Invasive plants causing growing problems around Pennsylvania
By Joe Napsha
Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, 11:24 p.m.
In stifling summer heat, Pia van de Venne is digging, ripping and stacking pieces of a sprawling, green-leafed shrub consuming a Murrysville hillside.
She's fighting an enemy she knows she can't conquer.
“We're trying to keep the invasive plants out of Duff Park. We can't beat it, but we're trying,” said van de Venne, president of Friends of Murrysville Parks.
On this day, she battles multiflora rosa — a flowering shrub introduced from Asia in the late 1860s — that grows so rapidly and densely that it chokes out native vegetation and hinders nesting birds, according to the National Park Service.
Van de Venne's story is one of dozens playing out across Pennsylvania, from Ligonier and Crafton to Upper Darby and Doylestown, as communities try to stop the spread of nonnative, invasive plants such as multiflora rosa, bamboo and Japanese knotweed. They grow wildly, buckling patios, sidewalks and curbs, creeping into basements and engulfing just about anything in their paths.
“It is a serious problem. When the invasive plants move into native plant areas, they take away the habitat and resources — the light, nutrients, soil and water — that are part of the sustaining ecosystem,” said Cynthia Walter, associate professor of biology at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.
Plants that take hold are difficult and costly to control, said botanist Andrew Rohrbaugh of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“They tend to take over a lot of the habitats,” Rohrbaugh said.
Invasive plants that nourish birds and animals tend to have fruit inferior to the quality of native species, he said.
The state, with the help of ecologists and other natural resource partners, listed 79 herbs, vines, trees, shrubs, aquatic plants and grasses deemed as invasive. Twenty-five trees, grasses and bushes made a “watch” list, meaning they eventually could threaten ecosystems.
In the world of invasive plants, a rose is not always a rose.
“One person's decorative plant is another person's problem,” Walter said. “What is the definition of a weed? A plant in a place where you don't want it to be.”
Along the Kiskiminetas River, Japanese knotweed consumed almost 90 percent of banks, environmentalists say. The knotweed can stand 9 feet tall, forming a canopy with leaves the size of an elephant's ears that smother native vegetation.
Knotweed fluorishes along shorelines, railways and highways, Rohrbaugh said.
Dave Beale, watershed specialist for Armstrong County Conservation District, called it a “never-ending fight” to eliminate the plant.
Though some plants clearly are undesirable, others become so only decades after their planting.
As land use and climate evolve, plants become unwanted.
That's the case in Murrysville, where callery pear trees dot commercial and residential properties.
Mayor Robert Brooks asked owners who planted the flowering trees to replace them with a friendlier species, such as Hawthorn.
“If we can have more people understand the value of having native plants, then they'll get a better feeling why we want to do this,” he said. “With the native plants, you get the native birds, the native animals. It's really back to our roots.”
In Ligonier and Crafton, bamboo is the culprit.
Leslie Nemeth wants to eradicate a neighbor's golden bamboo coming into her Ligonier backyard.
“It is under my steps, it is under my flower bed, it is under the brick sidewalk that is in the center of my backyard. It will soon make it into more invasive areas, like the sewer or the pipes,” Nemeth said.
A borough council committee will draft an ordinance addressing the planting of bamboo.
In Crafton, borough council acted swiftly to prevent the spread of bamboo and other invasive plants. Officials took their cue from the state by banning every plant on the list of invasive plants.
Residents who don't comply with the ordinance can be fined.
Yet cutting down bamboo won't stop its spread, said Caryn Rickel, president of the Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research in Seymour, Conn.
The running bamboo, a hardy plant that can survive cold winters, can be difficult to detect because it hides underground as it spreads, moving about 20 feet a year, Rickel said.
“One plant will go nine miles. This is giant timber bamboo. It can be 45 feet high and 8 inches in circumference. It kills all other plants,” Rickel said.
The way to stop its spread, Rickel said, is to burn the plant's rhizomes, underground stems that produce shoots and roots.
“The longer you wait, the harder it is to get it out. It gets stronger every year,” Rickel said.
Joe Napsha is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Worker for Latrobe-based Xcoal on ill-fated flight
- Supreme Court ruling to affect few bicycle trails in Pennsylvania
- CSX makes deal with state on shipments of hazardous materials
- Gas tax could factor into Pennsylvania gubernatorial race
- Contract arranged Pennsylvania Game Commission director’s early exit
- Pennsylvania drug program portrayed as a life-saving tool
- Coroner: Pa. trooper’s pregnant wife died of gunshot
- Military veteran ID cards granted on honor system
- Robert Morris University Polling Institute poll finds value of college in doubt
- Oscar-winning director Demme’s ‘Outsider’ art collection set for sale
- Lawmaker: Responders should carry drug that counteracts opiates