Invasive Weeds Waste No Time

Aggressively invasive exotic species become weeds.

With few exceptions, the most aggressively invasive weeds here are exotic. In other words, they are not native. They came from other regions where they were likely compliant participants of their respective ecosystems. At home, where they must compete with other members of their ecosystem, they may not be so aggressively invasive. Ecology is the opposite of a home field advantage.

Exotic species become invasive weeds in foreign ecosystems for a variety of reasons. For some, the climate is more favorable. Some grow and proliferate more freely without diseases, insects and animals that troubled them back home. There are also several that simply compete more aggressively for space and resources than native species are accustomed to. It is a jungle out there.

Most invasive exotic species are annuals. Many are biennials or perennials. Some are vines, shrubs or even trees. Most were imported intentionally, for a variety of reasons, and then naturalized. Forage and cover crops were some of the earliest of exotic species to become invasive. Other invasive species escaped from home gardens. Blue gum eucalyptus was imported for wood pulp.

Regardless of their origins or physiological forms, invasive species are weeds. They compete for the same resources that desirable plants use. They impede on the aesthetic appeal of gardens and landscapes. Some types of weeds become hazardously combustible. Even if not directly problematic, invasive weeds disperse seed that can be problematic nearby. Many disperse stolons.

Most weeds start early and grow fast to get ahead of their competition. They are more active at this time of year than at any other time. They are also vulnerable. While the soil remains damp from winter rain, they are relatively easy to pull intact. They have not yet dispersed seed for their subsequent generation. Later, they are likely to leave behind seed and bits of roots that can regenerate.

It is important to pull or grub out seedlings of unwanted shrubbery and trees, as annual weeds. They are likely to regenerate if merely cut.

Exotic Species Can Become Naturalized

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Naturalized Himalayan blackberry is detestably aggressive.

Every palm tree in local landscapes is exotic. Simply put, all palms are originally from somewhere else. The desert fan palm, the only palm that is native to California, came from isolated colonies in desert regions many miles away. In fact, most plants in common landscapes are exotic. Landscapes composed of Californian plants likely include some plants from other regions of California.

With few exceptions, exotic plants are not a problem. However, some of those few exceptions have become very serious problems. Himalayan blackberry, blue gum, silver wattle, pampas grass, giant reed and broom are some of the more notorious examples. They naturalized to become prolific and aggressively invasive weeds. Some are more common than natives in many situations.

Naturalized exotic plants such as these are problems for local ecosystems, even if they do not affect refined landscapes. They compete with native plant species for limited resources, space and pollinators. A lack of pathogens from their homelands can be a distinct advantage. They alter the lifestyles of some of the native fauna. Some enhance the combustibility of the forests they inhabit.

The justifications for importing exotic species are as varied as the species themselves are. It might have been for lumber, forage, fruit, or vegetable production. Giant reed might have arrived here as packing material for cargo from southern Asia. Nonetheless, most naturalized exotic species, including the most aggressively invasive, came here simply for home gardening and landscaping.

Realistically, of all the countless exotic species that came here during the past few centuries, very few naturalized. Fewer are now aggressively invasive. Some with potential to naturalize may not have yet been able to escape the urban situations they inhabit. The problem now is that there are so many more exotic species readily available from all over the World than there has ever been!

Online marketing facilitates procurement of exotic and potentially invasive plant species from other regions, with minimal regard to regulation of such commodities.

Weeds Obviously Grow Like Weeds

90306thumbNot many of our favorite plants grow like weeds. We must help most of them along, and give them what they want. A few might naturalize and perform well on their own, but if they do too well and become aggressive or invasive, they too become known as weeds. Although we might prefer some of our favorites to be easier to grow, we are probably fortunate that more do not do too well.

Conversely, not many weeds are appealing plants when they invade our gardens. They might not be so disdainful if they provided fruit, vegetables or flowers, or were less aggressive with other plants. Instead, the conquer and occupy useful space, consume resources, and then toss their seed for the next invading generation. Their aggressive invasiveness is what makes them weeds.

There is no easy definition of ‘weed’. We know them only as unwanted plants, or plants where they are not wanted. Most are exotic (nonnative) plants that were once imported at a time when they were actually desirable. Some were vegetable or flowering plants grown in home gardens. Some were forage crops. Blue gum eucalyptus was imported for wood pulp. A few weeds are native.

Weeds become weeds because they have distinct advantages. Most get an early start at the end of winter, while other plants are still dormant. Then, many weeds bloom and toss seed for the next generation earlier than other plants. Many lack the pathogens of their homelands. Weeds generally survive on less resources, or complete their life cycles before resources are exhausted.

Most weeds are annuals. Many are perennials, Some are shrubby or vining. A few are trees. One commonality is that they should be pulled as soon as they are big enough to get a grip on. They are easier to pull while the soil is moist from winter rain, and before they have dispersed their roots much. Some of the short term annuals are pretty quick and sneaky about dispersing seed too!

Weeds that are woody shrubs, vines or trees need to get pulled like the rest. If merely cut to grade, they will likely regenerate from their stumps, and need to be dug later.