberry

Japanese barberry is an invasive shrub that grows in a variety of places and forms dense thickets that prevent other species from growing. It can be identified by its smoothed-edge leaves that look like baby spinach and that cover the branches like garland (ranging in colour from light green to purple), its sharp thorns, light yellow flowers that hang from the branches, and the red oval berries that stay on the branches into winter.

Best Management Practices:

Giant Hogweed

Giant hogweed is most well-known for its human-health impacts: it can cause painful, blistering burns if your skin comes in contact with it.

The plant is easily recognizable when it is mature- standing up to 5m tall with huge umbrella-like white flower clusters and giant jagged leaves- but it actually takes a few years to get to this stage. While it is not as distinct in its earlier stages, it is much better to identify and eradicate it at these younger stages before it goes to seed to stop it from spreading. In springtime, look for the plant as a seedling or in its juvenile stage. As seedlings, the leaves are more lobbed (like a maple leaf), while the juveniles have larger, jagged leaves with each plant growing up to 1.5m across. In both stages, the leaves grow in rosette form (ie. out from a single central point similar to rhubarb)

Best Management Practices:

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