Next Week is invasive species awareness week, and we wanted to get a jump on making sure you actually have full awareness on the subject. The topic of invasive species is something that many people are aware of but don’t think about often and some people just have no idea what it means. Unfortunately, when invasive species awareness week pops up, it still catches us all by surprise and we haven’t made nearly as big a deal about it as we should have because invasive species are a really big deal. So, we’re not going to let that happen this year! We’re starting early.

So, what are invasive species? They are living organisms, usually plants or animals (including insects), and sometimes microbes like fungi, that have moved or have been moved from their natural range and location to a new habitat where they have never lived before. The Nature Conservancy simply says they are “non-native and harm the local ecosystem,” and that’s a great description. Once the move occurs, the organism usually thrives in its new location. So, what’s wrong with that? Well, usually, when an organism is thriving in a location where it was not intended to live, it has few, or no, natural predators and that’s when the harm begins. That means there’s no other organism there to eat it, and as a result, the population begins to grow out of control. When this happens, native plants and animals can go extinct. Habitats change, and they lose their place in the ecosystem. There is more competition for limited resources. Biodiversity declines.

You can probably think of a few examples of invasive plants or animals that you’ve heard of, like kudzu. The kudzu vine has been called “the vine that ate the south” because for many years there appeared to be no way to control it. It originated in Japan and southeast China, but was introduced to the US as an ornamental plant in 1876. I have seen some unique methods of attacking the kudzu problem, including penning a herd of goats in areas with excessive kudzu growth, and it’s true…goats will eat anything. But it works. Kudzu, and other invasives, are something we really have to stay on top of to preserve our native habitats and their inhabitants.

North Carolina is far from immune to invasive species. We have quite a few that we think you should be aware of, so we decided to ask around at some of the state parks to see what invasives they are perhaps newly aware of (to give you a heads up), and which ones they work hard to control. 

Known Plant Invasives – You can help by looking for these if you hike or garden:

Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, Oriental Bittersweet, Burdock and Deer-tongue grass, Euonymus bushes, Japanese Knotweed, Chinese wisteria, Forsythia, Honeysuckle and Bittersweet, Periwinkle, Chinese privet, English ivy, Bradford pear, thorny olive, and autumn olive.

These are just a few of the invasive plants that outcompete native plants for resources like light, water, space, and nutrients.

The NC Forest Service just posted the above-linked blog about controlling invasive species in advance of the upcoming awareness week. For obvious reason, this blog post focuses on plants, and we should not forget that there are many invasive animals (including insects) and fungi out there wreaking havoc as well; however, I would like to point out that the NC Forest Service, NC State Parks, NC Native Plant Society, NC Botanical Garden and many others are hosting events for the inaugural statewide Weed Out Day during National Invasive Species Awareness Week. You can see some of those events posted on our calendar here. It’s a great way to volunteer and be involved.

Multiflora rose
Chinese privet
Japanese honeysuckle

Aquatic Nuisance Species – If you are a water enthusiast, you are most likely to encounter these species. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission has some great information about dealing with these invasives.:

Apple Snails, Didymo, Gill lice, Hydrilla, Zebra mussels, Mystery snails, Whirling disease

We would also like to add the invasive snakehead to this list. It’s not seen as commonly as the above species, but we are hosting a “Trash Fish Tournament” on April 13th at Lumber River State Park to help fisherman distinguish between the native bowfin and the invasive snakehead, because they do look similar. Come join us from 10am-2pm at the Princess Ann access if you’d like to know more.

Another serious invasive issue in North Carolina includes feral swine, or wild boar. If you’re a farmer, you’re probably struggling with these bad boys ripping up your crops. But feral pigs are known for ripping up much more than the surrounding agriculture. They are among the most destructive invasive species in our state, and in many other states. Read more here about feral pigs, where they came from, and how they are affecting North Carolina. Another concern of invasive species that we should be aware of, and one that is particularly important with feral pigs, is the potential spillover of more than 30 diseases to both humans and domestic pig populations.

Finally (but certainly not the end of this conversation), there are a number of invasive insects that have hitchhiked into our state/country on plants or processed wood, ultimately causing problems with native species that no one could have predicted. The Balsam wooly adelgid and the Hemlock wooly adelgid are both similar to aphids, forming a white fuzzy look on infected trees across eastern North America, ultimately killing them. The Emerald ash borer kills ash trees by boring into the tissue beneath the bark. While Chestnut blight is actually a parasitic fungus from southeast Asia, that forms cankers on all American Chestnut trees before they can reach maturity. 

Find out more about invasive species from the NC Wildlife Federation. Learn how to help manage invasives in our state, and how you can volunteer to make a difference.