Invasive Plants - Part III

by Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson concludes this three-part series on invasive plants in Maryland.

In the studio we have Kerrie Kyde, the Invasive Plant Ecologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. She is responsible for invasive plant assessment and control on some 475,000 acres of state lands. She is chair of the Maryland Invasive Plant Advisory Committee.

Let's talk about how volunteers can get involved to help monitor the spread of invasive plants.

Kerrie Kyde:
" We have hundreds of volunteers across the state, many of whom work for the Natural Heritage Program, who work for all kinds of groups that are out on the land-bicyclists, Sierra Club, Native Plant Society, etc and we are training people like that who are interested in a program called Statewide Eyes --starting primarily with master naturalists, (because those are folks who are already interested in this) to recognize, map, and inventory invasive plants on high ecological value pieces of land, primarily state land, but then on to other properties. The benefit of doing this is that I can't be everywhere. I collect, through a national database, records of invasive plant species in places where there are probably rare things and I am able, in a much more strategic way, to develop management plans that directly impact the future and existence of some of our rare species. And there are fabulous folks out there who are doing this work."

I want to get back to the volunteers in a minute but I want to touch on why this work is so important. Forest and wetland invasive plants present a huge problem for amphibians by changing soil composition and drying out leaf litter. Likewise for birds who can't adapt to changing ground cover and food types. Can you talk about that for a second?

Kerrie Kyde:
"Sure. I think the person who has done the most to explain this to the general public is Dr. Doug Tallamy at the University of Delaware. He has written a fabulous book called Bringing Nature Home. In his research, he and his students have looked at the differences over the past decade in suites of insects that exist on native vs. exotic plants, not even necessarily invasive plants but just things from away, primarily things that come in through ornamental horticulture and we plant in our backyards because they're pretty. He has in the book a wonderful table of species of plants sorted by taxon, by family, and genus that support the greatest number of insects. And the reason that is so important is because, for instance, 90% of our spring birds are feeding their babies insects. And if the insect populations on exotics are not as big as those on natives then there's not enough food."

Let's talk about a plant most of us know. Most folks are familiar with the purple flowers and fragrant smell of kudzu. Why has kudzu become such a big problem on Delmarva over the past couple of decades?

Kerrie Kyde:
"This goes back to climate change. Kudzu used to be something that existed only in the South but we know it's been in this country for 150 years and it was introduced multiple times. We did not used to worry about it in Maryland because it was not perenniating. It died. It now is a perennial plant as far north as Ontario Canada. So we have kudzu in many places across the state that lives perfectly happily through the winter and spreads like crazy in the following spring."

I want to get back to how folks can get involved. Can you touch on that?

Kerrie Kyde:
"I'm in the process right now of determining the schedule for spring training. So most of the Statewide Eyes trainings will be in state park units and most of the work that the trainees will do will be in their favorite state parks. On the Delmarva, actually, we'll have a training at Adkins Arboretum and that will be in June so that the people who are trained there can certainly work on the Adkins property and all through Tuckahoe State Park."

"Once you're trained and you know what you're looking for you can go anywhere in the state. I am hopeful that people will concentrate on state land. The trainings are free and we are really interested in having them concentrate on state land because that's what helps all of us out."

A good example of a plant folks might be documenting is water hyacinth.

Kerrie Kyde:
"Water Hyacinth is a very commonly sold pond ornamental so it's sold at aquatic nurseries. You can get it online. And people do. Until very recently we did not believe that it overwintered in Maryland so we did not think it was much of a threat. On our way to this interview we stopped by a location where Wayne and Wes have found water Hyacinth. And I have a sample of it in the truck which I'm taking back with me, and it's got green tissue on it. It's not dead so it lived through a big storm and incredibly low temperatures and it's alive."

"This is really bad news. I think that we are going to see more and more of this as climate change continues. The things that have been problems in the southeastern part of the United States may become more of a problem for us which is another way early detection and rapid response work well."

Read the rest of this series:Find out more:
Maryland Statewide Eyes Program
Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland
Maryland Invasive Plant Advisory Committee
Delmarva's Rare Plants with Wes Knapp Part I
Delmarva's Rare Plants with Wes Knapp Part II
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Program
Maryland Biodiversity Project
Maryland Biodiversity Project on Facebook
Maryland Plant Atlas